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How technology will beat poverty in a decade

Last updated on: December 31, 2010 09:16 IST

How technology will beat poverty in a decade

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The year 2010 has been good for India in terms of technology and 2011 holds the promise of taking the country one step forward in harnessing technology to make a dent in some of the problems that continue to challenge it.

The most obvious sign of the robustness of India's technological capability is the way in which IT-ITeS exports have been able to pick up even though recovery in the developed world remains weak and much of the year has gone by amidst speculation whether there will be a setback through a double-dip depression.

In fact, the revival in IT-ITeS exports indicates that businesses, particularly the large ones, in the developed world are using India's technology offerings to retain their competitiveness when they are weighed down by the extremely weak domestic demand.

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How technology will beat poverty in a decade

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The promise that 2011 holds is that India's technological capability will be able to play a similar role in its uplift, something that it was not able to do in the past when there was a glaring discrepancy between its IT exports and the very poor level of IT adoption within the country.

There are two clear signs that technology has arrived domestically. One is the confidence that Indian corporates have developed in their ability to stand up on their own feet technologically.

The prime and most recent example of this is the decision of the Munjals to part ways with Honda which had provided the technological bulwark in the highly successful Hero Honda joint venture.

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In the post-Independence era, the period up to the seventies had been marked by an obsession with self-sufficiency which resulted in nominal import of technology and reliance on reverse engineering.

The eighties marked the beginning of technology imports within a still closed environment when reverse engineering declined but India's own technology development did not emerge as selected corporates which were able to get their joint ventures approved paid royalty and reaped a rent income.

But the recent years have been marked by robust technology development, particularly in the automotive sector, as Bajaj has ventured out on its own and Tata Motors has acquired Jaguar-Land Rover to give itself a technological leg-up.

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Photographs: Babu/Reuters
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So India is now at the stage where Japan was in the seventies when it acquired technology to power its own incremental technological progress.

The second sign and the greatest Indian technological effort that addresses the task still ahead at the bottom of the pyramid and uses innovation to crash costs is the successful launch and on-time performance of the Aadhaar project.

Giving every Indian an identity, which will enable her to have a bank account, having already acquired a mobile telephone, marks the drumbeat of progress down the road of inclusive growth.

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Image: A researcher works on his laptop at the Microsoft India research centre in Bangalore
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
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India did not buy the unique identity solution from elsewhere on payment of a royalty, it was developed within India.

In a sense, Nandan Nilekani is seeking to finish the task that Sam Pitroda began in the field of telephony, but could not take up to the finish.

As Mr Nilekani has articulated, in the next ten years, every Indian will be defined and powered by three numbers - UID number, mobile phone number and bank account number.

That will define the unique low-cost solution to the problem of poverty.

 


Image: Nandan Nilekani

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