Self-reliance in manufacturing
As the world entered 2020 it was soon engulfed by Covid-19 and is still in the midst of the devastating pandemic. The unavoidable lockdowns have had a terrible impact on economies, disrupted global supply chains and impacted businesses and jobs. As a result, the International Monetary Fund has revised its world economic outlook including sharp contractions in India and China.
The Make in India initiative of 2014 aimed at increasing the manufacturing sector’s growth rate, creating millions of manufacturing jobs and increasing the sector’s contribution to the GDP. By developing efficient infrastructure and opening new sectors to foreign capital investments, the government hoped to encourage companies to manufacture in India.
The initiative listed 25 sectors for job creation and skill enhancement, with the objective to make India a global design and manufacturing hub. By 2015 India had become the top destination worldwide for foreign direct investment. However, till the end of 2019 the initiative had not met its goals. The state of India’s economy was not on sound footing. And then Covid-19 took hold.
While grappling with the spread of the new virus, India is planning for the future, reiterated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent call for an “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (a self-reliant India).
India as a manufacturing hub
China is the world’s biggest manufacturing region on which most countries are currently dependent. Today, however, many are looking for alternatives. While developing these could take time, countries with ambitions to offer other options should act fast.
India has recently put curbs on Chinese technology investments and banned mobile apps with links to major Chinese companies. However, doing away with imports from China or elsewhere is not practical unless we have better alternatives in place. There is an urgent need for more production facilities, the latest technology and upskilling of manpower along with attitudinal changes to take pride in producing quality products. India has the numbers in terms of a young demographic but they do need to be better skilled for their own economic progress and to be assets in all areas of the country’s growth, including manufacturing.
To compete, new manufacturing destinations should also have the infrastructure to offer products in bulk that meet buyers’ standards in terms of quality and price. India should seize this opportunity to offer a good alternative for other countries in addition to meeting the demands of its home market, thereby reducing imports. As some other South East Asian nations too are looking to offer the world alternative manufacturing bases, India needs to step up.
Opportunity for the Indian optical industry
There was a time when even good quality Indian products had a limited demand in the export market due to not quite cutting the mark in terms of finish and packaging. This has changed in recent years. Indian companies have realised how crucial it is to upgrade technologies, skills and manufacturing processes to offer consistent, fine quality that can compete globally.
Since eyewear is an essential commodity, the demand for which is growing, this is an opportune time for entrepreneurs to set up manufacturing in the country to replace the current large-scale imports.
Manufacturers of optical products should not only match the best global standards but also have the infrastructure and capacity to churn out large volumes. While there are Indian companies that meet the mark, there’s still scope for more.
Looking behind finished products, at present, 90 per cent of raw materials and technology used in the eyewear industry are imported. Efforts must be made to replace these with domestic options, and at the earliest, so that the dependence on imports is reduced to a minimum.
Manufacturing facilities and infrastructure need to be created on a massive scale to offer large volumes with synchronised expansion of the raw material and ancillary industries. This will enable India to not only meet the local demand but also cater to other countries worldwide.
India should seize the moment and offer a good alternative for the manufacture of quality optical products. The government’s support by setting up special manufacturing zones with incentives such as subsidised land rates, tax breaks, attractive loan rates, help with skilling, etc., are the need of the hour.