Should we assess the year gone by on the basis of the 52-page election manifesto, or should we be more pragmatic and look at the ground situation?

On the economic front, and going by a few significant parameters, it has been an impressive year. Inflation which threatened to go out of bounds, has been tamed, fiscal deficit is on the decline, the world’s largest financial inclusivity programme is under way and GDP growth rate is at a healthy 7.4 per cent. Luck sided with the government, as we saw global oil prices plummeting and impacting our oil import bill favourably. Given these healthy macroeconomic parameters, it would be worthwhile to look at some of the big-ticket items the government promised.

The game-changer

The ‘Digital India’ vision was always going to be a game-changer, and continues to be a headline grabber. This umbrella programme revolved around three key areas: digital infrastructure, governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens. The scope of this project and the numbers that add up boggle the mind. Slated to be completed over a three-year period, it would entail connecting 2.5 lakh villages — a substantive percentage do not even have 2G connectivity at present — through the National Fibre Optic Network (NOFN).

Urbanisation is expected to increase threefold, and the consequent pressure on cities is a severe detriment to development. The 100 smart cities initiative is expected to distribute this load more equitably and bridge the digital divide. The Integrated Smart City Development Plan sits atop three pillars: physical infrastructure, economic development and the environment. Compositely referred to as the Urban Master Planner, it would have to run on ICT.

IP creation, fostering innovation, facilitating investment, enhancing skill and leveraging the demographic dividend are ideas of the future. Admittedly it has happened in fits and starts, but the ‘Make In India’ vision can give these ideas definite size, direction and sustenance. The multiplier effect on economy that India as a global manufacturing hub would enable is quite beyond the imagination.

Financial inclusion has been a bete noire . The Jan Dhan Yojana saw an overwhelming response on the opening day itself. Along with Aadhar and Mobile, the JAM trinity will help plug financial leakages as the unbanked and underprivileged come under its ambit. Hygiene is a basic pre-requisite for mental and physical growth. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is an opportunity for companies to come forward and use their CSR budgets in a worthwhile manner.

Aadhar is an example of how large projects can be implemented in this country. One year is also not an adequate timeframe to expect miraculous results, given the magnitude. However, as a caveat it ought to be mentioned that these projects are heavily dependent on private participation. The worry is that the success rate of PPP models in the past have not been impressive. Do we need Aadhar-like frameworks to ensure the success of these projects as well?

Wooing investors

To attract foreign investment, the country needs to shed its tag of being investor unfriendly. To the government’s credit, increasing the scope of MAT, simplifying online clearances, drafting five new labour codes to subsume 40 laws and the like, are positive steps towards improving the ease of doing business. In addition, several other positive tax reforms have been announced but we seek early closure.

The Prime Minister’s visit to the US, Japan and China have resulted in new avenues being explored and multi-billion dollar bilateral trade agreements being signed. These are huge opportunities and success will come through effective collaboration with diverse stakeholders. The government has initiated steps to foster the ecosystem for startups and entrepreneurs. While it may not be adequate, it marks a positive beginning.

Whether it is about modernising the railways, Digital India or Make In India, these mammoth-sized opportunities can only fructify by leveraging ICT. Some bold and positive measures have been taken, but the key would be timely implementation.

The writer is the president of Nasscom