Trade & Investment

Look to India

Feb 2 2018 - It’s really time the Philippines pays serious attention to how India solves Third World problems in a practical and inexpensive but ingenious Third World way. And follow suit.

MA. Isabel Ongpin

While the Philippines and India have had trade relations probably from pre-history (Tamils from South India may have been sourcing gold from Mindanao) as well as during the colonial period (the Manila Galleon trade had precious stones, textiles and other items from India), modern India has not quite had the influence and impact that could be useful to us. Perhaps because we are not paying attention.

An example is the way they conduct their elections, which is actually the largest electoral event in the world with their huge population of more than a billion people and an electorate of 814 million-plus voters from the last election in 2014. It is the world’s largest election. It takes place in phases (nine) and in all of six weeks. From the mountain villages in the Himalayas to the deserts of Rajasthan to the islands on the Indian Ocean and on to their teeming states and cities, it is an epic event. About five million electoral workers are involved in more than 935,000 polling places. It is managed with the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) invented by an Indian using a 6-volt alkaline battery (made in India). As a parliamentary democracy, India has 1,600 parties. They are shown as symbols on the EVMs; the voter presses the button (blue) on the symbol of the party he chooses and it is quickly recorded and verified with a slip of paper that spills out showing the name of the voter, his vote, serial number of the ballot, etc. This is called the Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail which is evidence that the vote has been counted. The button cannot be pressed again, so no multiple voting can occur. No electricity is required with the use of the 6-volt battery.

I am sure a Filipino techie can duplicate this EVM, or perhaps we should get a license to replicate it here and be done with Smartmatic and its dubious machines.

In truth, Indian engineering is at par with the best of the developed countries. India has notable engineering schools like the Indian Institute of Technology established all over the country taking in students that master its tough courses to get a degree and go on to design all kinds of machines, computer applications, inventions and other innovative solutions to problems without throwing money into them, emphasizing instead ingenuity, practicality and low cost. With Indian engineering prowess at hand and nearby, shouldn’t we tap it for our infrastructure projects?

Another thing I noticed from my visit to India late last year was the excellence of their expressways. Well-built, and easy to navigate, these roads take in everything from cars and buses and to tricycles, tractors, motorcycles, bicycles. They are for everybody. The driving may be a bit scary but apparently it is the norm and the expressways can take it. They are not overwhelmed and they don’t have traffic jams.

India has also pioneered and solved the pharmaceutical needs of its population by coming up with generic drugs.

Through research, use of patents in the public domain and their ability to manage the industry in a huge but less capital-intensive way compared to other countries, they are a leading drug manufacturer in the Third World with drugs for every need, disease and emergency. It is not at the mercy of Big Pharma as we seem to be. And they have survived Big Pharma’s attempts to shut them down. In the process, they have provided affordable medicines to their general population and other Third World countries at affordable prices. It would be a good move on our part to source our pharmaceutical needs from India. It will save us a lot of money compared to buying drugs from multilateral drug manufacturers from the West.

Government support for small and medium industries was also observed on our trip to India. Small textile manufacturers could rent buildings to use for spinning thread and weaving textiles at subsidized prices in zones set aside for the purpose. Indian electricity rates are a fraction of ours.

Another admirable accomplishment of India is that they have been self-sufficient in food for a number of decades now. Not that their agricultural problems have been solved as farmers sometimes are in deep debt leading to high suicide rates. But on the whole, the days of famine and outright hunger from lack of harvests is over.

Publishing is also a thriving industry there with international connections. Many books from all over the world are published in India at lower cost but high in quality. English is widely spoken and books in English from all over the world are readily available at lower prices.

What I am trying to say is that India should be looked at for its solutions to Third World problems with the judicious use of scarce capital. The Indian economy is booming and expected to hit 7 percent growth this year. There are many lessons for us to learn from this country.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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