Punjab must synergise efforts to become a brain economy : The Tribune India

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Punjab must synergise efforts to become a brain economy

Punjab should set up a knowledge commission with the aim of transforming the state into a vibrant knowledge hub.

Punjab must synergise efforts to become a brain economy

Slow pace: In Punjab, the generation of knowledge capital for development is at a nascent stage. PTI



BS Ghuman

THE agriculture sector is the backbone of Punjab’s economy. Before the Green Revolution, agricultural technology was traditional and its operations involved intensive manual labour. Farmers and farm labourers used to go to the fields before sunrise and toil hard till sunset. Artisans made handicrafts and farm implements manually.

The Green Revolution promoted the use of mechanised technology, with the tractor replacing the bullocks for ploughing and transportation. Over time, other agricultural operations also got mechanised. In the process, the skills acquired by farmers and labourers emerged as major determinants of productivity. Similarly, machine-intensive technologies operated by skilled labour made inroads into the industry and services. For example, handlooms were replaced by power looms using capital-intensive technology. In the services sector too, machine-centric operations have eclipsed manual work. The economy of Punjab, thus, is becoming skill-based.

In recent decades, knowledge as a source of development has taken centre stage, enabling advanced economies to graduate from a skills economy to a brain economy. In a brain economy, the generation and application of knowledge capital, comprising creative ideas, research, innovation, patents, consultancy and advances in technology — including smart technologies like artificial intelligence and IoT (the Internet of Things) — play a decisive role in development. In Punjab, however, the generation of knowledge capital for development is at a nascent stage. Surprisingly, despite research globally unlocking the power of knowledge, researchers and policymakers in Punjab have not adequately embraced this discourse. This is proving costly, especially when agriculture and industry are growing slowly.

For accelerating the transition from a manual economy to a brain economy through a skills economy, Punjab can draw inspiration from national- and state-level initiatives that promote the knowledge sector. The first landmark policy initiative to harness the potential of knowledge for development was taken by the Government of India in 2005 by constituting the National Knowledge Commission (NKC). Its mandate was to guide policy and direct reforms, focusing on key areas such as education, science and technology, and e-governance. Easy access to knowledge, creation and preservation of knowledge systems, dissemination of knowledge and better knowledge services were core concerns of the commission. The commission made 300 recommendations. As a follow-up, the landscape of the knowledge sector experienced phenomenal transformations, including enactment of the Right to Education Act, 2009, setting up of new Central universities, IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, NITs, IISERs, national laboratories and science institutions, the National Skill Development Mission and various e-governance initiatives.

The NKC deliberated upon some state subjects also and hence states such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Delhi prepared blueprints for implementing the recommendations. Karnataka constituted its knowledge commission, the Karnataka Jnana Aayoga, in 2008. Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Haryana, Telangana, Gujarat and Kerala have established knowledge corporations/societies/missions to drive knowledge-based initiatives.

Globally, the World Bank has given a four-pillar framework for developing the knowledge sector. These include institutional structures providing incentives for the application of knowledge, the availability of skilled labour and a dynamic education system, promotion and access to ICT (Information and Communications Technology) infrastructure, and a vibrant innovation landscape.

In line with the experiences of knowledge commissions and the World Bank framework, the Punjab Government should institute a knowledge commission with the vision of transforming the state into a vibrant knowledge hub, fostering linkages of knowledge with various sectors of the economy by bringing structural policy reforms in systems of knowledge production and facilitating an enabling environment for knowledge generation and its transfer to users.

The commission’s objectives may include the promotion of excellence across educational institutions for meeting knowledge needs of the 21st century; prescribing policy reforms for efficient management of institutions of higher learning and R&D institutions; suggesting ways to incentivise investment in educational institutions and R&D industry for the generation of knowledge capital; devising strategies for knowledge dissemination and application among its users, such as government, industry, agriculture, health and other sectors; promoting the application of knowledge for informed policymaking; developing an entrepreneurial and startup culture; identifying knowledge industry clusters; leveraging ICT, including smart technologies, to enhance Punjab’s competitive edge in the knowledge domain; documenting and standardising indigenous and heritage knowledge for societal betterment; and framing a policy for equitable distribution of knowledge economy benefits.

Along with the chairperson, vice-chairperson and secretary, the commission may have domain experts drawn from the fields of education, science and technology, industry, agriculture, climate change and the media, besides the Punjabi diaspora and the civil society. The ex-officio members may include the principal secretaries of departments related to the knowledge sector.

At the same time, the academia, industry and the state government should collaborate to form a cohort on the pattern of the triple helix model to catalyse knowledge initiatives. This model, developed by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff in the 1990s, envisions institutional synergy between universities, industry and the government to foster knowledge-based development. Under the model, the three partners are actively engaged in innovation, exchange of manpower and adoption of mutual best practices. The success of the Silicon Valley — a joint venture between the US Government, Stanford University and the IT industry — is a validation of the model. In Punjab, educational institutions and industry are concentrated in and around Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar, SAS Nagar, Patiala and Bathinda; by adopting the triple helix model, these cities can be developed as knowledge-industry clusters.

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