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‘$1-Trillion Digital Economy To Be A Reality Soon’

In an exclusive conversation with Suman K Jha, Prasad says that missions such as Smart Cities, Digital India, Make in India, and Startup India, are working in conjunction to make India a digitally-enabled society

Photo Credit : Tarun Gupta

Union it and law & justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is gung ho about the Digital India Mission. Despite sceptics talking about the mission “losing its sheen”, and job losses in the IT sector, the minister is marching ahead towards the $1-trillion digital economy landmark. In an exclusive conversation with Suman K Jha, Prasad says that missions such as Smart Cities, Digital India, Make in India, and Startup India, are working in conjunction to make India a digitally-enabled society. He also talks about the accomplishments in the law & justice ministry.

Excerpts:

Indian information technology (IT) export is growing — it touched Rs 7.5 lakh crore. There has been a net increase in IT jobs. Why is then there a perception that the IT job ecosystem is not growing?

That is a wrong perception.

Nasscom said, in the last three years, six lakh appointments have taken place. N. Chandrasekaran, former chairman of Tata Consultancy Services, wrote an article where he said, the company has employed 2.5 lakh people in the last three years, and for this year, it is going to appoint 20,023 people.

Pravin Rao, chief operating officer of Infosys, said that he appointed 20,000 last year, and will appoint 20,000 this year as well. And if the entire Indian IT ecosystem is rising, what do you mean by  a slowdown in the IT sector?

Let me give you another area of growth — electronic manufacturing; 72 mobile manufacturing factories have come up, of which 42 are mobile manufacturers and the rest are charger and components manufacturers. India is becoming a hub for mobile manufacturing.

Then, you have the automobile electronics, medical electronics, consumer electronics, solar power; the entire ecosystem is rising.

I came up with the business process outsourcing (BPO) scheme in small towns of India. Today, I am proposing to give them Rs 1 lakh per seat subsidy also. We have distributed seats as per the population of states. UP got 8,000, Bihar got 4,000, but conventionally rich digital areas such as Noida, Gurugram, Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, were excluded.

Today, we have allotted BPO in places such as Ghazipur, Allahabad, Lucknow, Unnao, Bareilly, Amravati, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur and Siliguri.

However, the larger issue here is of the Nasscom projections, according to which, by 2022-25, we will have 20 to 30 lakh more jobs only in IT. Chadrashekaran says it may cross 50 lakh.

Why is it so? Due to the new thrust coming in the digital economy of India. What I mean by the digital economy is communications, IT and IT-enabled services, BPO services, e-commerce, cyber security, electronic manufacturing, digital payment.

It has become a study of Google and Boston Consulting Group that Indian digital payment is going to become a $500-billion economy by 2020.

Last week, I held a meeting with top honchos to prepare a roadmap for India’s $1-trillion digital economy. I must state that all players of the IT field agreed that $1 trillion is an understatement. It may be double of that. So, more and more jobs are going to be created.

Digital skilling is an area where India is going to shine more. There is an abundance of capital all over the world, but skilled human resource is scarce. Here, India’s demographic dividend is going to play a crucial role. Therefore, digital skilling is going to become a great potential for growth in the overall architecture of the digital economy.

Q: We are talking abou
t a $1-trillion digital economy. Are you confident of achieving the target in the next three-four years?
I had set a target of five to seven years, but forget me, if Google and Boston Consulting Group are saying digital payment will become $500 billion by 2020. Indian IT companies today operate in 200 cities in 80 countries. They employ 4 million people directly and 1.4 million indirectly. But what Digital India has done is to create a great opportunity for them to look inwards into India, and that is what I am talking about more than $1-trillion digital economy.

Q: What are the challenges you are facing in building the $1-trillion digital economy ecosystem?
I don’t face any challenges. Hard work is needed. Goods and Services Tax (GST) is coming and the entire backend of GST is digital/online. I foresee that the more India goes digital, the greater the potential for e-health, e-education and e-agriculture. They are going to be the driving force of India’s digital economy.

Q: Is this the reason why you have encouraged startups in these areas?
Yes, and I am happy about that because India has the third biggest startup ecosystem in the world.

Digital India is digital empowerment. This is based on three premises: the technology must be affordable,  developmental and it must lead to digital inclusion.

And how we are doing it? Through Aadhar. We are creating digital inclusion that is becoming the main bedrock of digital India.

Q: How can the private sector participate more in the endeavour to create a $1-trillion digital economy?
They have to drive. My job is to create policies, give the incentive. We came up with the idea of giving government data for more innovation. We even came up with RFP (request for proposal) for fairer tendering process. We have given communication spectrum; all the harmonisation has been done. Whatever policy initiative is needed, we will do.

Q: What is the government and ministry doing to beef up the cyber security in the country?
First of all, we are creating awareness around digital drilling, cyber security awakening and cyber security audit. We have instructed all banks that they must have a cyber security auditor. We are training the police, judiciary and what is important is we are creating awareness and an enabling atmosphere to strengthen our cyber security walls.

We are encouraging more research. I keep on appealing that please come with good products suitable to India for cyber security, e-education, and e-health.

By the end of this year, we are going to make about thousand villages ‘Digi-gaon’, where we will have virtual classroom, virtual health room, solar power, all digitally enabled.

Q: So, you mean smart villages?
Yes, smart villages, but let’s call them digigaon. I talked of common service centres; it was 70,000, now it has become 2.5 lakh.

Q: And with a good number of women also working...
About 35,000 women entrepreneurs including Dalit women. I particularly encourage them because I see a classic case of digital inclusion. You know how much they have earned in the last three-four years — Rs 1,200 crore!

I put them into digi-law. What is digi-law? Victims seeking legal address will come to the common service centre, they will link them up to state or district authority; lawyers would be sitting there. They will give them advice. Therefore, it covers all the aspects of law, and mind you in these 2.5 lakh common service centers, 10 lakh persons work, I call them digital entrepreneurs or foot soldiers of digital India.

Q: What is the government doing to ensure more participation of women in the Digital India mission?
I encourage them, I hold special training camp for Dalit women. I held one in Bodh Gaya. About 300 women had come from Dalit and minority communities. A month later when I went there, I saw a positive change; they had managed to come out of the purdah system at the click of the mouse.
I ask them to speak. This is how I am changing them.

My whole approach is to make common service centres a one-stop shop — from skilling to banking, insurance, law, other information and also digital empowerment.

Q: Now a question on your other ministry. You say that pendency of cases has been your biggest challenge and that you are working towards sorting that out. So, what challenges are you facing as a law and justice minister?
My job is to help create more infrastructure; for instance, about 150 judges have been added in addition to  existing 1,000. We have added roughly about 3,000 more district judges; but remember, appointment is through collegium system — they have to send names. When it comes to subordinate courts, neither the state governments, nor the Union government has a role; it is done by the High Court or together with the public service commission. But a good development has taken place; the Supreme Court has been pro-active and there will be all India examination for filling up vacancies of subordinate judiciary with the Union Public Service Commission playing a role. We are very excited. We are also playing a role.

My request to all chief justices is that physical verification of records is important. At times, pendency continues growing, and many cases become dead by their own force.

I am going to appoint 500 ‘Nyay Mitra’ to facilitate early disposal of chronic cases of ten years and above in districts of India.

Q: Why don’t we have a Lokpal yet?
We need a Lokpal, but above all, we need an honest government, and I am very proud to say that in the past three years, the Narendra Modi government has conducted itself in the most honest manner. Being specific about Lokpal, there was a provision that requires the leader of the opposition to be consulted. Did we know that the Congress will be so less in number that it cannot have a leader of opposition? And now, an amendment has been proposed. Our commitment towards Lokpal is there, but our larger commitment is to free India of corruption in governance and that, we are showing by performance.


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