Padma Shri Y. S. Rajan
Former Scientific Secretary, ISRO
Former Founder Executive Director, TIFAC
Former Chairman, BOG, NIT Manipur
Y.S.Rajan is a Professor, Scientist, Administrator, Leader, Writer, and Poet. He started his career as a research scholar at Physical Research Laboratory. He served at various positions in Department of Space, ISRO and contributed in many areas like technologies, management, administration and International Cooperation matters. He served as a Vice-Chancellor at Punjab Technical University. He had worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA and NASA for three years.
He built an organization like Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and led for about two decades. After that, he joined Confederation of India Industry (CII) in 1996 where he worked to expand their
capabilities to interface with Government on S&T and business issues. He visited more than 40 countries as a part of cooperative efforts in Science, technology, and business. He was deeply engaged with academics and served in various institutions like Anna University and BITS, Pilani. He wrote on a variety of subjects, including science, technology, business, leadership, and many more. He wrote a number of books like “India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium” with Dr. Kalam, Nature, Science and Modern Life, Discover Your Power Quotient, Empowering Indians, and many more.
He wrote many articles like Sarabhai, Science and People; Vision 2020: An Assessment and way forward; Smart Villages: Indian Realities and many more. He wrote seven books of poetry in an Indian language, Tamil which has been critically acclaimed by Indian poets. He wrote three books of English poems which have received very good reviews. He was awarded Padma Shri by The President of India in 2012. Here he shares his vision about Reconstruction Industries and India, Entrepreneurship, Producing Employment and on many more topics:
Q1. Currently India is a land of Startup with full of young population. But what we can do for our senior citizens to solve their problems?
India aspires to be a startup country following the current global fashion. Just having a lot of young people does not automatically give the demographic advantage. About 20 million children have been added to Indian population each year. This is going on since 1990’s and even earlier. But about 70% of these children don’t go past primary or nowadays elementary stages. The nature of school education even at higher levels does not give the students any economically relevant skills. From age 15 or even earlier they look for some low wage jobs; some learn a few new skills in work. Only about 10% of the children get some post 12 education. That too not well oriented for modern economy. A small part of them mainly due to family support get into what can be called Startup. Also India’s technology strengths to innovate and scale up for commercial markets are weak. Even our institutions lack ability to work on market oriented R&D projects. They are mostly publication oriented. Solution to their betterment is crucial and I have covered those aspects extensively in many of my works. That involves large scale changes to our education system and economy and govt. procedures.
Indian economy is mostly in unorganized sector. Between age 15-64 years (considered to be economically active) we have a population of 911 million approximately. Of this Labor Force is about 465 million. Others may work at home. Of this 465 m, 201m is in agriculture sector. 116m in industry. 149 in services. About 93% of workforce are in informal sector with very little help from govt., govt. agencies, academia, etc. to acquire better skills. Imagine a young person starting life with such a non-supportive ecosystem, growing up in age is adding very little to better opportunities.
Now coming to senior citizens, most of them have grown up under harsh conditions working as daily wagers or marginal farmers with subsistence income. And therefore, of the 110 million senior citizens above 60 years of age (which is more in size than population of many countries), more than 90% have very low income and uncertain at that. They had, until recently, no provision for health insurance or some pension. Not all are covered yet. Less than 10% have some sort of income like pension and bank Interest. They, the 90%, have to depend on an earning member who is also struggling to earn. Or they stay in villages.
For the other about 10% senior citizens who have some reasonable incomes, their problems are different. Their children have done well but not working in the same places: they have to move within India or even abroad. So most senior citizens have to stay alone in their homes as couples or even singles, when they lose the partners. Well organized old age homes are a few in number. Some are very costly well beyond the reach of many senior citizens, even when their children bear some costs.
So if one has an entrepreneur, and start up ambitions, you have a great opportunity to serve such persons, with a business model, even while serving a good cause. These form only about 10-15 million senior citizens. That is the “market” size which will grow every year. If one looks into details persons with some disabilities at different age groups also can be served using this model thus increasing the market size. (For other about 90 million senior citizens only govt. support can help with NGO execution, for example Help Age India).
I am describing a good market driven innovative business model which can serve about 10 -15 m senior citizens. I will give one idea in this segment:
1. Create a small office with young and trained persons (one male and another female as they have to serve male and female senior persons) available 24X7 throughout the year reached by phone and able to move to the senior citizen place in about 15-30 minutes in emergency.
2. Solve most of their problems and needs, always available in emergency.
3. As concern of Business you give this service on a small monthly membership for some specified assured services, with additional modular fees for various other services.
4. Later you expand it and tie up with other services like nursing etc.
5. Since now many mobile links are available create an aggregator to rope in many such trained persons thus increasing the speed and range of services.
It would be really helpful for all senior citizens and you can earn money with a noble cause. Some good NGO’s are ready to train such service providers. Initially you have to do a good market survey. Also many Indians will be hard but sometimes elusive bargainers! You need minimum critical size if numbers. Try better income layouts, apartment complexes.
Q2. How can Entrepreneurs Reconstruct Industries and India?
There is a real opportunity for Reconstruction in Industry for Indian Entrepreneurs. Many buildings, bridges, water supply system and factories in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, and in many other cities are awaiting to be pulled down. Many of these can cause danger to public safety. Let some imaginative group of entrepreneurs along with some financial Institutions, start Reconstruction Packages. Insurance companies can also join these efforts through offering attractive premiums for those who reconstruct; it will help the insurance in the long run. It can help asses the potential business to grow India, but also Reconstruct Industries and India. This involves often liaising with local governments, municipalities, etc. which is not easy. You may have to rope in some progressive local politicians.
Q3. What to do for people at local level who are suffering from lack of education, job and income?
As explained earlier most of the education imparted in schools is useless to contribute to modern economy. They need specific skills for each job. From carpentry, to agro food processing, to construction, to electronic assembly to various repairs and maintenance etc. there are about 5000 specific skills. National Skill Foundation over the past decade, has been unable to do in large numbers required. Starting as low paid semi-skilled worker Indian youth have struggled to learn by themselves by about age 30. That is the reason they flock to a few major cities in India. They live in terrible habitats. Though I have been writing and talking on it for about two decades, now only our elites “know” their existence!
Solution to have them get a large number of reasonable income activities is to decentralize economic activities to be around villages and towns closely linked to them. Since India’s national highways and rural roads are much better now along with mobile penetration (part of Digital India scheme with Jan Dhan accounts etc.), it is time to give a greater emphasis on Shyama Prasad RURBAN Mission launched by PM in 2016. Of the 2700 RURBAN clusters only 300 have been covered partly. Let us note that these 2700 cluster cover about 75% of our population.
These clusters need not be only on Khadi or artisanal activities. They can a part of supply chain for many other modern products, even electronic. Some persons can be shop keepers. Since many migrant laborers have gone back to their homes, it is time governments launch this mission, giving productive jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities to them. Many of them are skilled the hard way and know urban markets, and have networks. I describe some possible areas of work as well.
Water Management like Waste Water Recycle & Reuse Program, Drip Irrigation System installation and regular maintenance, Agrofood industries, E-market access related services for farmers, health services, electric/electronic assembly, tourism related, Solid Waste Management, continual education and training in many of these for young and old, old age homes, and many more. Uninterrupted availability of electric power with internet access can help train many of them. Creating productive avenues for providing reasonable incomes to our people should be the priority in real India. (Not ones which depend upon continual subsidies and loan waivers) If we can achieve that, then lots of good employment will come at local level. It would be helpful to finish problems related to education, jobs and income. Really facilitating type of governance is required to give money to those who are ready to start work is crucial. It should be treated as a revival package. Those with higher value adding industries which are ready locate part of their work in RURBAN areas should be given tax and other incentives. Even FDI need to be encouraged. If govt. procedures are not changed, rapid pick off will be a problem. So lobby with local politicians as well.
Q4. What do you want from youth to earn more and live better?
Youth of India need to spear head a new movement “Income for All Indians” through their work and continuous improvement of their skills and opportunities to earn more and live better. They should be ready to work hard acquire the right type of skills and upgrade periodically. Indian youth should rise above the colonial past and populist policies doled out for elections such as free metro travel, free hostels, etc. and many hypes given in media. Atma Nirbharta should apply to individuals also to some extent. Youth can impress MP’s, MLA’s to spend their efforts for Sustainable Income generating programs. You can find a way if you really believe in the cause.
Q5. You wrote a book with Dr. Kalam “Beyond 2020” in 2004. Have you seen any accomplishment comparing to your book in year 2020?
That book was to take stock of the status given in the earlier book India 2020 in 1998. The book was in October 2014. Difficult to compress in a few words. I have spoken about it, that is the comparison of what was projected in 1995 for 2020 and actual status now. There is a lot of good news and some not so good news. Look out for my TEDx talk on India 2020.
We have achieved lots of success in sectors like Telecom, and related services in various sectors. It has spread many times more than our expectations. E-governance has grown much beyond. Aviation sector has expanded with economy carrier. Agricultural production is very good. In GDP terms 5th position in 2019 itself.
But in Manufacturing sector we have slipped badly. Modernization of India’s Defence and Security sectors has been slow. Local production is low; large import dependence.
India still holds a good position overall though in per capita terms it is behind many countries. India Agriculture needs urgent modernization through technologies and policy reforms removing many obsolete and oppressive rules, in order to fetch better returns to the farmers. Many marginal farmers then can move out of low income marginal lands. Coupled with RURBAN mission described earlier they can earn a lot more without moving out of their homes or local area.
Decentralized economy, modernizing agriculture, and high skill manufacturing, biomedical sector, various security related activities, creative industries, modern uses of our great civilizational heritage, etc. are before youth with higher education and others with some schooling but with specialized skills. So the youth have to adopt a new work culture of working hard and equipping themselves continually with skills and knowledge to win in a competitive world.
Q6. You worked with great Dr. Vikram Sarabhai in your beginning of career. What did you learn from him?
I learned mainly three most important things from him.
1. Intellectual Irreverence
2. Organizational Discipline
3. Innate Humanism
I have explained about it somewhere. Go find it!!!
Q7. People used to hide any good idea from others but you shared many ideas with everyone in your life. What are your views of your sharing nature?
When I think something will be useful for somebody, I tell about it. I thank to God for given me an ability to think, to study, to observe, to understand, to generate new ideas and to share with others and also do it. I have a habit to share ideas from more than five decades even during college days. As days go on you will find many ideas in many fields like research, entrepreneurship, technology and many more. Sharing is a good cause. I tell you the one great incident about Idea Sharing from my early days.
When I was a PhD student in PRL at Ahmedabad, Dr. S. Dhanju (who got PhD under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and later working for PRL) senior to me told me out of his kindness to me that you give away too many ideas to everybody. It may not be good for you. People will use it for their own PhD thesis or research papers and it may affect your thesis.
It was at a dinner table. He pointed to a glass of water and said “people will use the glass as long as it has water. You have ideas now but when the water is over, nobody will bother. Therefore keep something for yourselves”. I told him I hope that I have not been blessed with only one glass of water…I hope it is a perennial spring inside…If not it is not worth it. Even if I keep the one glass of water too long, it will not be useable.” I was about twenty one then. God has been kind to me.