Much as for today’s Russia, digital transformation has been one of the priorities for India’s government, its entrepreneurs and the civil society. Despite the turmoil caused by the pandemic, the changes on the path of digitization taking place in Russia and India open up new opportunities for cooperation between the two countries and pose new problems.
Given that forecasts of India’s economic growth are again—as it happened a year ago—downgraded, and the footage of today’s tragic situation in the country dominates TV screens, it is difficult to believe that a significant part of the positive transformations of recent years in India has to be attributed to the technological progress of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the expansion of knowledge economy and a rapid digitization. However, this remains the case, and a study published recently by the SKOLKOVO Institute for Emerging Markets Studies in cooperation with the Indian School of Business focuses on the digitization aspect of the profound transformation that extends to the Indian economy and society as a whole.
The research report “India Goes Digital. From a local phenomenon to a global influencer” examines the main distinctive features that, as the authors argue, make India’s digitisation profile unique. They include both fairly well-known aspects, such as the system of biometric identification of citizens operational in India, as well as less familiar features, including a close partnership between the state and private businesses in designing and implementing digitization programmes, their impact on the increasing financial inclusion as well as the boom of entrepreneurship, which is also largely associated with the rapid proliferation of digital technologies in India.
The study also examines the impact of digitization on the education sector, critical to India’s development. It explores the great potential that India’s educational companies have; after all, as of today, they are the fastest growing in their segment on a global scale, seeking international expansion, which makes quality education more accessible and effective for both developing and developed countries.
The study provides insights into the companies, institutions and entrepreneurs that make up the emerging digital India. In the segment of the study concerning Russian-Indian cooperation, the authors analyze the experience of Russian businesses in India and argue that it is necessary to strengthen the technological segment within the strategic partnership between Russia and India, which is not only dictated by the present-day requirements but also has a very significant potential.
The Russian-Indian partnership in the era of digital transformation
In 2020, Russia and India celebrated 20 years since the Declaration on Strategic Partnership was signed in New Delhi by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Vladimir Putin in October 2000. In December 2010, the India-Russia partnership was upgraded to the level of a special and privileged strategic partnership. In April 2019, President Putin signed an executive order, awarding Prime Minister N. Modi the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called for his distinguished contribution to the privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India and fostering friendly ties between the Russian and Indian peoples. The strategic status of relations is not exclusive for both countries; however, a profound mutual understanding on most of the issues on the contemporary and historical agendas is a unique feature of the Russian-Indian relations. The annual meeting of the leaders of the two countries did not take place in 2020; however, the next face-to-face summit is reportedly planned for 2021. The views of Moscow and New Delhi on the geopolitical situation in the two most important macroregions—Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific—where both Russia and India play an important role and where the two countries seek to smooth out the emerging divergence in approaches to their future deserve a separate analysis.
In April 2021, it was announced that a “two + two” dialogue with the participation of foreign and defense ministers would be established between Russia and India. India is already working with the United States, Japan and Australia in the same format.
In addition to the strong political ties, traditional cooperation in the energy sector, as well as military-technical partnership, is particularly prominent and important for both India and Russia. In September 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief guest at the 5th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. The Russian Far East, a vast territory designed to become Russia’s new gateway to Asia, is open for Indian business, striving to become one of the new engines for the development of the Russian-Indian ties.
The planned Vladivostok-Chennai maritime corridor will become an important new transport link connecting the Russian Arctic and the Far East with India. In this regard, the energy bridge between the two countries, which implies trade and investment in oil and gas, LNG, nuclear energy, coal mining and processing, will certainly expand, given the natural complementarity of the economies of the two countries. Cooperation in the field of renewable energy, on which India puts a clear premium, and in the hydrogen economy, are also under discussion. The co-production of COVID-19 vaccines is an important recent addition to the list of priority areas for bilateral collaboration.
Besides, Moscow and Delhi intend to expand military-technical cooperation using the advantages of localization within the framework of the “Make in India” and AtmaNirbhar Bharat (“Self-Reliant India”) programmes that are actively promoted by the Indian government and personally by PM N. Modi.
However, for various reasons, as is well-known, economic cooperation between Russia and India lags behind the level of their expanded political partnership. In 2019, Russian-Indian trade turnover amounted to $11.16 billion (while Russian exports to India amounted to $7.24 billion, India’s exports to Russia amounted to $3.92 billion). Before the pandemic, the governments of the two countries set a goal to triple their trade turnover to $30 billion and to increase bilateral investments from $30 to $50 billion by 2025. N. Modi and V. Putin identified the intensification of trade and economic relations as a priority area of bilateral cooperation. The establishment of a free trade zone between India and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is being considered.
Governments of India and Russia were tasked with identifying and removing the bottlenecks and obstacles to expanding economic ties. Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development and India’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion have launched fast-track, single-window mechanisms to facilitate smooth investments by Russian and Indian companies. “Invest India,” an investment promotion and facilitation agency, established a special Russia desk to provide Russian businesses with a convenient platform for support and advice on investment issues. The Far East Investment and Export Agency, the Russian Export Center, Delovaya Rossiya, as well as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and other organizations promote direct contacts between Indian and Russian business communities. Two rounds of strategic economic dialogue took place between India and Russia: in St. Petersburg in 2018 and in New Delhi in 2019.
2020 was the year of Russia’s BRICS chairmanship, and despite the fact that the BRICS summit, like all other work, had to be held remotely, Russia tried to make the content of this work most up-to-date and relevant to today’s requirements. Thus, the topic of cooperation between the BRICS nations in digitalization-related areas was reflected in the 12th BRICS Summit Moscow Declaration adopted at the meeting. In the new Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025, one of the three main directions identified was—for the first time—cooperation in digital economy. 2021 is the year of India’s chairmanship in BRICS, meaning that the topic of digitalization, which is very close to India, will undoubtedly find further reflection in the work of the grouping. In recent years, India has made tangible progress in promoting Internet penetration, digital literacy, e-government, financial technology, e-commerce and so on.
Digitalization as Russia’s top priority
Digital transformation is now one of the top priorities for Russia as well. This was reflected in the appointment of Mikhail Mishustin as Prime Minister of the country in January 2020. Speaking at the State Duma in 2020, M. Mishustin noted: “Digital is the oil, gold and platinum of the 21st century. If we do not get digital, digital will get us.” Prior to his appointment as Prime Minister, M. Mishustin headed the Federal Tax Service of Russia, where he managed to overhaul the work of this department on a completely new digital foundation and in a rather short time span. Russia has developed the National Technological Initiative (NTI), a long-term programme aimed at ensuring the leadership of Russian companies on new high-tech markets that will emerge in the global economy during the next 15-20 years.
Like India, Russia is now preparing to test and deploy 5G networks. The national “Digital Economy” programme (planned up to the year 2030) is currently under implementation. NTI and Russia’s other efforts in the technological field can be coordinated with the strategic plans of India in similar areas.
Complementarity and new cooperation avenues
So far, India’s experience with digitalization is not well-known in Russia. With some exceptions, Russian businesses are largely unfamiliar with the changes taking place in India. Although Russian and Indian IT-industries have evolved differently, new complementarities and new opportunities for collaboration between them are emerging. It is noteworthy that the Russian Association of Software Development Companies RUSSOFT, founded in 1999, was created following the example of the Indian National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM). Today, companies, such as MaximaTelecom (solutions for digital cities and businesses), Lighting Technologies (lighting systems for smart cities), Technonicol (advanced building materials), Zyfra (artificial intelligence and industrial solutions based on the Internet of Things), Tactise Group (advanced solutions in the field of labour protection and industrial safety), as well as state giants such as Rosatom (India’s key partner in the nuclear industry), are actively involved in India’s innovative development path.
However, there exists great potential for expanding this list. Despite severe competition with both Indian and international players, solutions from Russia are in demand, Indian businesses and the national government are willing to work with Russian companies in their own interests, regardless of possible pressure from the outside. Several investment funds are also working with India, building bridges and striving to blend Russian, Indian and international experience. These include Sistema Asia Capital, RTP Global, DST Global. These are experienced tech-savvy investors, representing “smart money”, equipped with the knowledge of working with complex markets, such as India.
The two countries have the potential for cooperation in deep technologies, such as artificial intelligence, big data and analytics, machine learning, smart energy infrastructure, smart logistics, photonics and new materials, microelectronics and semiconductors, as well as blockchain and financial technologies. An important element of support from the governments on both sides could be the establishment of so-called regulatory sandboxes—so that experimental legal regimes could facilitate cross-pollination and testing of ideas between technology companies and start-ups from India and Russia.
Amid today’s realities, India cannot be solely viewed as a potential sales market. It is necessary to work with India as a valuable partner. India welcomes foreign businesses that help address its challenges without aggravating the country’s problems (in particular, unemployment and environmental degradation). India offers incentives to localize production and has unique experience in scaling low-margin products and services. Importantly, Indian businesses are going global very actively and can serve as a springboard for Russian solutions to enter international markets.
Another potentially important area of cooperation between India and Russia is cybersecurity. In the rapidly unfolding digital world, the environment where people and businesses operate is becoming increasingly permeable, while the space that needs protection is more and more difficult to delineate with a security perimeter. Securing critical infrastructure will require new approaches and principles that may be based on quantum technologies and quantum cryptography. Currently, a national cybersecurity strategy is under development in India, and the country is facing regular cyber-attacks on its infrastructure, which Indian regulators, knowing the complexity and ambiguity of this topic, rightly avoid attributing to any specific groups of cybercriminals or naming their origins. At the same time, India’s Western partners rush to attribute these attacks to China or North Korea.
Against the backdrop of the global pandemic crisis, the dangers associated with high technology seem to have receded into the background. However, there is no doubt that the pandemic has significantly accelerated digitalization; and in the new digital world, national independence and sovereignty of countries are becoming more dependent on technology than ever before.
Over the years, Russia has consistently advocated for a broad international consensus under the auspices of the UN to work out the principles of international law to govern cyberspace. Meanwhile, in response to growing digital threats and in the absence of comprehensive international regulation, cyberspace is becoming increasingly regional. In a newly evolving international environment, there are likely to be several technology clusters, each with their own security principles. It is in the interests of both Russia and India to agree on these principles at an early stage, so as not to find themselves on different technological continents in the near future.
Given the constant and consistent striving of both countries for sovereignty and adherence to international law and the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, Russia and India are natural partners in the formation of a new digital world, and if their efforts are intensified, this will stand to benefit not only the two countries but also the international community as a whole.
In line with global trends and reflecting the accelerating technological transformation within India, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs announced in 2020 the creation of the New and Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST) department that will deal with technology diplomacy, foreign policy and international legal aspects of the new technologies. This is expected to enable India to become more involved in the global debate on technology governance and to better advocate for the country’s national interests in this context.
From our partner RIAC
From nanotechnology to solar power: Solutions to drought
While the drought has intensified in Iran and the country is facing water stress, various solutions from the use of solar power plants to the expansion of watershed management and nanotechnology are offered by experts and officials.
Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region, and Iranians have long sought to make the most of water.
In recent years, the drought has intensified making water resources fragile and it can be said that we have reached water bankruptcy in Iran.
However, water stress will continue this fall (September 23-December 21), and the season is expected to be relatively hot and short of rain, according to Ahad Vazifeh, head of the national center for drought and crisis management.
In such a situation, officials and experts propose various solutions for optimal water management.
Alireza Qazizadeh, a water and environment expert, referring to 80 percent of the arid regions in the country, said that “Iran has one percent of the earth’s area and receives only 36 percent of renewable resources.
The country receives 250 mm of rainfall annually, which is about 400 billion cubic meters, considering 70 percent evaporation, there is only 130 billion cubic meters of renewable water and 13 billion cubic meters of input from border waters.”
Referring to 800 ml of average rainfall and 700 mm of global evaporation, he noted that 70 percent of rainfall in Iran occurs in only 25 percent of the country and only 25 percent rains in irrigation seasons.
Pointing to the need for 113 billion cubic meters of water in the current year (began on March 21), he stated that “of this amount, 102 billion is projected for agricultural use, 7 percent for drinking and 2 percent for industry, and at this point water stress occurs.
In 2001, 5.5 billion cubic meters of underground resources were withdrawn annually, and if we consider this amount as 20 years from that year until now, it means that we have withdrawn an equivalent of one year of water consumption from non-renewable resources, which is alarming.”
The use of unconventional water sources can be effective in controlling drought, such as rainwater or river runoff, desalinated water, municipal wastewater that can be reused by treatment, he concluded.
Rasoul Sarraf, the Faculty of Materials at Shahid Modarres University, suggests a different solution and states that “To solve ease water stress, we have no choice but to use nanotechnology and solar power plants.
Pointing to the sun as the main condition for solar power plant, and while pointing to 300 sunny days in the country, he said that at the Paris Convention, Iran was required to reduce emissions by 4 percent definitively and 8 percent conditionally, which will only be achieved by using solar power plants.
Hamidreza Zakizadeh, deputy director of watershed management at Tehran’s Department of Natural Resources and Watershed Management, believes that watershed management can at least reduce the effects of drought by managing floods and extracting water for farmers.
Amir Abbas Ahmadi, head of habitats and regional affairs of Tehran Department of Environment, also referring to the severe drought in Tehran, pointed to the need to develop a comprehensive plan for water management and said that it is necessary to cooperate with several responsible bodies and develop a comprehensive plan to control the situation.
He also emphasizes the need to control migration to the capital, construction, and the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Tehran city.
While various solutions are proposed by officials and experts to manage water and deal with drought, it is necessary for the related organizations to work together to manage the current situation.
Mohammad Reza Espahbod, an expert in groundwater resources, also suggested that while the country is dealing with severe drought due to improper withdrawal of groundwater and low rainfall, karst water resources can supply the whole water needed by the country, only if managed.
Iran is the fifth country in the world in terms of karst water resources, he stated.
Qanats can also come efficient to contain water scarcity due to relatively low cost, low evaporation rates, and not requiring technical knowledge, moreover, they proved sustainable being used in perpetuity without posing any damages to the environment.
According to the Ministry of Energy, about 36,300 qanats have been identified in Iran, which has been saturated with water for over 2,000 years.
In recent years, 3,800 qanats have been rehabilitated through watershed and aquifer management, and people who had migrated due to water scarcity have returned to their homes.
Water resources shrinking
Renewable water resources have decreased by 30 percent over the last four decades, while Iran’s population has increased by about 2.5 times, Qasem Taqizadeh, deputy minister of energy, said in June.
The current water year (started on September 23, 2020) has received the lowest rain in the past 52 years, so climate change and Iran’s arid region should become a common belief at all levels, he lamented.
A recent report by Nature Scientific Journal on Iran’s water crisis indicates that from 2002 to 2015, over 74 billion cubic meters have been extracted from aquifers, which is unprecedented and its revival takes thousands of years along with urgent action.
Three Iranian scientists studied 30 basins in the country and realized that the rate of aquifer depletion over a 14-year period has been about 74 billion cubic meters, which is recently published in Nature Scientific Journal.
Also, over-harvesting in 77 percent of Iran has led to more land subsidence and soil salinity. Research and statistics show that the average overdraft from the country’s aquifers was about 5.2 billion cubic meters per year.
Mohammad Darvish, head of the environment group in the UNESCO Chair on Social Health, has said that the situation of groundwater resources is worrisome.
From our partner Tehran Times
Technology and crime: A never-ending cat-and-mouse game
Is technology a good or bad thing? It depends on who you ask, as it is more about the way technology is used. Afterall, technology can be used by criminals but can also be used to catch criminals, creating a fascinating cat-and-mouse game.
Countless ways technology can be used for evil
The first spear was used to improve hunting and to defend from attacking beasts. However, it was also soon used against other humans; nuclear power is used to produce energy, but it was also used to annihilate whole cities. Looking at today’s news, we’ve learned that cryptocurrencies could be (and are) used as the preferred form of payments of ransomware since they provide an anonymous, reliable, and fast payment method for cybercriminals.
Similarly, secure phones are providing criminal rings with a fast and easy way to coordinate their rogue activities. The list could go on. Ultimately, all technological advancements can be used for good or evil. Indeed, technology is not inherently bad or good, it is its usage that makes the difference. After all, spears served well in preventing the extinction of humankind, nuclear power is used to generate energy, cryptocurrency is a promise to democratize finance, and mobile phones are the device of choice of billions of people daily (you too are probably reading this piece on a mobile).
However, what is new with respect to the past (recent and distant) is that technology is nowadays much more widespread, pervasive, and easier to manipulate than it was some time ago. Indeed, not all of us are experts in nuclear material, or willing and capable of effectively throwing a spear at someone else. But each of us is surrounded by, and uses, technology, with a sizeable part of users also capable of modifying that technology to better serve their purposes (think of computer scientists, programmers, coding kids – technology democratization).
This huge reservoir of people that are capable of using technology in a way that is different from what it was devised for, is not made of just ethical hackers: there can be black hats as well (that is, technology experts supporting evil usages of such technology). In technical terms, the attack vector and the security perimeter have dramatically expanded, leading to a scenario where technology can be easily exploited for rogue purposes by large cohorts of people that can attack some of the many assets that are nowadays vulnerable – the cybersecurity domain provides the best example for the depicted scenario.
Fast-paced innovation and unprecedented threats
What is more, is that technology developments will not stop. On the contrary, we are experiencing an exponentially fast pace in technology innovation, that resolves in less time between technology innovations cycles that, while improving our way of living, also pave the way for novel, unprecedented threats to materialize. For instance, the advent of quantum computers will make the majority of current encryption and digital signature methods useless and what was encrypted and signed in the past, exposed.
The tension between legitimate and illegitimate usages of technology is also heating up. For instance, there are discussions in the US and the EU about the need for the provider of ICT services to grant the decryption keys of future novel secure applications to law enforcement agencies should the need arise –a debatable measure.
However, technology is the very weapon we need to fight crime. Think of the use of Terahertz technology to discover the smuggling of drugs and explosives – the very same technology Qatar has successfully employed. Or the infiltration of mobile phone crime rings by law enforcement operators via high tech, ethical hacking (as it was the case for the EncroChat operation). And even if crime has shown the capability to infiltrate any sector of society, such as sports, where money can be laundered over digital networks and matches can be rigged and coordinated via chats, technology can help spot the anomalies of money transfer, and data science can spot anomalies in matches, and can therefore thwart such a crime – a recent United Nations-sponsored event, participated by the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) Qatar and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) discussed the cited topic. In the end, the very same technology that is used by criminals is also used to fight crime itself.
Don’t get left behind
In the above-depicted cybersecurity cat-and-mouse game, the loser is the party that does not update its tools, does not plan, and does not evolve.
In particular, cybersecurity can help a country such as Qatar over two strategic dimensions: to better prevent/detect/react to the criminal usage of technology, as well as to advance robustly toward a knowledge-based economy and reinforce the country’s presence in the segment of high value-added services and products to fight crime.
In this context, a safe bet is to invest in education, for both governments and private citizens. On the one hand, only an educated workforce would be able to conceptualize/design/implement advanced cybersecurity tools and frameworks, as well as strategically frame the fight against crime. On the other hand, the same well-educated workforce will be able to spur innovation, create start-ups, produce novel high-skill products, and diversify the economy.
In this context, Qatar enjoys a head start, thanks to its huge investment in education over the last 20 years. In particular, at HBKU – part of Qatar Foundation – where we have been educating future generations.
CSE engages and leads in research disciplines of national and global importance. The college’s speciality divisions are firmly committed to excellence in graduate teaching and training of highly qualified students with entrepreneurial capacity.
For instance, the MS in Cybersecurity offered by CSE touches on the foundations of cryptocurrencies, while the PhD in Computer Science and Engineering, offering several majors (including cybersecurity), prepares future high-level decision-makers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the ICT domain – the leaders who will be driving the digitalization of the economy and leading the techno-fight against crime.
Enhancing poverty measurement through big data
Authors: Jasmina Ernst and Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah*
Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While significant progress to reduce poverty had been made at the global and regional levels by 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic has partly reversed this trend. A significant share of the population in South-East Asia still lacks access to basic needs such as health services, proper nutrition and housing, causing many children to suffer from malnutrition and treatable illnesses.
Delivering on the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind requires monitoring of the SDG implementation trends. At the country level, national statistics offices (NSOs) are generally responsible for SDG data collection and reporting, using traditional data sources such as surveys, census and administrative data. However, as the availability of data for almost half of the SDG indicators (105 of 231) in South-East Asia is insufficient, NSOs are exploring alternative sources and methods, such as big data and machine learning, to address the data gaps. Currently, earth observation and mobile phone data receive most attention in the domain of poverty reporting. Both data sources can significantly reduce the cost of reporting, as the data collection is less time and resource intensive than for conventional data.
The NSOs of Thailand and the Philippines, with support from the Asian Development Bank, conducted a feasibility study on the use of earth observation data to predict poverty levels. In the study, an algorithm, convolutional neural nets, was pretrained on an ImageNet database to detect simple low-level features in images such as lines or curves. Following a transfer learning technique, the algorithm was then trained to predict the intensity of night lights from features in corresponding daytime satellite images. Afterwards income-based poverty levels were estimated using the same features that were found to predict night light intensity combined with nationwide survey data, register-based data, and geospatial information. The resulting machine learning models yielded an accuracy of up to 94 per cent in predicting the poverty categories of satellite images. Despite promising study results, scaling up the models and integrating big data and machine learning for poverty statistics and SDG reporting still face many challenges. Thus, NSOs need support to train their staff, gain continuous access to new datasets and expand their digital infrastructure.
Some support is available to NSOs for big data integration. The UN Committee of Experts on Big Data and Data Science for Official Statistics (UN-CEBD) oversees several task teams, including the UN Global Platform which has launched a cloud-service ecosystem to facilitate international collaboration with respect to big data. Two additional task teams focus on Big Data for the SDGs and Earth Observation data, providing technical guidance and trainings to NSOs. At the regional level, the weekly ESCAP Stats Café series provides a knowledge sharing platform for experiences related to the impact of COVID-19 on national statistical systems. The Stats Café includes multiple sessions dedicated to the use of alternative data sources for official statistics and the SDGs. Additionally, ESCAP has published policy briefs on the region’s practices in using non-traditional data sources for official statistics.
Mobile phone data can also be used to understand socioeconomic conditions in the absence of traditional statistics and to provide greater granularity and frequency for existing estimates. Call detail records coupled with airtime credit purchases, for instance, could be used to infer economic density, wealth or poverty levels, and to measure food consumption. An example can be found in poverty estimates for Vanuatu based on education, household characteristics and expenditure. These were generated by Pulse Lab Jakarta – a joint innovation facility associated with UN Global Pulse and the government of Indonesia.
Access to mobile phone data, however, remains a challenge. It requires long negotiations with mobile network operators, finding the most suitable data access model, ensuring data privacy and security, training the NSO staff and securing dedicated resources. The UN-CEBD – through the Task Team on Mobile Phone Data and ESCAP – supports NSOs in accessing and using mobile phone data through workshops, guides and the sharing of country experiences. BPS Statistics Indonesia, the Indonesian NSO, is exploring this data source for reporting on four SDG indicators and has been leading the regional efforts in South-East Asia. While several other NSOs in Asia and the Pacific can access mobile phone data or are negotiating access with mobile network operators, none of them have integrated it into poverty reporting.
As the interest and experience in the use of mobile phone data, satellite imagery and other alternative data sources for SDGs is growing among many South-East Asian NSOs, so is the need for training and capacity-building. Continuous knowledge exchange and collaboration is the best long-term strategy for NSOs and government agencies to track and alleviate poverty, and to measure the other 16 SDGs.
*Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah, Head, Sub-Regional Office for South-East Asia
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