IT reforms we can expect if Modi becomes PM

What’s your vision for Indian IT and telecom industry for the next 5 years? What is the message you would like to drive home to IT companies and technology leaders in the country?

The growth of ICT in the last two decades has been spectacular and historic in the world. IT industry has changed the entire set-up and altered thought processes. I believe in the Mantra of ‘IT+IT=IT’ (Information Technology+ Indian Talent= India Tomorrow). My vision for IT sector is that it develops the capacity and capability to become the engine of innovation and the driver of growth in the years to come. I see the IT industry as an engine for making India the knowledge superpower and an agent of change that touches lives of the poorest of the poor, for their empowerment.

The IT sector has become the shining beacon of Brand India globally. We need to build up our strengths and effectively leverage our talent pool at home. We need to work to create an atmosphere whereby India becomes the home of the next Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon! We have the talent, what we need to work on is providing the right opportunities, infrastructure and groom our people.

With a policy driven and result oriented approach, I see no reason why India cannot become the next hub of cloud infrastructure. We would need to think out of the box on whether there are synergies and opportunities to co-locate non-conventional energy projects and massive data centres in areas where there is little scope for agriculture or manufacturing. Here too IT plays a crucial role.

As for our telecom industry, a lot has been done but we can do a lot more. Mobile phones are no longer a luxury but they are an inseparable part of our lives. Today it is not a question of whether one owns a mobile phone or not, it is about whether we can use this mobile phone to bring a difference in the lives of the common people. We have heard of e-governance but now is the time to move towards m-governance (Mobile governance). M-governance involves greater application of ICT for furthering good governance, moving a step beyond e-governance. Can we think of a system where one mobile can solve maximum problems of the people?

The role of the Internet is paramount now. We need to think of a future where every home and office has a fibre coming and High Speed Data access becomes a basic utility, much like electricity, water and telephones.

Specifically, what policy related changes would you recommend for the telecom industry, considering that the industry has been mired and stuck in policy issues for the last two years? It is the second largest taxpayer to the government after income tax from the citizens.

The growth of the telecom sector was one of the many high points of the NDA government under Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Yes, it is unfortunate that such a vibrant sector and a sector that has the potential to touch millions has been mismanaged by the UPA government with opaque policies and corruption.

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We are deeply concerned about the rural tele-density across India. It still remains around 40% as compared to around 145% in urban areas. There is an urgent need to take the project of National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) to its logical conclusion. I am committed to bridging the urban-rural digital divide at the earliest.

As I have said, we need to consistently augment mobile and broadband connectivity to be able to provide services to the citizens effectively. Handheld devices like mobile phones, tablets etc. need to be better deployed to fulfill the aspirations of the masses. We need to be a lot faster on taking the Internet to every doorstep and this calls for a time-bound programme to expand internet and broadband connectivity both in urban and rural areas.

I believe that abolishing roaming charges and thereby realizing the vision of ‘One Number, One Nation’ should be suitably taken up. Another idea that I wish to see bear fruit is the setting up of more hardware manufacturing clusters and parks across India and upgrade localized infrastructure to support local manufacturing of large volume Telecom Equipment and devices with focus on research.

On the regulation side, we need a healthy regulatory framework within the Telecom Industry that is rational on the question of new entrants into existing markets and is also sensitive to Consumer’s Interests. The Telecom growth in India will have to come from competitiveness in areas such as innovation and better customer service. The ultimate aim of the Telecom Policy should be to realize the vision of faster, cheaper and reliable Access to all Indians.

What’s your strategy to make India a manufacturing hub (for electronics and IT products) on which our economic competitiveness depends?

In order to see a thriving manufacturing sector we would need to make hubs where both labour and infrastructure are not a problem. We can think of innovative ways to encourage such hubs and incentives that draw big names to come to India. We will need to nurture highly trained people and give them the right environment where they can grow. Emphasis on R&D and IPR creation is also the need of the hour.

Another thing we can do is to set up skill centres in collaboration with the telecom majors that cater to the skills that are required to surge ahead in telecom manufacturing.

At the Government level, we will need to ensure that we can provide seamless supply of power, water and other required infrastructure. Long and stable tax regimes are vital to attract companies, both Indian and international.

What are some of the IT policy reforms you would like to bring in if you become the Prime Minister of India? How would you prevent the policy paralysis we experienced during the UPA regime? What do you envisage as the future of eGovernance?

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E-Governance for me is ‘Easy, Effective and Economical Governance.’ E-Governance has the potential to become the greatest problem solver for the people. It is one of the most positive application of technology that has the potential to transform governance and service delivery. In order to achieve the desired goal of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’ I see an increasingly important role for E-Governance.

Along with reform, we need to increase the scope of E-Governance across the nation. We need to ensure that E-Governance application of the various states are effectively integrated. More importantly, technology and E-Governance are our strongest weapons to fight corruption. Thus, we need to increase the use of technology within citizen-government interface to completely eliminate avenues for any kind of malafide discretion or corruption.

From our Gujarat experience I can give you several examples of E-Governance. One of the most satisfying initiatives is to take broadband connectivity to all our villages. This has enabled us to provide citizen centric services at the doorstep of our rural population. Through satellite infrastructure we are able to provide quality long distance education to our schools. A student sitting in a village can learn from world-class faculty. Is this not real empowerment! Take another example of rural BPOs. They have the capacity to empower youth in rural areas and if done on a large scale, it can prevent migration from villages to cities. This was a significant lesson- give our rural youth the right facilities and they will always stay in the villages and taste the fruits of development.

In the near future, we will need to embrace E-Governance in every way possible. But, the potential of E-Governance can be realized when there is increased ICT awareness.

An IT policy must be formulated carefully and holistically. One reform that I am keen to see is to strengthen our MSMEs to make them more competitive and vibrant. After all, MSME sector is the backbone of the IT industry and provides significant employment opportunities.

One linkage that needs to be strengthened is that of IT and education. We need to meet the demand for quality technical institutes. Governments, industry and educational bodies must review and suitably revamp IT education in India wherever there is a need. We should ensure that ICT education is spread across India and every student is well versed with basic IT skills.

What are your views on social media and do you think policing the social media/ Internet is a good thing? Do you think Section 66A of the IT Act needs to be revised/ revisited to be in sync with the times?

Social media has become the defining feature of this century! This medium has revolutionized communication and dissemination of news ad views. Social media will always be remembered and rightfully celebrated as the medium that empowered the common man and woman to express themselves! It has opened the floodgates of expression and communication.

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Personally, I have been active on social media for over five years now and my interactions on social media have always been enriching, rewarding and very satisfying. Just recently, we launched a volunteer platform www.India272.com where, among other features there is an option for volunteer sourcing. I was simply amazed by the clarity and depth of ideas I received from volunteers. Social media has brought the ocean of knowledge and creativity that existed among out people on the forefront and this is a welcome sign.

Be it social media or any other media, I would like to categorically state that I am totally against any form of policing or censorship. Let every shade of opinion shine and grow in our Nation. In fact, criticism is also an integral part of our democracy. In 2012 when the Centre unilaterally censored a few handles on social media, I darkened my Twitter display picture in solidarity with the spirit of free speech. To take inspiration from Voltaire, I will say, We need not have to agree with what everyone is saying but we must defend their right to say it.

It is possible that a miniscule minority of people may misuse social media and conversations may get extremely heated and personal. The answer lies in self-restraint not in censorship. Our culture has history of respecting others’ viewpoints and I feel we should follow the same on social media as well.

Does India hold the chance to be the hub of innovation in ICT? How will we attract more global investments into India to make this happen?

If India has to emerge as a global giant in the knowledge economy we have no choice but to become the hub for all innovation in ICT and beyond. I am clear in my mind on the importance of this. This was the reason why we set up iCREATE in Gujarat under the leadership and guidance of Shri N.R. Narayana Murthy. We want to encourage innovation among our youngsters.

And, if the right steps are taken, I am confident that India will become the world’s innovation hub in ICT- a place where people can access affordable products and services and create better lives for themselves and their fellow countrymen and women. The future of India lies in a new knowledge economy where ability to generate ideas, processes and solutions is important and integral part of our existence.

We need stronger collaboration between industry, academia and the venture capital industry. We also should create more synergies between our long term national security needs and our technology incubation ecosystem so that there is a mutually beneficial relationship. Many of the innovations that we use every day from computer chips to the Internet were the result of such synergies witnessed overseas many decades back. We need to create the same here with greater participation of the private sector in not just defence manufacturing but also defence research so that the resulting innovations have a spin-off effect.

I would add one more thing. If there is someone that can make our nation the hub of innovation it is our youth. Over 65% of our population is under the age of 35. I am a firm believer in this demographic dividend. Our youth is skilled and if we can give them the right opportunities, it is my belief and conviction that they will make India the hub of innovation in the 21st century!

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