By Priyadarshi Nanu Pany*
Piqued at the sluggish pace of moving goods within South Asia, a top World Bank official recently observed that it took 138 hours to drive a truck across the border from India to Bangladesh. The truck could have chugged along swifter but for a stack of paperwork comprising 22 documents and 55 signatures to clear its movement. Compared with other trade blocs, South Asia is the least integrated globally – only five per cent of its total trade occurs within the region. In contrast, intra-regional trade is 25 per cent of total trade in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 60 per cent in the 27-member European Union (EU).
South Asia in general, and India in particular, is missing out on the immense trade potential. Two factors stick out as roadblocks. The first is the cumbersome regulatory compliance processes, and the second is the scattered multi-modal infrastructure network. The World Bank has already dumped its Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) 1.0 index (in 2021), where nations could scale up the rankings ladder by improving compliance on paper. However, the next phase of business reforms or EoDB 2.0 will be a sterner test for nations as they will attach more thrust to real, on-ground reforms.
India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has articulated a vision for EoDB 2.0 in the Budget speech for 2022-23. Her ‘One Nation, One Registration’ credo aims to facilitate EoDB and Ease of Living. To match the optics, the Indian Government has reduced over 25,000 compliance requirements and repealed 1486 Union laws. The slew of regulatory reforms enabled India to ascend its last EoDB ranking (in 2020) to 63, moving up 17 slots higher.
But as we step into the next EoDB curve, business reforms should accelerate on the ground to ease the compliance burden on investors. It needs to get over the overlap in compliances, crowdsourcing of suggestions and ground-level impact assessment. The deployment of Government technology or GovTech can play a catalytic role in fast-tracking the next stage of reforms.
I feel the business reforms juggernaut can roll on with the convergence of multiple modes of transport. A seamless multi-modal logistics system can drastically cut turnaround time, bolster trade and spur investor confidence. The Prime Minister Gati Shakti National Master Plan was unveiled in October 2021, envisioning multi-modal connectivity infrastructure to various economic zones, is just what the doctor ordered. Aiming at Productivity Enhancement and Investment and EoDB 2.0, the scheme lays out a clear path for achieving a $5 trillion economy. The Gati Shakti is crucial since it forms the digital backbone of the Rs 110 trillion National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). A pool of social and infrastructure projects, NIP is designed to provide easier inter-connectivity between road, rail, air and waterways to reduce travel time and enhance industrial productivity.
Integrating systems and processes can unlock maximum value for all players in the ecosystem. Black Swan events like Covid-19 have amplified the challenges for seamless transportation of goods across land, rail, and sea. It is challenging to develop the multi-modal logistics chain due to the involvement of many stakeholders: freight forwarders, third-party logistics providers, couriers, carriers of different modes of transport, multi-modal transport operators (MTOs), rail, sea carriers, port, and intermodal terminal operators. In addition, the multi-modal value chain generates a tremendous amount of data. However, the data remains largely untapped due to the lack of integration.
The use of digital technologies can simplify this complex logistics chain and bring in multiple benefits by providing real-time visibility, efficient data exchange, and the ability to react quickly to unexpected changes during shipping. To illustrate, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be deployed effectively in container tracking. A container tracking system usually involves RFID tags attached to the containers, boxes, and pallets included in the shipment. Moreover, Augmented Reality (AR) applications can help connect the virtual and real worlds for better decision-making and reduce operations-related barriers. Google has already developed AR-enabled Smart Glasses. It is equipped with GPS and motion sensors and uses natural language to communicate with the internet. Big Data, too, can be applied to tactical and operational control of transport and logistics systems and strategic business intelligence.
The efficient running of the multi-modal logistics chain will pivot the natural transition to EoDB 2.0. The synergy among the nine engines of this chain- railways, roads, ports, waterways, airports, mass transport and logistics infrastructure would pull the economy onwards. In the same vein, I would say that any growth engine is fruitless if not backed by a congenial policy ecosystem. Unlocking the full value from EoDB 2.0 is as much a play of temperament as technology.
*The author is founder & CEO of Bhubaneswar-based CSM Technologies.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.