India On Path To Digitalization

'India on Path to Digitalization'

By: Dr. T Hanuman Chowdary

(11 May 2021)

17th of May is observed throughout the world as World Telecom & Information Society Day. The subject to be deliberated this year is: ‘Accelerating Digital Transformation In Challenging Times’. India has significant achievements in this regard. It would be relevant to recall what has been done and what remains to be done in this regard.

In 1965 the Chairman of the world’s largest telecom company, the American Telegraph & Telecom Corporation (AT&T) in his annual address to the share- holders opined that in forceable future every person born on this planet will be given a telephone number and not a name and if this number is called and there is no answer, it means, that person is no longer alive. He foresaw mobile telephony and intelligent telephone instruments which can be carried by every person either in the palm or in the pocket. In 1980s we were exhorting people to communicate for work and commute only for pleasure, again envisaging then telecommunications would be universal, ubiquitous and affordable to every person. In the 1990s, I was evangelizing, “haath haath mein telephone; gaon gaon mein Internet”. It is these three visionary ideas that got implemented in our country by advocacy for de-monopolization, entry of private companies into the provision of services: competition and regulation. The private telephone companies (P-Telcos) in India invested Rs. 10 Lakh Crores in our telecom systems which is government alone could not have done.

The process started with the separation of telecoms from posts the latter half of 1970s by Sri. K. Brahmananda Reddy, who was then the Minister for Communions in the GOI. The process was carry forwarded by Prime Minister Sri Rajiv Gandhi who started corporatizing the Departments telecom services, Prime Minister Sri. P. V. Narasimha Rao permitted the entry of private telephone companies (P-Telcos) through the National Telecom Policy 1994 (NTP ’94). The process was perfected and concluded by Prime Minister Sri. Atal Behari Vajpayee through the NTP-1999. The result is that when once the situation was, apply apply, no reply and today for 130 Crore Indians we are having 117 Crore cell phones. The average cost of a year’s telephone usage which was equal to per capita income of Rs. 10,000 in 1994. It is now Rs. 1,800 compared to the per capita income of Rs. 1,35,000. It is about 175th of the per capita income and is therefore affordable by the poorest of the poor in this country as Rs. 150 per month is about one fourth of the daily wage of an unskilled labourer. The present-day smart telephone is multi-functional. It has camera. It replaces the laptops. It has access to the internet, to GSP to Google to what not through the internet. The technological change has been swift – the old dial/ button telephone has disappeared. There are no telegraphs, no teleprinters, no fax machines. Whatever being done earlier using pen and papers is now done on the smart telephone. The pandemic covid- 19 has forced the pace of digitization, paperless offices, working from home, online classes and examinations and even voting. The voting for the Annual General Body Meetings of large corporations and professional societies through are done by using the smart mobile telephone and internet. One need not go to the bank. All transactions of account holders are done through the smart telephone - Internet banking. High Courts and Supreme Court are hearing the petitioners not through physical presence but through video conference.

It is sheer thoughtlessness that canvassing for the elections and voting are not migrated to digital media comprising of the TV channels, the internet, and the smart telephone. The distress and death being caused by COVID-19 because of physical election rallies and physical voting could have been avoided by using the digital media. For the last 15 years I have been urging the Election Commission, political parties and informing the public that we should be not content by using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) but the canvasing and voting should also be migrated to the electronic - computer networks. The gatherings at the marriages can also be avoided by the marriage being performed in the home of the grooms and made visible through the hired satellite channel or through a webcasting. The pandemic has brought about one desirable change in the way we work. 93% of the professionals are working from their homes avoiding hours of travel and atmospheric pollution. That this is so effective is proved by the fact that all the IT companies have between 10-15% increase in the revenues and profits in the year just passed by. Working from home or communicating for work and commuting only for pleasure is being realized.

India should develop and produce and deploy its own communication system say the 6G by creating Intellectual Property (IP) required which they are doing now for foreign companies in India and abroad. That is IP created by Indians but owned by foreigners. Government should launch a dedicated mission tasked to achieve the 6th Generation (6G) communication system. That China and Korea have leap-frogged European and American companies and are having the 5G communication system should be an inspiration and a lesson for us.

  • Dr. T H Chowdary : 11-May-2021