‘IT is communications’

Pramod
Mahajan, Minister for Information Technology, GoI.

India’s future lies in IT. And if anyone has doubts, Pramod
Mahajan, India’s Minister for IT should put that to rest. No doubt
that Mahajan is a hardcore career politician with an unmatched
ability for realpolitiking. But unlike most of his brethren–both
past and present–who even after taking charge of ministries are
engrossed in their first love realpolitik–he is passionate about
IT. Here, he talks of IT, convergence, India’s
communication infrastructure, and much more.

Is India an IT
superpower?


India surely
has the potential. Delegations from Ireland, Singapore and US are
visiting India. That itself is a sign of the strength that we have.
But we are not there yet. There are many a slip between the cup and
the lip. There is a vsat gap. That is also true with IT. But our
effort is to remove that gap. But we should be cautious about
it.


We must also realize that China,
our main competitor, is moving fast. The only advantage we have is
that English is almost our second national language. Though today
English is the IT language, this advantage may not last long. Then
there are smaller states like Ireland and Israel.


We have made an entry into the
competitive world of IT. But to stay there and win is not an easy
job. I want to maintain the present confidence level. But at the
same time I want to take precautions. India needs to be promoted as
an IT investment destination. We should not think that India is
already established as an IT superpower.


How do you plan to go
about with your plans?


We have to
sell India as a destination. But we must keep in mind a proper
regional balance. I don’t want to limit IT to a few cities like
Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Pune. Actually the entire country
is the destination. So our job is to promote brand equity of India.
Our problem is that our priority seems to be only the software
exports instead of also looking at the domestic front.


You have also been
talking of the “Digital Divide”…


I have
maintained that IT is like a double-edged sword. If not used
properly, it can create a Digital Divide. But if used properly for
the good of the underprivileged, it can create a Digital Unite–not
only economically but also at the social, linguistic, regional, and
geographic levels. IT can be a great leveler.


So what are you doing to use IT as a leveler?

So what are you doing to
use IT as a leveler?


My job
as government personnel is to promote IT. The Government need not
get involved in everything. So as one of the steps, I have decided
to set up STPIs in all the 25 states. I am trying to promote IT
among the different segments of the economy like the hotel industry
and the healthcare industry. We may request the NGOs to get involved
in organizing IT yatras, IT festivals called
e-yatras or e-festivals. Or we can create parks where anybody
can come and see computers and get to familiarize themselves. My job
is essentially to champion the cause and make people aware of
IT.


Don””””””””t you think that you
could start off with some of your ministerial
colleagues?


One of my
initiatives has been to call all the chief ministers on a common
platform to chalk out IT plans to formulate a common National IT
Plan in the process. I have also requested the Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court to set up technology courts though technically, as the
IT Minister, it is not my sphere of influence. But I have to spread
the light of IT. What Chandrababu Naidu has done in Andhra Pradesh
is nothing but throwing ideas. As the minister for IT, I don””””””””t have
piles of files to clear, but the job certainly involves spreading
ideas about IT and its usage.


OK. Let us presume you
will build the momentum. But with such poor communication
infrastructure, will we have a sustained IT growth?


True.
Telecommunications and power are two essential components of IT.
Unless we make ourselves self-sufficient, modern and of
international standards on both the fronts we shall not be able to
sustain.Human resource in the form of English-speaking skilled
manpower is our strength. But that””””””””s not enough.


In the power sector, our total
requirement as of today is 1,50,000 MW. There have been several
initiatives and we have almost a success story in power sector. At
the policy level there is nothing new to be done there. We are on
the right track. Speed may be a problem but that is always a
variable one can argue about.


Since NTP ””””””””94, miracles have
happened in telecommunications. We have so many new services,
including Internet services. We have split DoT into policy making
and service providing bodies. Then we had the NTP ””””””””99. The migration
package is already complete. It is not that we have not done
anything.


It is very difficult for a basic infrastructure to catch up with speed of IT

It is very
difficult for a basic infrastructure to catch up with speed of IT.
Let me draw a parallel. No matter how fast an aircraft you make, it
cannot fly at the speed of thought. IT is like the mind. IT is about
ideas. In IT there are only two aspects: ideas and infrastructure.
Ideas move at the speed of per second. But to build a physical
infrastructure you need a longer time. Even within IT, a Software
Technology Park of India (STPI) will need three months to be
built.


We can certainly compare
with the development of this infrastructure in other countries. You
talked of China. They are so fast.


The ground
realities as you know are different. India is a democratic country.
Things tend to take a little more time. But a democratic country has
its own advantages also. And you are aware of them.


You have been talking a
lot about convergence. How do you see convergence? Do you think that
market and technology convergence should lead to convergence in
policy making and regulation?


I think now
convergence is very simple. IT is now communications. We have
technology that enables extremely fast communication. That””””””””s why I
call IT as the fourth generation of communication. First we had
gestures. Then came spoken words followed by written language. And
now we have the digital language.


So the entire boom about IT, to
put in layman””””””””s words, is a new form of human communication. So when
I change the very mode of communication between humans, the rules of
the whole game change. What I communicate between you and me is
voice. If we want to see each other we communicate video. And when
you want some information I communicate it through data. So voice,
video, and data are the three things that can be communicated. We
have reached a stage where one wire, or may be wireless, can carry
all the three things. That is convergence and that will happen in
about three to five years. And when it comes, the rules of the game
will change again.


I recently stated in a lecture in
a hotel that the TV screen would be the centre of all activity:
voice, data, and video. I suggested them to install TVs in bathrooms
also where a lot of interaction would take place and a lot of
important decisions would be taken.


Some countries like
Canada and UK have made policy statements on convergence. In fact
Canada has a separate ministry handling convergence. And two years
back, even you had spoken of a single ministry.


My ministry
is concerned with decisions regarding IT only. Decisions regarding
voice and data transmission lie with the ministry of
telecommunications. And broadcasting ministry takes care of video
transmission. An ideal IT ministry in the convergence era has to be
electronics, communications, and broadcasting. But there are obvious
reasons why it is not so. Besides political compulsions, one
ministry cannot handle all these portfolios. So what we have done is
that the Prime Minister has provided for a Cabinet Committee on IT.
It is a tool we plan to use and the ministry is in the process of
putting things in place. First we tried to sort out
inter-ministerial issues at the individual level, group level, and
secretarial level. But the results were slow. Let us now formulate
the agenda, discuss it with the people involved, and things may move
fast. That””””””””s at the policy level. What about the regulatory aspect?

That””””””””s at the policy
level. What about the regulatory aspect?


Let me first
clear what IT is all about. I have read the statement of Arun
(Jaitely) about the need to have a Convergence Bill. Considering the
pace of law making in the country, I do not want to stop the present
IT Bill for the sake of the future Convergence Bill. I want to clear
the IT Bill first since technology is moving fast and everybody will
have to move along with it. All these regulations might have to be
changed because technology would have moved so much ahead. Sometimes
I feel that this IT revolution will be complete in five to seven
years and it will stay for 50 years till you find some other new
revolution.


So the laws will have to follow
technology since technology is dynamic and till IT stabilizes we
will have to change legislation. In fact, the Singapore Prime
Minister commented that I was holding two mutually non-compatible
portfolios. IT that moves so fast and parliamentary affairs that
moves so slowly.


Something personal. Your
skills as a key BJP negotiator is well known and ministry for
parliament affairs is somewhat compatible with those skills. But how
come you got the IT portfolio?


Distribution
of portfolio is the Prime Minister””””””””s prerogative. Sometimes it is a
political decision sometimes it is accidental. I do not know what it
was in this case.


You are too important a
politician to be accidentally given any job.


Well, with
all modesty, I can tell you that during my short tenure in the
ministry of information & broadcasting, I was instrumental in
starting the sports and the news channels. I proposed privatization
of the FM channels and not only took a policy decision but also made
the bandwidth available by “negotiating” with all concerned. And for
the first time, the ministry made Rs 550 crore out of just selling
thin air. And there was no scandal. It was completely
transparent.


Balaka
Baruah Agarwal Cyber
News Service

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