Thus spake Murthy

India turns 60

Managing Growth

Sixty Years Of Progress

Narayana NR Murthy 08.13.07, 12:00 PM ET

Narayana N.R. Murthy is chairman of the board of Infosys Technologies

BANGALORE, INDIA - India completes her 60th year as a free nation on Aug. 15, 2007. However, 60 years is a short span in the life of a nation, and barely marks the first baby steps of a toddler. Hence, any assessment of India has to be generous and optimistic.

We have made decent progress in several areas during the last 60 years. We have produced world-class scientists, engineers, journalists, soldiers, bureaucrats, politicians and doctors. We have built complex bridges and dams. We have sent satellites and rockets into space. We have increased the number of doctors tenfold.

We have increased life expectancy from 32 years to 65 years. We have built about 1.25 million miles of new roads; we have multiplied our steel production by over 50 times and cement production by almost 20 times. We have increased our exports from a few million dollars at the time of independence to more than $125 billion now, with about $150 billion of imports.

There is an equally convincing set of data to show that we have a long way to go in certain other areas. A whopping 350 million are illiterate; 260 million people are still below the poverty line; 150 million people lack access to drinking water; 750 million people lack decent sanitation; 50% of children are below acceptable nutrition levels; and basic medicines are unavailable in 75% of villages.

Be that as it may, today I want to focus on a few major achievements that have transformed the lives of our people in a way we never imagined would happen.

Green Revolution

Perhaps, no other Indian initiative has enhanced the national confidence as the Green Revolution initiated by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. This revolution, which started in 1965, not only transformed India into a food-surplus economy from a food-deficit economy but also triggered the expansion of the rural, non-farm economy. The lives of at least 400 million to 500 million Indians have been uplifted due to this initiative. From being a perennial importer of grains, India became a net exporter of food grains 10 years ago.

White Revolution

Coming from a generation that experienced an acute shortage of milk, it is unimaginable that, today, we have become the largest producer of milk in the world. The credit goes to the extraordinary vision of one person, Dr. Verghese Kurien. In a nation where children are malnourished, such abundance of milk has offered us the opportunity to fight malnutrition with the means produced in India.

Economic Reforms Of 1991

The economic reforms of 1991--initiated by the late Narasimha Rao, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Shri P. Chidambaram and Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia--opened up the minds of Indian corporate leaders to the power of global markets, helped them accept competition at home and abroad, and raised the confidence of consumers. Our hard currency reserves have gone up from a mere $1.5 billion in 1991 to over $220 billion today. The reforms encouraged entrepreneurship and gave confidence to businessmen and entrepreneurs to dream big, create jobs, enhance exports, acquire companies abroad and follow the finest principles of corporate governance.

Independent Media, Brave Journalists

The success of a democracy depends upon certain important values of governance: fairness, transparency and accountability. The freeing of media, particularly television, has laid the foundation for improving these values in our governments. The courage, enthusiasm and zeal to seek truth of scores of idealistic journalists like N. Ram, Arun Shourie, Sekhar Gupta, Sucheta Dalal, Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai are what make us feel confident that the future of this country is safe.

Telecom Revolution

No other technology has brought India--the urban and the rural--together so effectively as the 500-line EPABX designed and implemented by the Center for Development of Telematics under the leadership of Sam Pitroda. This program brought fresh confidence to the people, as they could reach out, in a jiffy, to their loved ones, officials and doctors, just to name a few. People no longer feel that they live in isolation.

Space Technology

Yash Pal's Satellite Instructional Television Experiment blossomed into a full-scale television facility connecting millions of villages of India. Television has made our political masters realize that their actions and inactions will be seen and judged by every citizen--from the forgotten villages of Assam to the activist villages of Kerala. This technology has given voice to the opinions of a billion people--the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, and the powerful and the disfranchised.

Atomic Energy

Dr. Homi Bhabha conceptualized the Indian nuclear program and initiated nuclear science research in India. His program has made possible successful utilization of nuclear energy in defense, power generation, medicine and allied areas. Our peaceful use of nuclear energy has raised India's prestige as a mature and responsible player in this field.

Software Revolution

N. Vittal's Software Technology Program, along with the economic reforms of 1991, laid the foundation for this industry's spectacular progress. India's information technology exports grew from a mere $150 million in 1991-92 to $31.4 billion in 2006-07, and is projected to reach $60 billion by 2010. The Indian IT industry is unique for several reasons. It focused on exports; benchmarked with the best global companies; followed the finest principles of corporate governance; created the largest number of jobs in the organized sector; and demonstrated that Indians, too, could succeed in the most competitive global markets.

What do these eight programs have in common? They were all led by visionaries. These visionaries adopted and improved upon global benchmarks and settled for nothing less despite tremendous odds. In each of these initiatives the national government was a genuine catalyst whose extraordinary leaders helped fashion the India of today. They and so many others created an India where all Indians have the freedom to design, innovate, create and build their futures together. What a remarkable story of how the people and the government can work together to achieve what was once thought impossible.