Celebrating the successes in the ongoing process of building a nation—in education, livelihood and healthcare.
At Independence, India inherited a legacy of large-scale illiteracy and the lack of proper provisions for education. In 1951, about 19 percent of Indians were literate. In 2020, the average literacy rate in India stands at 74 percent. The National Literacy Mission (NLM), launched in 1988, included adult education (considered part of primary education) as one of its key components. In 2016, Kerala became the first state to achieve 100 percent primary education, and has the country’s highest literacy rate, at 93.91 percent.
In 1951, factories employed just 2.5 percent of India’s total workforce, with cotton and jute textiles being the main two industries. Basic and capital goods industries had to be established at a large scale to create a strong base for industrial development, which was the key to alleviating poverty, raising incomes, and engaging labour. The first three Five-Year Plans laid the ground for investments in iron and steel, coal, heavy engineering, machine building, heavy chemicals and cement industries.
Abolishing Zamindari System
India’s feudal set-up had severely affected its social fabric: Land ownership was concentrated among a select few, while landless and bonded labourers struggled to make ends meet. In 1949, the first important agrarian reform was to abolish the zamindari system, and tenants became, in most cases, owners of the land they cultivated. The abolition process was started long before the Constitution was enacted, but several states introduced the abolition Bills by 1949.
Cooperative Dairy Movement
India’s White Revolution, based on Gujarat’s ‘Anand model’—where thousands of rural milk cooperatives covering 80,000 villages and over 10 million farmers came up—is one of India’s most celebrated success stories in development. It not only laid the foundation for self-sufficiency in milk production, but provides for about a third of Indian rural incomes and drives rural nutrition, employment and women’s empowerment.
Eradication of Polio
Till as recently as 2009, India was home to more than 60 percent of the world’s polio cases. Challenges posed by a large population and tropical climate were compounded by difficult geographical terrains. With the joint efforts of the government and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, notably the World Health Organization, Rotary International and Unicef, annual vaccinations of all children under the age of five have ensured that India has not had a single case of the wild polio virus since 2011.
Setting Up the IITs
The creation of institutions of technical higher education was essential for the development of a skilled workforce in the fields of engineering and technology. The government established the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur, West Bengal, in 1951. The Institutes of Technology Act, 1961, created a unique framework for the funding, administration and academic development of the IITs. Within a decade, four more IITs were established in Bombay, Madras, Kanpur and Delhi to meet the growing technological demands of the planned economy.
Rural Employment Guarantee
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was launched in February 2006, in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. It covered 200 of the country’s most backward districts, and was later expanded to cover all rural districts. The scheme provides at least 100 days (in a fiscal year) of guaranteed wage employment to every rural household, and aims to enhance livelihood security for the rural poor.
It also aims to build sustainable infrastructure through rural development, such as water conservation, flood prevention and afforestation.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme was started to reduce school dropout rates and to combat under-nutrition among poor children. In late 2001, the Supreme Court directed all states to implement the scheme by providing students in government and government-assisted primary schools with one meal every day, for a minimum of 200 days. By 2006, the scheme was near universal in all states, and provides lunch to about 120 million children. It is the world’s largest school meal program.
Generic Drug Manufacturing
By 2017, the pharmaceutical industry in India was valued at $33 billion, with generic drugs accounting for 20 percent of global exports share in terms of volume. This made India the largest provider of generic medicines in the world. Despite large players like Piramal, Torrent, Cipla, Sun Pharma, Aurobindo,
Dr Reddy’s and Glenmark, the industry remains highly fragmented, with more than 10,000 companies. India’s pharma exports grew by 11 percent in FY19, one of its highest growth rates in the last decade.
NGOs’ Advocacy In Education
A significant phenomenon has been the contributions of non-government organisations (NGOs) in grassroots educational work. They have also contributed to national educational debates and helped make access and quality of education a prominent public issue. For instance, in 2005, Pratham did pioneering work in testing the learning achievements of elementary-school-age children in 509 districts, and produced a public report in 2006. This brought the issue of low learning levels and low schooling quality into the public realm.
Successive crop failures in the arid Deccan plateau and groundwater depletion prompted the Food and Agriculture Organization to work with farmers’ collectives and launch the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems project in 2004. It brought together over 30,000 farmers from 638 villages, who were taught to make optimal use of rain, groundwater, canal and waste water; grow water-saving rice varieties and crop diversification; manage sub-surface water and reclaim land lost to salinity. Maharashtra now has similar projects, along with Gujarat, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.
The Rise of Information Technology
The IT industry was freed from the Licence Raj, thanks to policy measures of the mid-1980s. As Indian companies found clients in the US, and the world over, it provided manpower and expertise at a fraction of the cost. The phenomenon of jobs in other countries being outsourced to Indian IT majors even led to the creation of a new word—Bangalored. The nearly $200 billion Indian IT services industry now has a total workforce of 4.36 million.
The Gig Economy
The rise of startups and the boom of app-based platforms in India have given rise to a new ecosystem of employment outside the formal employer-employee relationship. While the gig economy has been popular among blue-collar workers—delivery personnel and taxi drivers, for instance—there is huge potential for white-collar workers as well, due to increasing demand from industries that require project-specific consultants. India constitutes about 40 percent of the freelance jobs offered globally, with 15 million skilled professionals fuelling the ever-increasing demand for contract-based jobs.