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Startup and a more competitive India

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New Delhi: The growth of several countries in the past have been driven by a need for creating better solutions for existing problems by startup companies. This, along with secure property rights is major differences between organized and unorganized societies.

Innovative enterprise the world over has made nations economically better off and people more prosperous. The most prominent examples that come to mind are those of Germany, Israel and the US.

The East Asian miracle was also based on creating local industries that could assemble parts more productively and at a cost advantage as compared to western countries that lead to their export competitiveness.

Japan’s major companies like Toshiba, Hitachi, and Toyota were once small enterprises. Even countries like China have greatly benefitted from the policies envisaged in the late 1970s in making people more productive and prosperous as mentioned by Deng Xiaoping in 1984 when he focused on using the forces of production for economic development – thus ending the decades-old conception of how society ought to be organised.

The primary point being driven home in all this is that well-designed policies as such greatly assist in making a productive people more prosperous. In a way, the 3Ps of policies, people and productivity lie at the core of becoming a prosperous nation.

India’s earlier economic development model has rarely focused on developing entrepreneurs as a strategic resource for national development.

The colonial hangover in the past has meant that India’s initial years post independence went deeply mistrusting private entrepreneurs and enterprises in doing social good. However, this has resulted in what many people call a “mixed up” economy rather than a mixed economy. This is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Startup India launch mentioned the role of government to stop over-regulating and letting the people themselves resolve the issues they face.

If one comes to think of it, the jobs that India requires over the next decade – with a million people entering the workforce every month – cannot be provided fully by the formal sector multinationals and government’s public sector enterprises alone. In a way, this presents a sizeable opportunity for India to capitalise on its demographic dividend. However if India continues with is older policies, it may very well end up curtailing private sector development as well as entrepreneurship.

Now, the government rightly recognises the role of entrepreneurs as job creators and capable of absorbing the surging workforce in the decade ahead. The startup plan which has been unveiled before the people has many positives for unleashing the latent ‘Chi’ or the creative force of the Indian economy.

These include doing away with certifications, simplification for opening up a start-up and helping start-ups protect their intellectual property with procedural help as well as financial assistance.

Apart from this, other provisions include creating a fund of funds with a corpus of Rs.10,000 crore (almost $1.5 billion) that has been hailed and scorned at in equal measure due the to public funds being used as venture capital.

Other major announcements deal with the removal of tax for an initial period of three years and further exemption of capital gains tax for incubators investing in startups. Apart from these, the other major announcements deal with setting up of seven research parks and promotion of entrepreneurship in biotechnology.

Taken together, these are bound to help develop a culture of entrepreneurship. However, a significant point is looking at structural issues that hinder entrepreneurship in the Indian context.

The government has done well to draw the attention of youth for pursuing their dream of entrepreneurship, but deeper societal issues must also be addressed for optimal outcomes. Over the next 10 years, India’s aim should be to make the ecosystem of enabling entrepreneurship more robust and making it a more viable career option for individuals wanting to take the plunge. How this will play out will determine India’s ability to leverage its human resources effectively for economic growth and competitiveness.(Amit Kapoor)(IANS)

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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)