‘Rajasthan has empowered women more than any other Indian state’ - Mohandas Pai


The govt of Rajasthan has disbursed more than Rs 18000 crore under the Bhamashah Yojana, which aims to empower women with direct money transfers

Not just an ace investor, but Mohandas Pai represents a strong voice in support of businesses and the startup ecosystem. With investments across media companies, among many others, he has remained a critic of governments and insists that more the startups, the better for the nation.

In an interview with YourStory on how Rajasthan is shaping up in terms of investments, the investor says it scores on digital governance.

He, in fact, opines that the state is ahead of Karnataka in many ways, especially when it comes to spending on information technology. He says Rajasthan needs to invest in existing talent, and promote its digital initiatives.

Below, excerpts of an interview with the founder of Aarin Capital, who has 12 other funds in his portfolio:

YourStory: Why should people invest in Rajasthan?

Mohandas Pai: It is next to NCR, which is the largest consumption region in Northern India. It is next to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The NCR is the largest consumption area in the region, all the way up to Mumbai in the west.

There are pockets of consumption centres in the country. In the South there is Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad. In the east it is only Kolkata. All these centres service a region around them, and focus in an area of 500 km when it comes to consumption. Rajasthan has to cash in on being next to NCR, which also has the highest cash liquidity.

Secondly, Rajasthan has a huge expanse of land available at a reasonable cost, which is great for industry. Thirdly, it has a population of 7.5 crore people who are talented and skilled.

It also has a great road network with supply chain efficiencies, and adequate power. The labour situation is peaceful and the government is open to industry. This makes Rajasthan competitively placed for investment, and can serve the market because it has access to raw materials, talent and infrastructure.

YS: Has Rajasthan been good for startups?

MP: That is a very interesting question. The locals - many of them have started companies outside of the state and have become very successful.

But now, there are 700 startups in Rajasthan and I have seen a list of them. This is thanks to the startup policy that is friendly, and is modelled around encouraging people to go after technology and scale up. Not many know this, but Rajasthan is a digital state. Everyone thinks that would be the southern states, but Rajasthan has led e-governance initiatives. Chief Minister Vasundara Raje is keen on having the citizens go digital. The IT Secretary of Rajasthan, Akhil Arora, has been instrumental in setting this development in motion. Let us take Bhamashah Yojana for example - it has truly empowered the lives of women with digital transfer of money to their bank accounts. Around Rs 18,000 crore has been transferred from this scheme, and this number is publicly available. I believe there are more than 5 million members on the Bhamashah Yojana - this is top class. They have done a great thing to digitise society. What surprises me is that my own state, Karnataka, is falling behind in digitisation. This is because of the lack of political will.

YS: Is political will the key to growth?

MP: Yes, it is. The chief minister in Rajasthan is out there with the people and how she wants digitisation to help citizens. I told you about their e-governance. They have also spent a lot of money on IT.

Rajasthan has a health insurance scheme which has been copied by the central government. You get a Rs 3 lakh health cover for several critical diseases. Rajasthan has the applications to make it work. They have about 8,000 IT workers in the government. No wonder they are growing fast, and have done very well.

The only thing they have not done right is the marketing for the state as a destination for business. They have to increase the number of startups to 10,000, and create many more accelerators. They also have to work hard for an ecosystem of startups, and a special team has to be set up for this purpose.

The state also has to work with co-working businesses to increase interest, and set up a fund of funds. However, funding is not a problem as much as availability of grants for startups. Here, Karnataka has done a good job and Rajasthan must use the Karnataka model to encourage the bottom of the pyramid in the startup ecosystem.

Once these startups become mid-sized companies, they will increase the number of people who aspire to work in technical fields and also create new entrepreneurs.

YS: You have been saying most cities should be wired?

MP: Yes, Rajasthan must ensure availability of WiFi in all of its major cities and towns. There is a reason I say that, and it is about women’s empowerment. The state should, for about 1 crore families, get a smartphone through the Bhamashah Yojana for women only.

If women have these phones, they can transact digitally because they get information about agriculture and their local panchayats. They can protect their families while their husbands work. Rajasthan should train young women to learn all the apps of government. Say, if they get one lakh of them trained, these young women can reach as many people in their respective villages. So, I believe Rajasthan is growing, and businesses should go there because it is a young population that is waiting to experience the digital era.


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