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India@100: To One-Fifth Of Humanity

In 30 years, India’s population will be around 1.7 billion and its needs much bigger

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India just celebrated 70 years of independence. The most remarkable thing about this milestone is that it survives, nay flourishes, as one nation. When the United States was roughly eighty years old, it was in the throes of a civil war that almost tore the country into two. President Lincoln had to wage an unpleasant war against his own people. Many newly independent nations after the second world war broke up into smaller bits. The Soviet Union itself is now 10 separate nations. The fissiparous tendency can arise on any dimension, for example, due to language and regionalism. But Indians seem to have a special skill in maintaining their subnational (linguistic) identity along with the national one. One can be a proud Marathi and a proud Indian, and there’s no dissonance. The world’s largest, and possibly the most diverse democracy is healthy and robust, and entering its eighth decade. Thank you, world!

What will India look like when it is 100? That milestone birthday is not so far into the future, so we can make a reasonable forecast of what’s in store. For starters, our population will be around 1.7 billion, making us almost one fifth of humanity. Since almost two-third Indians are below the age of 35, most of them will be alive to celebrate the century of independence. Secondly, our economy will be at least eight times bigger, and per-capita incomes five times of today. This will have great implications on consumption, savings, investment and tax collection. The dependency ratio (working to retired people) will still be favourable for the economy, and the problems of an ageing society would not be so acute. Of course, many southern states would possibly be below zero population growth rate. The financial sector would have expanded much faster than GDP. The deepening of finance, hastened by digitalisation, will see increased savings, shift from physical to financial savings, and much greater participation in capital markets. The value of financial assets will probably exceed physical assets, and the Sensex might have crossed 100k.

The number of states in India could go up to 40 as larger states break up. This is for ease of administration and governance. There will be around 100 cities and urban agglomerations with populations greater than 1 million. Most cities will be run by a directly elected mayor, a much stronger form of governance. The main source of revenue for the cities will be property taxes. They will all be converting their garbage to electricity. The national share of renewable energy could be as high as 25 per cent. Electric vehicles may be more than 10 per cent, and use of battery-assisted bicycles would be widespread.

Most Indians will be on 5G, and most villages will have functioning fiber optic link. There will be almost 1,000 airports (big, small, tiny) and annual passenger air traffic will be more than 2 billion (including domestic and international). Food production will exceed 2 billion tonnes in aggregate. But food imports will be imperative.

Can we now do some more wild, but wishful speculation? For a nation of 1.7 billion people, we will need much larger legislatures. Parliament will have more than 2,000 representatives and women will have one-third representation. India will have produced two dozen Nobel Prize winners, and four Indian universities will figure in the top twenty in the world. The official poverty rate would have fallen below 5 per cent. The tiger census would report a count of 10,000. The agro-processing industry would be booming. Inbound tourism will be 50 million. Super-fast trains will connect the six mega cities, and waterways including coastal transport would rule the roost. Here’s looking forward to India at 100. Cheers! 

The author is chief economist at Aditya Birla Group

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Ajit Ranade

The author is chief economist at Aditya Birla Group

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