Ram Madhav
October 12, 2018

2018 Annual Conference of Club of Rome and Indian National Association


Text of Shri Ram Madhav’s Inaugural address at the 2018 Annual Conference of Club of Rome and Indian National Association on the theme of “Resource Efficiency and Jobs: Opportunities for Business and Policy” at BSE, Mumbai on 11 October, 2018

Respected Shri Ram Durai,

All the dignitaries present on the dais and off the dais,

Eminent participants and my dear young friends,

I do not know if I really add value to your discussion of today and tomorrow, but what actually dragged me from the Eastern most border of the country to the Western side of India was my attraction to this forum called the Club of Rome. My first engagement with this forum was sometime in the late 80s, those days we use to have only one person from India namely, Dr Karan Singh as a member of the Club of Rome. Nobody else was a member, even today, there are no members from India, I understand.

I came across a very interesting paper, which eventually became this book called “The Limits to Growth”. The title of that paper was – ‘Is it possible to be happier with less effluence’. Now that used to be the way how Club of Rome used to think, in a very novel way in a very ‘out of the box way. Not just about contemporary solutions to contemporary problems, but in a very futuristic way. Club of Rome used to think and come off with excellent suggestions & solutions.

In fact, Dr. Ram Durai was saying that, ‘after all you cannot control the wants and desires of the humanity’, but that very paper that I read was exactly about that. How do you control them? And it comes up with a very interesting suggestion in which they quote one Indian Shloka “na jaat kaamaa kamma naam upbhogyata naa shamyate”. They quote this shloka in the paper and suggest that at some point you have to ask people to limit their wants. Now whether it is possible or not, is a big question.

Friends, that actually brought me to this forum and I am thankful to General Sahni and all the other organizers for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I will just focus my talk on the general description of India today.

India is described in two ways, one is India is a very ancient nation with more than 5000 years of history. But, the second introduction which is relevant for today’s discussion is that India is a very young country with a huge youth bulge. I will focus only on youth and jobs.

While we are a country with massive youth population the very first challenge for us in India is to define the youth. Where the world is looking for jobs in a very innovative way, here we are, unable to define who the youth of this country are. I am in politics, and nobody grows old in politics. At 48 also we are a young leader. You were young twenty years ago, you are young today, also you will continue to be a young leader.

We often joke that in politics if a politician declares that time has come for the youth to takeover, remember that his son or daughter is ready to take over from him. So we have a challenge about who are the youth of this country.

Government has come down to this definition that, a person below the age of 29 years, will be considered as youth. Data varies, but one data that I quote from a government source, says that in India we have close to 55% of our population below 35 years of age, which used to be the definition before we brought it down to 29. And if you go by the political standards, there will be 80 percent of people who are young, after all 48 is also youth.

There are researches that show that the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) of our youth is superior to the IQ of any other race in the world. There are studies that establish that our youth is more intelligent than the youth of other countries. Maybe something is there in this land. We are young, we are intelligent. That brings us to this critical question, where do we find jobs for the population.

We have two types of employment that is happening in our country. One is Agri based employment, or Agrarian employment. Mind you even to this day, 50 percent of our employment is agricultural employment. It’s another matter whether it is really employment, really sustainable, which it is not. Because, again the problem coupled with agrarian employment is that we have landholders with less than 2 hectares of land, which is roughly about 5 acres of land.

78% of our farmers hold less than 5 acres of land. Now it is anybody’s guess that with 5 acres nobody can run his family, happily. He has to find something else to augment his income. So, we have a challenge even in this agrarian sector where you have massive population dependent on it.

Now, one option is to shift them from there. Because with 2 acres, 3 acres or 5 acres of land, you cannot create sustainable livelihoods. We have a cultural block for commercial farming. In US, the definition for small farmer is someone who earns a minimum of 1000 dollar but up to 250,000 dollars. Can you imagine that kind of a definition for India?

Here, if one earns 1000 rupees as a small farmer with one acre of land, which is 12000 rupees as an annual income, I mean something that he can use for his livelihood. You will be very happy to find such people. So our definition of small farmer is very different, and cannot be compared with small farmers in US. This is one employment challenge.

The second part is also not that rosy, the formal and informal employment outside the Agriculture employment. We have 24 crore employed people. About 53 percent out of the 24 crore are formally employed. Means, almost 47 percent of our people are in informal sectors. Remember informal sector means insecure sector. They have no future. We grandly describe them as informal, what is the informal sector, somebody who is distributing pizza at our homes. Do you think these are sustainable jobs? The day we decide that our Uttapam is better than pizza, his job is gone. So we have a challenge with the current job structure itself.

Friends, the first real challenge that we will have to address is, ‘How do you look for sustainable jobs for the youth’? Mr. Ram Durai heads the skill development initiative of our government. We tried, and understood that one major problem was lack of skills. The solution is to impart skills, then encourage innovation. Not invention, inventions happen in big laboratories, go for local innovations. And, we have started innovation labs also. We have about 2500 of them functioning across the country, we are encouraging youth to innovate.

I can give you a number of examples of how wonderful innovations happen. I quoted one of them in one of my articles. One young man who has not even completed his bachelor’s degree has invented a remotely controlled tractor with hundred thousand rupees, using which the tiller can sit under a tree and remotely run the tractor in his field. He need not go under the sun, suffer all day and then end up in a hospital. These are the kind of innovations that need to be encouraged in India. We are spending huge amount of money on this innovation.

The second aspect is once I innovate, where is the capital. Nowadays, banks are so scared that with counter guarantee also they are not ready to give loans. So, we as a government decided to take initiatives like Stand up India, Startup India, Mudra Yojana, and give liberally small investments to our youngsters.

Almost, my data maybe right or not very right, more than 10 crore youngsters were given those small investments to the tune of more than 5.5 lakh crores. Innovation through which small initiatives can be taken up is one way of addressing this huge problem of employment. We have done it, large number of people got benefited by it.

But friends, the next real challenge that institutions like Club of Rome have to really think about is that, today our education system is too theory centric. So, you have skills. You are imparting skills separately, from theory-ism to skill-ism is one step. But my problem is, the skills that you are imparting are okay for today, but do you know the nature of the jobs of tomorrow.

The jobs of today are not going to be jobs of tomorrow. I see some youngsters here but by the time they become employable. Maybe 10 years from now, they cannot imagine the kind of job they would be doing. If you ask them, they only know that they will be engineers or doctors or something else in some company. But those jobs are not going to exist. It’s going to be a whole new world.

Are we thinking about what will be the very definition of jobs 10 years from now. Today we are training teachers. But there are not going to be teachers after five years. In the sense, there are not going to be teachers sitting in classrooms, your teachers will have to be in studios. But how many teachers can deliver a lecture without some 50 young fellows in front of them?

If you put a camera in front of them and ask them to deliver a lecture in mathematics of class 10, they will say, no, I have to have a baton in my hand and at least I should beat-up 2 fellows then only my lecture will come. Are we training our future generations? Are we developing skilling activity for future jobs, is another challenge that probably we have to look at.

Now friends, having talked about these things in a limited time. Let me talk about three opportunities. I placed before you some challenges. Now, I am presenting opportunities which are usually seen as weaknesses of our country. Can we turn them around and make those weaknesses into opportunities?

For example, we say this excessive population is our problem. Yes it is a problem. It is a problem for many things that Mr. Khosla has just mentioned, right from environment to everything. Healthcare is a challenge, everything is a challenge. But then how can it be made into an opportunity.

One suggestion I am making is don’t let Indians sit at home. At any given point in time, it is said that 40 to 50 percent Americans are on the roads. In Bombay (Mumbai) you stay on road, I was also there for 1.5 hours. But not that, you have to move the population. You have to encourage them to travel.

Because, 40% of Americans are on the roads, our Gujarati brothers are running motels there. If everybody goes home and makes food at home we have to shut down our motels and lakhs of them will come back to India in search of employment, here. Make India move.

For making India move, the main challenge for us is the lack of infrastructure. Build infrastructure, that’s why we are building more highways, that’s why we are building more railway lines. When we came to power, we were building about 60-65 km of roads per day. Today we are building 130 kms of road per day. Why? Because, we want more and more people to travel.

We have operationalized many new airports, more than 70 – 80 airports are functional today. People have to travel. If you have more people, don’t let them sit at home and only consume, let them travel and let that benefit people. Movement of people also creates jobs.

But, this requires investment. So, I want corporates to invest in HIRA, that is, Highways, I-ways, Railways and Airways, our Prime Minister gave this slogan. We should invest more in them, build more of them, make them easy for people to travel and use. So, let the country be always be on a move.

The second challenge is the excessive unemployment. It is a challenge, it is a problem that we face. Please go down studying it carefully. India has 29 states, out of which 15 states have employments above the national average of unemployment. Central and southern Indian states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana are fine. But, in India there are at least 16 states whose unemployment rates are higher than national unemployment rate.

When you talk of unemployment, the real problem is not in Bombay (Mumbai). There is a problem in Bombay (Mumbai) also, but, this problem is much smaller compared to the problem that you’ve been facing in a large number of other parts of the country. For example, I go to Tripura often, we have a government there which we could manage to win after 25 years of left rule. In Tripura, out of every 1000 employable people, 200 employable people are unemployed. That is the extent of unemployment (20% unemployment straight away).

Now, can we see them as areas where you can generate employment. They are unemployed because there are no employment avenues there. Maharashtra has less unemployment problem because you have employment avenues here. We need to create employment avenues there, too.

A Bombay (Mumbai) company can go to Guwahati to find and create an employment opportunity there. That is how we have to address this joblessness in a targeted manner, because these areas are completely under developed. Mr. Ranjit Bhatakur comes from that area and he knows how untapped and under exploited those areas are.

Day before yesterday, I stayed at Jorhat at a super world class resort, why I’m calling it world class is because the resort has beautiful huts. And is the only resort with a golf course in tea gardens. You don’t come across such a resort anywhere else, at least in India. I don’t know about outside India. You know the tariff there. We used three rooms for three nights, and only six thousand rupees were charged in total. That is the level of underutilization of our assets. We don’t turn to them. We have to turn to them and exploit those avenues. Under developed areas should be seen as opportunities for generation of employment.

The third point is what we generally condemn as India’s excessive culture. Our religion, our cultural practices, our traditions are a huge economy. We should look at them as an economy, I call it the soft power economy. When I say soft power, you only think that Bollywood or may be Yoga is our soft power, no, your vadapav can be an international product.

I have seen it with my own eyes in USA. Some burger companies, franchised by Indians selling paneer tikka burger. And this was not in Bombay (Mumbai), not in Delhi but in New Jersey. Your cuisine is your soft power, your culture is your soft power, your spirituality is already a soft power. We have swamis who own 17-18 aircrafts in America. They are swamis but they have more aircrafts than probably Tata sons. This is our soft power.

You have temples all over the world but you don’t have pujaris there. When I say train pujaris and send, you think it is the work of some religious fellow, not ours. Maybe, yes, the training needs to be given by religious fellows, but, it is your economy. And one rough calculation puts India’s soft power economy at 11 billion dollar. Do our corporates look at it? There are a number of avenues where soft power can provide employment to millions in India and thousands abroad. So, we also have to look at this soft power economy seriously.

I proposed this to our government, like you have Nasscom for software industry, we should have something like NASPCOM, a body of national soft power entrepreneurs. A body of those who run restaurants all over the world, who run Bengali dhabas all over the world, who run textiles business all over the world, who run gems industry all over the world, who run ashrams all over the world. Our ashram economy is very big. Thus, 10 to 12 such verticals should be developed into a big economy.

Friends, these are contemporary employment opportunities that I’m proposing before you but one last thought I’ll leave in front of you, before I end. This is something that we have to seriously ponder.

With all our expertise and great thinking, we still cannot find jobs for all the able bodied youngsters in India. The simple reason being that we are adding 20 million youth to the employability age every year. This year’s data shows that the employment created was only 5.5 million. From where will you get employment for others? I will leave one thought before you. The thought is, can we generate more employment with the same number of jobs?

What I mean to say is, because of space constraint you are already asking employees to work from home. With lesser space you are getting more work done. Can we accommodate more people with shorter job duration. Like today it is an 8 hour job, make it 6 hours. Have one more person doing the same job. But then you may ask what will happen to our profits.

I am saying, rest of the time of this young man should be devoted to community and social activity, not social work not charity. I am saying measurable community work. Can we do away with the municipalities in our country? Can communities handle it? You tell me today what is Swachh Bharat. What the municipal government was supposed to do, we are asking you to do. The fact remains that if you are asking people to clean up the streets, then value it, measure it. Reduce that amount of tax from the companies.

Develop a thesis whereby you can have maybe same number of jobs. Today, hundred thousand jobs are being run by hundred thousand people, can the same hundred thousand jobs be run by a hundred and fifty thousand people. I will leave it at that. Please think whether same number of jobs could employ more people.

Friends, I just placed before you some random thoughts of mine. As I said I am not an expert, like all others here. I placed before you certain random thoughts that I had in my mind. Maybe some of them were useful, if they are useful please take it that I have got them from forums like Club of Rome. If you’ll find them useless, understand they are my foolishness.

Thank you.

(The video of the speech can be accessed at: https://youtu.be/sNJBZggHacg)

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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