Atmanirbhar Bharat: A beacon of hope
by Ashutosh Agarwal on 09 Oct 2020 3 Comments

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently stressed the need for India to become self-reliant, atmanirbhar. The genesis of this call is rooted in the standoff with China on the borders. China has shown aggression and India is resisting through its military might but also retaliating through economic measures. As per available statistics, India imported goods worth $62.4 billion from China during April 2019-February 2020, a large percentage of which were consumer products for daily needs.


The objective of Atmanirbhar Bharat has several dimensions for implementation. One of the most important areas is the domain of consumer products. Understanding its importance, the Prime Minister appealed to the toy sector to be self reliant.


We need to understand the reason why domestic production has failed, even though most people would like to buy Indian products. 


One reason is design innovation of various products that make life easier. Such products are readily innovated in China, and respond to the needs of common people in an effective manner. Chinese products cater to the smallest and most basic needs of people. For instance, if a new born baby has to be protected from mosquito bites, a folding mosquito mesh is available; if a baby has to be carried, an easy strap type basket is available that lets the mother carry the baby effortlessly, without any discomfort to the baby. The list of such objects of daily use is endless; Indian manufacturers must understand the link between design innovation and the success of a product.


A successful product must also be affordable. In this regard, the availability of cheap labour ensured by the communist regime is cited. Another excuse is the difference in labour costs and government laws related to manufacturing in both countries. These are important points, but product design supersedes all such issues. If consumer needs are addressed effectively, the product will be successful irrespective of its cost, more so because the cheap Chinese products have acquired the reputation of not lasting or not being reliable. Once Chinese products malfunction or break, there is no redressal system; but if the product is made in India, at least a manufacturing defect can be redressed.


Coming back to the importance of Design of Product(s), several institutions that run degree programs in Design can play a pivotal role. Unfortunately these institutes wait for someone to approach them to get something designed. However, when self-reliance has become a national mission, it behooves everyone to pitch in to achieve the objective. The institutes needs to be proactive: students can be given assignments to design simple and effective solutions that can replace Chinese products. Once these designs are found useful, then the designs can be registered as intellectual property and manufacturers can be approached. Many useful products can be manufactured at the small and medium industry level; indeed, this sector needs to rise to the challenge as it is also a large source of employment generation.


Such a system can give students hands-on experience to be involved in the manufacturing process and innovate to cater to popular needs. At the same time, the institutes can earn royalty from the manufacturers, while sharing a portion with the students who have innovated the product. This system would satisfy one of the important objectives of the New Education Policy, which suggests that institutes need to be self reliant in terms of finances. Further, the students will be moulded to think in terms of employment generation rather than seeking employment.  


The possibilities are immense; design could well become a revenue model as well as a path to self-reliance every sector that innovates. The point to understand is that it is unfair to expect an industry to design as well as produce. Here the Government, through a nodal ministry, can act as an effective catalyst. Designing is a specialized activity, as is manufacturing and distribution.


The faculty of professional institutions must step up to the challenge. Indeed, the institution, the faculty and students involved in a product design can and should be given a share of royalty, on pre-decided terms. Once the process is kick-started, it could result in the resurgence of small scale manufacturing that has taken a beating in recent years on account of Chinese products swamping the market. Public consciousness raised awareness about Chinese conquest of the toy market, crackers, and even Diwali lights. If educational institutions and manufacturers step up, consumers will gladly meet them halfway. 

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