Published: 17th January 2018
Start-ups, tech jobs can power rural areas and curb migration to cities
India's technological boom must be used to tap rural talents, said panelists who agreed though that one has to keep from being hijacked by it
India's money may be in it's cities, but it's heart certainly lies further afield. The question of how you can use technology to economically power non-urban parts of India was thrown to panelists at TNIE's ThinkEdu Conclave and they all agreed that start-ups held the key to killing the massive migration problem.
Reflecting on how her start-up, which makes solar vehicles, is driving employment in tier-II and tier-III towns in South India, Hemalatha Annamalai, CEO of Ampere Vehicles said, "We wanted to start creating these opportunities in cities that are not tier 1. There is so much talent that is untapped. The traditional students will do engineering and then follow their peers and get placed in companies. We wanted to break this cycle." She went on to explain how they have involved several levels of people in their manufacturing process, "We make battery operated cycles, scooters and vehicles for transport. We then hire engineers from tier 2 Engineering colleges so that they can live at home with their families while having engineering jobs. We believe that if jobs can be created and be made viable, then sustained and scaled, then these places will see a good deal of development."
Tap away: Hemalatha Annamalai said her company wanted to focus on cities that were not classified under Tier 1
Addressing the issue of migration itself, IIT Madras Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi said that start-ups and solar innovations were doing plenty to bridge this divide, "People are coming to urban areas for their amenities, for their education, medication and opportunities. This is an affect of aggregation. We are trying to see if we can do all this without encouraging migration. We are trying to find a way to provide this in a non-urban setting. Healthcare, communication, education and provision of energy can all be increasingly made comparable to the same services in urban areas, thanks to technology." he said and added, "Now a lot of things are lowly becoming economically feasible with the advent of solar innovations. Many of these changes are being brought in by start-ups."
However, technology isn't the whole answer, but merely a tool, averred Meghdut Roy Chowdhury, Director-Global Operations,Techno India Group, "Restricting problem solving to only technology is not the answer. Tech is, at the end of the day, a very sustainable tool, but unless we help people solve their problem it is of no use. Right now we need equal development of rural and urban areas. The problem lies in the fact that there is a lot of migration. They lack the tech and facilities to solve or bridge this gap. With education on our side, we can reach out to a fraction of the rural population and begin the change," he said.
Boon or Tool: Meghdut Roy Chowdhury said while Technology is certainly a tool to help bridge the gap, it wasn't the only answer to the problem
Startup Village's CEO, Sanjay Vijayakumar, who gave several anecdotes about how the 'simple, pastoral' life was one to be envied on a certain plane, spoke about Little Andamans, a small island, which is home to the Nicobari tribe (a minute population of less than 5000 people). "They are super happy. The whole island is 30 years behind Chennai and Little Andaman must be about 40-50 years behind. They have no data, no ads and no one staring at you and saying that if you have no luxury there is something wrong with your life. There is nobody telling you to do anything. They have to walls or social networking. But they all know each other. The one thing they do every evening is that they crowd around the village square and play carrom. There's no crime so there is no need for CCTVs or cameras. They have no use of data. The are happy and carefree. They go to the sea in the morning, catch fish and grow sustainable crops," he waxed eloquent about their serene disconnected life. At a time when BSNL was finally mulling bringing 4G to their shores, he wondered if there was something that we could learn from them, "There is no definite proof that this technological evolution that has occurred to us has really made us happy. Life has become extremely fast and we are living in much luxury. But has the quality of life and happiness improved? Can we sit for very long without staring at a smartphone?"