Zee Business Editor Amish Devgan caught up with Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on the latter's views on digital India programme, e-commerce sector and more.
PM Modi started digital India programme, where has it reached? You being India's Communication & IT Minister are responsible for the implemetation of the same.
'Digital India' is a revolution in itself. The 'digital India' will be possible in three areas--all gram panchayat are to be connected, all government services should be provided on digital platform and the aim is to strengthen every Indian, keep them informed and educated in terms of digital platform.
Can you fix any timeline for digitally strengthening India? How can it be realistically implemented?
We will connect 50-60 thousand gram panchayats by March-April 2016, by 2017 we can add one lakh gram panchayats and and another lakh by 2018.We are working on it and monitoring everything. Zila will be connected to blocks which will further be connected to grampanchayats. Every government service will be available digitally -like e-health and e-education. Television has become a rage and spread its wings everywhere. We want 'Digital India' to kick off in the similar pattern and we will take help from private companies for this.
Several Congress ministers have alleged that you are trying to do what they did.
Congress is open to have their misconceptions. If they were doing well, why didn't public support them? As far as digital media is concerned there are hardly any Set-top box, SIM cards, smart cards or mobile phones manufactured in our country. I have recently started an electronic cluster based in Bhopal and Jabalpur. So, it is all taking place together. I'm also trying to ensure that the poor have access to technology. My dream will come true when a maha-dalit in a remote village of our country will be digitally 'Saakshat'.
You recently met with defence minister Manoj Parikar. What measures have been taken in order to release spectrums from the defence and has the defence minister agreed to it?
We both feel that while spectrum is critical to our national security, it is equally important for the telecom sector. We are hoping to get whatever is not required by them or we can exchange or share the services sometimes. These are the various possibilities and we are constantly discussing this.
If you get access to the spectrum, will it boost the sector?
I don't want to speculate on that. I believe in doing the work.
Is there a possibility of auctioning the 2G, 3G and 4G together?
The work is still in progress so I won't comment on that. All I would say is that we'll try to make the process as honest and transparent as possible.
The call rates are expected to go up after the auctions since the spectrum will be expensive. Will it directly impact the customers ?
There is going to be a lot of scope considering numerous spectrums and the country's population.
The telecom, IB and IT ministry play a very important role in the e-commerce sector. Does the government plan to regulate this industry?
Our country has over 70 thousand crore users. We will soon be the second largest country to use internet after China. The Chinese site 'Alibaba' has over 2 Lakh drivers working in it. So, there is a scope of unlimited opportunities in this field. I have also asked the postal department to work in tandem with it and they are working very hard towards it. And I have also told them to reach out to the artisans in the various parts of the country and help promote their art and products. I am not in favour of regulations but people should be penalised incase of violation of the laws or are not doing proper quality control. Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook when he was 19, the founder of Flipkart created the site at the age of 25. So, I too would like to encourage the youth and their capabilities.
Will regulations curtail the growth ?
I don't believing in curtailing or discouraging entrepreneurship by imposing regulations.
Do you think working hand in hand will improve the situation and will it impact the GDP in the near future ?
Definitely, if there is good linkage and back-end communication in the rural areas, there will be warehouses in small towns, supply in villages and e-commerce will grow and so will the GDP. As far as Indiapost is concerned, its almost a 100-year old institution with over 1.5 Lakh post offices having a wide reach in villages.
It is being said that creating Wi-Fi zones is not possible right now and sources have said that you have informed PMO about the same.
We are still planing to enable Wi-Fi in important areas but we cant give unlimited free Wi-Fi. We can give it for a short period though. I have ordered the tourism department to co-ordinate and work on it.
What is the govt doing to revive MTNL and BSNL ?
BSNL and MTNL have faced a lot of challenges in the past few years. Thousands of crores were spent on the spectrum which was never used so they incurred losses. They didn't have the required equipment because the tenders were not finalised on time. A lot of work and investment is being done to improve the infrastructure of these companies. Also, a lot of towers are being affected in the North-East and hilly regions. This (Restoration of towers) is one of the projects of the digital India campaign.
The consumer orientation of these companies isn't very good.
That needs to be changed. Today BSNL has a wide reach in the villages. Why only BSNL, even private networks face issues sometimes even in Delhi.
Are MTNL and BSNL likely to merge?
No comments. As of now we want to revive it and there are no plans of merging it.
Is there a shortage of funds for optical fibre 'Yojana'?
There is no shortage. It is the biggest project and we are doing our best.
It is an important phase for digital media. Your comments.