IT Sovereignty in India – Dimensions and Policy.

March 27, 2014

It takes as much courage to have tried and failed as it does to have tried and succeeded.” ― Anne Morrow Lindbergh

We, as a country, have somewhere lost the willingness or rather courage to try when it comes to becoming a truly sovereign nation in regard to our IT capabilities.

While the market demand, including domestic, kept growing by leaps & bounds, we decided to cater to such growing need by spending money and depending on bought technologies thereby becoming vulnerable to the foreign IT industry. Strategically, as we are poised today, the situation is almost that of an invaded country where all our strategic information is either conducted through foreign hardware, or is already lying in foreign servers.

Can we change this overnight… Unfortunately NO!

A decade of inaction and policy paralysis has led us here, and it would take strong willed policy intervention to achieve parity with the required standards, indigenously.

The opportunities unexplored:

  • The Semiconductor market: Currently stands at USD 60 Bn, expected to go to USD 100 Bn by 2020; today almost 100% is imported
  • The devices market: Expected to reach USD 400 Bn by 2020
  • The data center market:  Poised to become USD 126 Bn (globally), strategically important for us from the data sovereignty perspective

If we decide not to harvest this opportunity:

  • Our IT imports would outgrow Oil imports by 2020, creating huge economic burden and weakening the currency
  • Strategically, our foreign dependence would become a Trojan Horse that can be our nemesis anytime; diplomatically, we would hold lower hand in most negotiations
  • We would have lost on a huge opportunity to create wealth and employment for 28 million Indian Citizens

Needless to say, IT forms the backbone of every successful nation and this has resulted in this industry becoming one of the fastest growing in the world. Governments across the world have taken measures to grow in this market, reaping socio-cultural as well as economic benefits. For every nation, IT is integral to their success. World Bank’s 2009 report stated that 10% increase in computer and broadband penetration increases GDP by 1.38%.

Once known as the Golden Sparrow of the world and the one of fastest growing economies in recent history, India’s technology growth has progressed at snail’s pace since the past decade. The GDP growth rate in the first half of 2013-14 is 4.6%, while overall growth in Index of Industrial Production (IIP) was (-) 0.6% during December 2013.

A deeper analysis by World Economic Forum on household PC penetration and broadband penetration of BRIC countries (as depicted in charts below) reveals that India’s growth has lagged behind with little improvement, while the BRC countries have significantly high growth rates.

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A closer look at the GDP per capita purchasing power parity (PPP) clearly indicates that during the last decade, while countries like Russia and Brazil’s GDP per capita have gained hugely with respect to technology adoption, India’s growth has been minuscule.

For a country with an immensely potential population of 120 crores, there seems to be a clear sign of it missing the bus.

Some serious questions need to be put forward to the current leadership of this country. A strong willingness to make India a sovereign state has to emanate from them.

Right mix of policies that will help propel ‘IT Penetration’ and ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in India is the need of the hour.

 A three pronged approach would be needed to achieve the above two ends:

 1.      Short Term Tactical change in policy to encourage production in India; encourage entrepreneurship in Semi Conductor, LCD, LED, Mobile.

  • This would create jobs and impact EXIM balance
  • Sow seeds for indigenous production over a 4-5 year horizon
  • Not too difficult considering we lead the R&D in this field, but not production as yet

 2.      Long Term Focus on :

a)     IC manufacturing (fabrication) industry which is key for self reliance and reducing imports; is of vital importance for national security.

b)      Water tight, National Interest Tech/Know How collaborations with IT Majors of the world

c)      Sector based R&D in areas such as

         i.      Industrial Robot

         ii.      Next Generation communication

         iii.      Energy conservation

         iv.      Medical Instrumentation

d.      Creating a manufacturing eco system where ideas can be easily prototyped and productized with minimum hassle and no red tape

e.      Encourage entrepreneurship

 3.    Aggressive Mission Mode Project for Digital Literacy

a.      Make it national agenda (e.g. Pulse Polio) to have 100% digital literacy by 2020 (e-Saksharta Abhiyan)

b.      Address last unit connectivity – last mile access through innovative means (electricity/railway lines etc)

c.       Incentivize teaching through elected representatives, citizens and corporate

d.      Incentivize usage through economic sops

e.      Target 1 device per house in 3 years

These steps taken, by 2020 India would be in a position to employ 28 MiO citizens in various streams of the IT ambit. Our imports would reduce considerably thus strengthening the rupee and making the nation wealthier. Considering economies of infrastructure & talent, we can become providers to the world thereby attracting vital forex.

Economically and strategically, we would advance towards being a truly powerful sovereign, a few steps towards great poet Rabindranath Tagore’s independent India,

 “Chitto jetha bhayashunyo, uccha jetha shir, gyan jetha mukto..” which means

 “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free…”

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