The agriculture sector is the backbone of Punjab’s economy. Before the Green Revolution, agricultural technology was traditional and required intensive manual labor. Farmers and farm workers used to go into the fields before sunrise and work hard until sunset. Artisans made handicrafts and agricultural implements manually.
The Green Revolution promoted the use of mechanized technology, with the tractor replacing oxen for plowing and transportation. Over time, other farms also became mechanized. The skills acquired by farmers and workers proved to be key determinants of productivity. Similarly, machine-intensive technologies operated by skilled workers entered the industrial and service sectors. For example, handlooms have been replaced by powerlooms with capital-intensive technology. Machine-centric processes have also eclipsed manual work in the service sector. The economy of Punjab is therefore becoming more skill-based.
In recent decades, knowledge has come into focus as a source of development, enabling advanced economies to move from a skills economy to a brain economy. In a brain economy, the generation and application of knowledge capital, which includes creative ideas, research, innovation, patents, consulting and technological advances – including smart technologies such as artificial intelligence and IoT (Internet of Things) – play a crucial role in development. However, knowledge capital generation for development is still at a nascent stage in Punjab. Surprisingly, researchers and policymakers in Punjab have not adequately embraced this discourse despite research unleashing the power of knowledge across the globe. This proves costly, especially when agriculture and industry grow slowly.
To accelerate the transition from a manual economy to a brain economy through a skills economy, Punjab can take inspiration from national and state level initiatives that promote the knowledge sector. The first groundbreaking policy initiative to harness the potential of knowledge for development was taken by the Government of India in 2005 with the establishment of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC). Its mandate was to guide policy and lead reforms, with a focus on key areas such as education, science and technology, and e-governance. Easy access to knowledge, the creation and preservation of knowledge systems, the dissemination of knowledge and better knowledge services were key concerns of the Commission. The commission made 300 recommendations. As a result, the knowledge sector landscape witnessed phenomenal changes including the enactment of the Right to Education Act, 2009, establishment of new central universities, IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, NITs, IISERs, national laboratories and scientific institutions. the National Skill Development Mission and various e-governance initiatives.
The NKC also deliberated on some state issues and hence states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Delhi prepared plans for implementing the recommendations. Karnataka set up its knowledge commission, the Karnataka Jnana Aayoga, in 2008. Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Haryana, Telangana, Gujarat and Kerala have established knowledge societies/societies/missions to promote knowledge-based initiatives.
Globally, the World Bank has provided a four-pillar framework for the development of the knowledge sector. These include institutional structures that provide incentives for the application of knowledge, the availability of a qualified workforce and a dynamic education system, the 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 government of Punjab should set up a knowledge commission with the vision of transforming the state into a vibrant knowledge hub and promoting linkage of knowledge with different sectors of the economy through structural reforms of policies in systems of knowledge production and facilitating an enabling environment for knowledge generation and its dissemination to users.
The Commission’s objectives may include promoting excellence in all educational institutions to meet the knowledge needs of the 21st century; Prescribing policy reforms for efficient management of universities and research and development institutions; Suggest ways to incentivize investment in educational institutions and the R&D industry to generate knowledge capital; Developing strategies for knowledge dissemination and application among its users, such as in government, industry, agriculture, healthcare and other sectors; promoting the application of knowledge for informed policy making; Development of an entrepreneurial and startup culture; Identification of knowledge industry clusters; Leveraging ICT, including smart technologies, to enhance Punjab’s competitive advantage in the knowledge sector; Documenting and standardizing indigenous and heritage knowledge for the betterment of society; and developing policies for a fair distribution of the benefits of the knowledge economy.
In addition to the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Secretary, the Commission may include subject matter experts from the fields of education, science and technology, industry, agriculture, climate change and media, in addition to the Punjabi diaspora and civil society. The ex-officio members may include the principal secretaries of departments related to the knowledge sector.
At the same time, academia, industry and state government should work together to form a cohort modeled on the triple helix model to catalyze knowledge initiatives. This model, developed in the 1990s by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff, envisages institutional synergies between universities, industry and government to promote knowledge-based development. As part of the model, the three partners are actively engaged in innovation, workforce exchange and adoption of common best practices. The success of 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.