After the Lockdown
This bio attack on India will pass by. Damage will be done, lessons will be learnt and we will carry on with resilience.
The following suggestions will help the country to come out of the lockdown in a better manner.
1) Continue with Community Kitchens
The lockdown has showed that the lower economic strata struggles when it comes to basic essentials and food. What the middle and upper economic strata take for granted, is a daily fight for those from the lower economic strata.
Post lockdown NGOs, civil society groups, companies should carry on with their lockdown activities of providing ready to eat meals to all those in need. This should be done for at least six months, which will give the people in the needy strata enough time to bring back their lives to normal.
After six months, we can review the benefits and costs of these community kitchens during and post lockdown.
The Govt can provide grains direct from FCI godowns to those organisations providing these meals. This will ensure offtake of grains as well as keep the costs down.
It makes no sense to let our surplus grains rot in our primitive warehouses while lakhs of our people go hungry for reasons beyond their control.
2) Let Farmers Sell Direct
While we have ENAM and contract farming, a lot of famers are yet dependent on local and mandi/yard sales.
What is needed is an ordinance to bypass the APMC Acts in all states and let famers sell directly to whomever they deem fit. Most importantly, farmers and/or rural residents, should be allowed to bring their produce direct into metropolitan areas without any hindrances from local authorities.
Another step would be to allow individuals, groups, enterprises to go and purchase directly from farm gate without paying any state/local tax/levy/cess. This is a win-win situation and will help the farm-to-fork concept.
3) Use Data to Recover Evaded Taxes
Most farmers in India struggle to make a good living. Anecdotal evidence clearly suggests that earning more than Rs 3 lakhs per acre per year is not feasible.
Let us keep Rs 4 lakhs per acre per year as the benchmark for the year 2019-20. The Govt can then use the data of the past 20 years to find out all so called farmers who have reported an income more than the indexed benchmark.
This will enable two things
First it will uncover our Krishi Ratnas.
Second it will reveal those who have used this loophole to launder their ill gotten wealth.
4) Real Estate Resolution
The Supreme Court has given an interesting judgement in the Amrapali Real Estate Group case.
They have asked NBCC to step in, complete the construction of all pending projects and hand over the apartments to the respective buyers. Unsold apartments are allowed to be sold in the open market with the proceeds going to an escrow account. Meanwhile, proceedings against the erstwhile promoters of the group are on track.
This separation of matters is an effective way to tackle the real estate mess in India. Most projects that are stuck due to legal and financial issues, can be brought on track, once the court appointed developers are free of the past liabilities of that particular project.
The first to benefit will be families who are paying both an EMI on their housing loan, as well as rent on their current residency, as their dream house is yet a dream.
The second to benefit will be financial institutions, as NPAs will start getting cleaned up.
The third to benefit will be the blue collared labour class, as there is a demand for their services.
If the above example is applied to all real estate projects that are currently stuck - pan India - it will lead to a mini boom in employment as well as creation of sufficient housing stock for the country.
5) Let AYUSH Flower
Complimentary medicine, alternative medicine, ancient systems of medicines etc have been in use in India for long. And for good reason as well. A substantial part of society benefits from this.
Currently AYUSH is being utilised mostly by a small section of the society. The rest of the society too needs to get access to AYUSH.
The govt can let AYUSH practitioners in to the following areas to start with
a) In primary health care centres, both in person as well as via telemedicine
b) In hospitals for OPD
These two avenues in itself will allow the Govt to lighten the current load on infrastructure and at the same time give people the option to see how effective these systems are.
Further all practitioners in AYUSH who are running successful practices, need to be recognised for their efforts. An online feedback mechanism, where these practitioners can put forth their recommendations and suggestions to the Govt needs to be instituted.
6) Nurture MSMEs
MSMEs are the backbone of India's economy. They have taken a major hit during this crisis. The Govt has taken some steps to alleviate the misery. The following needs to be done to get them back in shape.
Classify all organisations with a turnover less than 10 crore per annum as MSMEs.
In every district, form a MSME Margdarshak Mandal (MMM).
The aim of the MMM is simple - it has to act as a support mechanism to all the MSMEs in the district and sort out their issues.
If a MSME is falling foul of any of the multiple laws, instead of penalising the MSME, the MMM can help bring it in compliance. Guidance and support is more effective than punishment and fines.
If MSMEs suffer from any issue or problem (there are many - minor and major - even today), the MMM can suggest the best way to sort that issue out.
This hand holding by the MMM can result in a lot of benefits for the MSMEs and the country.
Regular interaction between the MMM and the Govt, will let the Govt know what the issues on the ground are and what needs to be done to help our MSMEs to be more competitive and innovative.
7) Kickstart Recycling
Recycling is an opportunity staring India in the face. Currently run in a haphazard, opaque and fragmented manner, with most of us considering waste to be something that someone else deals with for us.
Instead, if we consider waste to be the raw material for another work process, we can see that it is a huge opportunity. Not only will our country end up being less polluted and more cleaner, but we will also find by reusing or reprocessing the waste, we need less resources to do what we did before.
We need to run hackathons on this. This will bring out the best ideas and processes to make all types of waste as a raw material. Many suggestions already exist and are being run on a small scale basis.
What is needed a formal process that puts these ideas into an open source model and lets enterprises put them into execution.
The backing of the Govt is needed to ensure that all these processes are open sourced and adopted at all levels without hindrance to the enterprises.
8) Adopt WiFi 6
5G is yet in the initial stages. No country has a fully functional 5G network as yet.
CISCO, a global IT powerhouse, has specified the difference between 5G and WiFi 6 (https://www.cisco.com/c/m/en_us/solutions/enterprise-networks/802-11ax-solution/nb-06-5-things-WiFi6-5G-infograph-cte-en.html). A read of this infographic clearly shows that WiFi 6 is more effective for populated areas, while 5G is preferred for less dense places.
India, is densely populated. As such, it will be easier for us to go in for WiFi 6 initially, enable a more democratic spread of connectivity and ensure that we are ready for the next stage of the technological revolution.
The fastest way to set up Wi Fi 6 points pan India, will be to use our street lights. Every street light can be converted to a WiFi 6 access point. These access points can then be backfed via optical fibre to the server. This will ensure a low cost installation of WiFi 6 infrastructure.
In areas where street lighting is absent, special Access towers can be set up.
The best agency to do this would be EESL. They have experience and data in converting all street lights to LED pan India. They can plan for this and ramp up WiFi 6 Access Points pan India.
For the optical fibre backbone, we can use the existing networks. A fair access policy will need to be implemented to ensure that we make maximum use of our resources rather than favour anyone.
This focus on WiFi 6 will help us save resources and achieve connectivity more efficiently. 5G can be then added on to the network in a few years, at a lower cost and with more efficiency.
The above suggestions are relatively simple to implement and will go a long way in making India resilient and competitive. Let us do it.