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India to benefit more if it jumps into fourth Industrial Revolution

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BY Anil K Rajvanshi

World Economic Forum concluded in Davos last month had Fourth Industrial Revolution as the major talking point. With FIR, already in action in many advanced economies, there are fears that it will create huge unemployment.

The Davos meeting was meant to discuss and allay these fears. I feel FIR for developing countries can, in fact, produce more employment and benefits.

What is FIR?

Our societies are characterised by various industrial revolutions. The first revolution started in the late 1700s when muscle power was replaced by steam – mostly produced by coal.

The second one, which can be traced to the early 1900s, was driven by electricity and characterised by big machines and assembly line manufacturing. The third, which began in the early 1960s was based on computers, information technology (IT), electronics and automated production.

The present revolution is characterised by the internet of things (IOT) — 24/7 connectivity, rapid communication, miniaturisation of design and 3D printing which allows for manufacturing and production of goods wherever they are needed. I feel that IOT and 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) have the capability of allowing countries like India to leapfrog into the FIR.

India is already a decentralised society where more than 60 percent of its population lives in rural areas and lacks the basic amenities of life. They live in one-room huts with nearly non-existent electricity; cook on primitive biomass stoves that produce tremendous indoor pollution, and lack potable water and toilet facilities.

Their lives can be improved drastically by providing livelihood opportunities and amenities for households powered by FIR.

Around 80 percent of the rural population is involved in the farming sector. At present, farming is non-remunerative and needs to be completely overhauled to make it attractive.

Thus, for increasing income for rural households, I foresee the use of high-tech precision farming which could either be land-based or container-based. In container farming, all the inputs of farming are applied in an efficient way in enclosed shipping containers.

This container-based farming, as opposed to land-based farming, can grow any food (grain, vegetables or fruits) or fodder with the use of precise levels of light, temperature, humidity and nutrients. All these inputs are controlled by smart sensors and computers. This type of farming requires very few labourers, very little soil and water and is based on the principle of hydroponics or aeroponics.

There are claims by the practitioners of container agriculture that it uses 90 percent less water than conventional agriculture and produces several times the yields that would have been obtained from land-based agriculture. Such high-tech farms are coming up in urban areas in western countries and provide a model to be emulated in developing countries like India.

Today the biggest crisis in farming in India is the lack of labour, low prices of produce, shortage of water and very poor soils. With precision land-based or container agriculture, powered by solar energy and other renewable energy systems, farming can become very efficient, high yielding and hence remunerative. To my mind, this is the future of farming.

Land-based agriculture can be used for planting mostly perennial crops like grasses for fodder and trees for fruits, timber and the like. Grasses and trees can bind the soil and stop its erosion.

Agricultural containers would eventually be owned by restaurant owners. Hence, the A-Z of food production and utilisation would be run and owned by the restaurants and may give rise to a large number of rural and urban restaurants. This will also generate huge employment opportunities.

Further, FIR based on 3D or additive manufacturing will also usher in a revolution in its own right. In 3D printing, parts or the product is built layer by layer at any place. The designing can be done anywhere in the world and it can be sent by the internet to a 3D printer.

Thus the raw material — metal powders in the case of production of metal parts, or plastic wires for plastic products — together with a suitable glue or solidification of raw material, forms the end product. 3D printing is being used to produce parts of rockets, whole machines and even body parts.

The technology of 3D manufacturing is rapidly progressing and is already becoming a mainstream technology for small, specialised manufacturing facilities.

Use of 3D manufacturing will also reduce the energy consumption in transportation of goods since they will be manufactured and made available wherever they are needed.

In most cases, prices would come down. We might, therefore, see a proliferation of high-tech small scale manufacturing facilities in rural areas. For rural mobility electric vehicles can form the backbone and could be charged with locally produced renewable electricity. And 3D manufacturing may help in the production of such vehicles in rural areas.

The FIR can usher in a decentralised and democratic society since the control of the means of production and usage will be in the hands of locals.(IANS)

(24.02.2016 – Anil K. Rajvanshi is director of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute in Phaltan, Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)