Make in India: WhyIndia can't afford to go the China way in manufacturing
West Bengal's fertile landscape was oncedotted with buzzing factories and giant furnaces surrounded by worker beecolonies signifying its pre-eminent position as the vanguard of India'sre-industrialisation. Today, industry is dying in Bengal and the landmarks ofIndia's partial victory over poverty now languish, neglected both by the stateand by the industrialists who built them.
Kolkata is now a city in transition, a phase in which its best young talent,desperate for jobs, leave the state while the rest of the citizenry groan underwidespread misgovernance and, some would say, state-sponsored thuggery. In sucha situation, the achievements of young Pallav Nadhani are quite remarkable.
In 2002, Nadhani became one of the first few Indians to create something uniqueand new in the world of software products. At a time when India's softwareoutsourcing industry was known for its call centres and code writing, he notonly fashioned a data visualisation product on his own, but also turned it intoa successful business venture. FusionCharts' products have since been used bymany around the world with Nadhani and his team especially proud of onecustomer in particular: US President Barack Obama. The firm now has 23,000customers and 5,00,000 developers in 120 countries.
The scandal-plagued and ideas starved Mamata Banerjee government can take someinspiration from Nadhani's example as it attempts to revive West Bengal's lostindustrial glory. What the state needs is not an ugly sprawl of pollutingfactories belching smoke and poisoning rivers but an intelligent use ofintellectual capital that will give freedom for innovators to flourish andhi-tech industries to establish roots.
Only Saleable Ideas
But politicians are a different breed when it comes to common sense andpractical ideas. They prefer grand visions, adventurous agendas where money canbe splurged, support bought over and key special interest sections placated.Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' is one such grand statement.Nothing wrong with its aim.
Nobody would argue with the idea of a manufacturing revival. But what'simportant is the way in which this is sought to be accomplished. Thisgovernment, like the previous UPA one, may make the mistake of listening toomuch to western businessmen and investors constantly on the lookout for cheapdestinations for manufacturing given that China has now become expensive.
Manhole covers in New York prominently sport the 'Made in India' label, as ifIndians are only known for making low-grade stuff. It makes sense forwesterners to tout our manufacturing prowess.
However, we should not fall into that trap and allow ourselves to becomeanother base for cheap manufacturing and to be dotted with sweatshops andpolluting industries.
China has fashioned itself as a factory to the west and the results are therefor all to see. Visitors are often wondrstruck by the grandeur and wealth ofBeijing and Shanghai. But the true scale of China's environmental catastropheis only now becoming clear. Mothers in Beijing are able to take their toddlersout for a stroll only with an oxygen mask, while lovers are more afraid of airpollution than leery louts when they venture out in the park.
India has its own share of environmental problems and they have only multipliedin recent years due to neglect, corruption and the excesses caused by cronycapitalism. The World Bank estimated last year that environmental degradationwas costing Indian economy $80 billion, or 5.7 per cent of its annual GDP.