Uber was illegal in most countries when it started off. And it would have been a dead-on-arrival idea, had it not been for the US states to start creating enabling regulatory spaces that gave Uber a toehold in its home country. This gave Uber the ability to change the regulatory spaces in other countries and emerge as a multi-billion-dollar global phenomenon.
India too has its share of startups that are getting throttled because of existing regulatory frameworks that were created for a different technological ecosystem.
An excellent example is that of the entire drone startup ecosystem that was flirting on the grey line between legal and illegal till the government stepped in to clear the air and come out with well deliberated enabling policies and regulations on drones.
In the absence of such policies, even suppliers of drones to the military were engaging in unlawful actions, every time they would send a drone up for testing.
In fact, our home-grown commercial vehicle aggregators face pushback when they try to do something as simple as trying to get an autorickshaw to deliver a package. What is illegal in trying to get an autorickshaw to deliver a package and thereby increase the income of the autorickshaw driver, increase the asset utilization and increase efficiency in the economy?
Well, as per regulations, it is illegal for autorickshaws to carry goods instead of passengers. One can only wonder why such a regulation would be created in the first place. However, in the era of aggregating everything via apps, it is seriously debilitating to not being able to use autorickshaws to deliver goods.
It does not help startups that are trying to change the status quo and have to create new markets, deal with attracting funds, attracting talent, aligning with the compliances in the country and then also engage in public policy discussions to change regulations that are limiting the ability of the modest autorickshaw drivers from earning more, thereby also reducing tax collections of the government.
Let me take the case of e-education as the next example. Thanks to the Wuhan pandemic, we are all familiar with the fact that e-education saved more than a year for millions of students in this country. If that is so, can we not have e-education being delivered for at least higher education in courses where physical labs and physical meeting are not required?
Why can we not have completely digital universities that can consistently deliver high-quality education to every nook and corner of this large nation, and not be constrained by availability of physical spaces or hiring large number of qualified teachers?
In fact, if India needs to upgrade the educational qualification of its workforce and increase their productivity at scale, digital universities are perhaps one of the most potent ways to do so in a short period of time. However, India does not even have the concept of Digital Universities. One cannot even apply to become a digital university as such a concept is non-existent.
And that brings me to my third example. Indian vehicles get certification at ARAI for scooters, cars, busses etc. However, if someone comes out with a vehicle that does not fit the above definitions, then they cannot get the certification required to sell their vehicles in India.
So, if some startup creates a trike, which is a three-wheeler bike with two wheels in the front and one in the back, there is no category of such a vehicle and hence the startup will not be able to get their product to see the light of the day.
In comparison, we already see a patent war in Europe where the Italian scooter manufacturer Piaggio forced the French manufacturer, Peugot Motorcycles, from manufacturing similar trikes (2 wheels in front and one in the back) as Piaggio claimed it had a patent on it.
It is also interesting to note that Piaggio exercised its patent right only after Peugot Motorcycles moved under the ownership of Mahindra & Mahindra. However, the point to note is that the Indian ecosystem would not have even allowed such a “monster” of a concept of trike to be created in India due to regulatory constraints.
Needless to say, it reminds one of the inabilities of Dr Subhash Mukhopadhay, who independently invented in vitro fertilisation (IVF), to share his innovation with those who needed it in India, and was driven to die by suicide by the then governments and regulatory frameworks. IVF was allowed in India, only when foreign entities brought the concept to India.
In fact, Indian regulatory framework is not even letting simple income-enhancing changes such as letting an autorickshaw carry a package or setting up of Digital Universities. As one has perennially rued, India will allow such innovations only if it has been done elsewhere and hence only if a foreign company brings it to India.
In the brave new India, where a plethora of changes are being brought in by the government, by the society and by the industry, it is only right to have a channel where startups can reach out to and enable regulatory frameworks to change quickly for enabling startups to bring innovation and prosper, and in the process, enable the nation to also prosper.
The government has already done it in the case of drones. Can we have a structured process wherein we can do the same for all sectors?