COVID-19 has underlined the importance of sustainable and inclusive growth
Since the turn of the century, India has pulled hundreds of millions out of absolute poverty, created millions of jobs, achieved world-leading economic growth, educated millions of children and so much more. However, this growth journey is still ongoing and the COVID-19 pandemic is the most pertinent threat to its success.
Prior to the pandemic, the country’s healthcare system was not yet adequate to meet the population’s needs. While the lack of stability from informal jobs has meant that informal workers – the majority of India’s labour force – have been badly impacted. Many urban workers have returned to their rural homes after losing their jobs due to the lockdown and related declining demand. The strict lockdown, which has gradually reduced in different areas across the country, has also exacerbated family pressures, gender inequality, and domestic violence according to numerous reports. On a positive note, the lack of activity has brought some relief to environmental degradation.
So, bearing these challenges in mind, what should be the priorities for India in its post-COVID-19 development plans?
Well, the Government has made a good start, by focussing on basics like provision of food as part of its £22 billion economic package. Improved liquidity, through better access to collateral-free loans and clearance of tax refunds are welcome. Further support for MSMEs likewise. In the short-term these will help the population to meet their basic needs, in the case of delivery of food, and help smaller businesses to stay afloat in the economic downturn.
Healthcare is another area for priority, with production of medical supplies, training of new healthcare staff, and the propelling of digital technology use all positive trends. Although these incremental increases are positive steps, India needs game changing shifts focussed on better use of available technology, or ‘healthtech’, and data to magnify its nominal infrastructure. The UK and India should expand their partnership in this regard, in learning from each other, developing effective technology and managing its rollout. With the right partnerships and funding, this can create innovative jobs in India as well as improve service delivery and health outcomes.
India’s ambitious manufacturing goals, an important facet of Prime Minister Modi’s objectives throughout his tenure, can help the country to create more inclusive jobs that its population needs and drive growth. On the other hand, India must continue to adapt to digitisation and AI trends.
In the medium to long term, education, retraining and upskilling India’s young population will be vital to the recovery and post-COVID-19 development. That means improving access to higher education to drive innovation and R&D and climb up the global supply chain. While, retraining and upskilling will be needed alongside capital and liquidity injections to help people return to and stay in work.
Lastly, a shift to green growth should be prioritised. Like most countries, India’s energy usage must become greener to mitigate the effects of climate change – of which India has already seen negative consequences, especially in its cities, of which it is home to at least twenty of the world’s thirty most polluted metropolises according to global studies. With green energy undoubtedly needed for future growth, fostering a renewable energy industry will be much more sustainable for job creation and energy usage. Such a shift in advance of COP26 (to be held in November 2021) would help India to further its notoriety as a global leader.
India’s recent admission to the UN Security Council is exemplar of the position India should be – namely, a global voice for sustainable and inclusive development. The pandemic has exposed challenges that India, and indeed most countries, still have to overcome. It is now more important than ever that sustainability and inclusivity are the order of the day.
UKIBC’s Socio-Economic Impact initiative seeks to showcase the important socio-economic impacts that UK companies are having in India and foster increased action towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. For more information, visit https://www.ukibc.com/socio-economic-impact/