Taking IT to India’s hinterland
Oct 11 2011
The economics of IT industry is closely linked with electric power and connectivity. The government has ambitious plans to enhance the production of electric power. But we are still stuck with issues like convincing the society on the advantages of going for nuclear power plants. Political parties also mess up on this aspect depending on whether they are in power or not. The earthquake and subsequent nuclear plant disaster in Japan have suddenly raised issues regarding the safety of nuclear power plants. Those in power try to defend the safety of nuclear plants that are being designed by Indian nuclear scientists and those not in power try to create a political issue with an eye on elections. In developed societies, such critical issues are jointly discussed by all parties, keeping the larger good of the society and the nation as a prime objective. We need to create such a converging approach by all major political parties. In this respect we have miles to cover. Hence, uniform and assured supply of electric power would continue to be a major hurdle in the government’s plans to go for IT industries expansion in tier II and II towns.
Equally challenging is the availability of connectivity across the entire country. BSNL, in recent years, has really penetrated rural areas. This is mainly in respect of personal usage of PCs that require lower broadband capacities. If IT industries are to reach smaller towns, we have to see that their requirement of dedicated and assured larger broadband connectivity is met. We necessarily need to rope private internet service providers more effectively in this task. They, even though expected to go to semi-urban and rural areas, are operating in big cities. The reasons are obvious; they have larger business in such cities. It is sheer mathematics of returns on investment. So there are two alternatives; one, the government itself invests in strengthening broadband connectivity in small towns and two, the government starts pushing private internet providers through legal force. The scenario is somewhat similar to the one faced when asking private airlines to provide air services to remote places, which is almost mandatory for them but does not happen with requisite seriousness. Therefore, the government, apart from enhancing its own investments in expanding connectivity with regard to band width and quality, should encourage private internet providers by creating attractive incentive packages for expanding their connectivity network outsides metros.
The third factor is the availability of skilled persons. If one is talking about IT industry in abinitio software development, it requires highly talented and experienced software experts having cutting edge knowledge of intricacies involved in software development. India does have several such competent persons and such an industry would essentially flourish in metros, as is true today. In recent years, India, which was only identified as a service providers hub, has made great strides and all major IT industries like Infosys, TCS, Wipro and many others are putting large investments in hiring talented manpower and having state-of-the art hardware infrastructure.
The other industries are those in development of application software and providing of services in various applications through BPO, KPO and EPO structures. These could truly go to smaller places and that would bring a major change both at the societal and economic level. We would have to revisit our higher education expansion plans in smaller towns with a clear mapping of the shortcomings in the existing higher education infrastructure at these places and devise a strategy to strengthen it for producing IT-skilled manpower. This means the MHRD and ICT ministries must do a joint exercise while developing the approach paper right from the conceptual level; the question is: is it happening?
(The writer is a former chairman of UGC and former VC of University of Pune)