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Pilot wants IT revolution in NE
Published on 8 Mar. 2010 12:30 AM IST
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The government has begun an ambitious programme to wire up the entire northeast and remote border regions with telecom, wimax and broadband connectivity and unleash an IT revolution in the region, says Minister of State for IT and Communications Sachin Pilot. “I believe that the northeast can become a big centre for attracting investments from the private sector - in business process outsourcing (BPOs), knowledge process outsourcing,” Pilot, 32, told IANS during an exclusive interaction at the IANS office here. “Young people there have a lot of talent and are easier to train and impart skills for this kind of work. If we can have rural BPOs then I am sure we can have BPOs in the northeast,” he added. A bulk of the money under what is called universal service obligation fund, collected by the government from private players to meet the demands of rural connectivity, will be deployed in the northeast, he said. At the start of this fiscal, more than Rs.18,000 crore ($3.6 billion) was available under this fund. On a mission to do a “lot more” in the northeast that “has not been done so far”, Pilot said Assam, for example, will see optical fibre cables laid across the state -- seen as a must for large data transfers required by such service providers. “We are launching optical fibre cables at the panchayat level in Assam soon. This will be the first state in India to have it,” Pilot said, adding Wimax services had already been unveiled there last month. “We launched Wimax in Chaygaon, on the outskirts of Guwahati in Assam. It’s a wireless, high speed internet broadband connectivity -- such that people living in a radius of 15 kilometres can access the internet easily,” he said. Moving beyond Assam, Pilot said the government is also planning a software parks project at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh, which will be an export-oriented scheme for developing computer software and extending related professional services. “I have already met the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh. We are hoping to start this project soon. The state will then have a lot more money from the government of India, which it can’t afford now,” he said. India’s northeastern region covers the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Pilot said he is also planning to give the satellite phone facilities to villages in the northeast, which are cut off from others due to their location, along with a much-subsidised tariff. “There are some places of Arunachal Pradesh, which are 12,000 feet to 14,000 feet high -- no spectrum, no mobile phones. Therefore, besides the paramilitary forces, I am trying to give satellite phones to these villages and reduce the call charges,” he said. In Sikkim, Pilot said, the IT ministry has helped in the setting up of a small business process unit and launched 3G services through the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. “The chief minister of Sikkim wanted to set up a 50-seat unit through an entrepreneur. So, we not only gave them connectivity but also gave it to them at one-fourth the cost. We also launched 3G services there,” the minister said. “I want that all the states of the northeast to feel as involved in what’s happening in New Delhi and Mumbai in terms of new innovative ideas.” India needs much better telecom and broadband connectivity not just to sustain high growth and empower citizens of this vast and diverse nation but also to break barriers of caste, religion and ethnicity, says Sachin Pilot. “We want to make our country much more wired than it is today. That’s a very good way of getting people together and that’s why we have to leverage on these opportunities before us,” Pilot said. An alumnus of the Wharton Business School, the 32-year-old, second-generation politician believes such access will be a unifier in India. He is also keen on bridging the digital divide so that the “other India” also has access to high-speed broadband connectivity. “Sometimes, we have differences created by some political parties who keep hammering on the faultlines in our society, our ethnicity, language, culture, manoos, north Indian, south Indian! All this will disappear once people get to ‘meet’ each other through the internet and learn from each other.” Pilot, who joined politics after a two-year stint with General Motors, says the current internet penetration in India of just seven percent could go up to 30-40 percent through the wireless broadband route in a few years. “Internet connectivity will help students studying in remote areas get access to the best of educational resources,” said Pilot, already a two-term member of parliament in the Lok Sabha and among the youngest ministers in the government. The son of prominent Congress leader Rajesh Pilot -- who too had handled the telecom portfolio but died in a road accident in 2000 -- Sachin Pilot says he did not make an entry into politics under public pressure. “I had finished my formal education in 2001. Once I came back from the US I thought long and hard on what I wanted to do. I had worked in a multinational firm and felt whatever I had seen, learnt, experienced can be used effectively in a public platform,” he said. “I had made enough powerpoint slides in the company I was working for. But how much of a difference was I really going to make? But here, I felt, if you really use this platform diligently, there’s so much you can do. I felt this is my calling,” he added. “It wasn’t public pressure. It was a very conscious decision,” said the alumnus of St. Stephen’s College who, like his late father, loves flying light aircraft and is a hobby shooter, having been captain of the college shooting team. Having featured in a host of publications as one of the most good-looking and promising young political leaders of the country, Pilot said he started travelling and interacting with people after his return and felt he could add value to politics. He was barely 26 when he won his first parliamentary election from Dausa in Rajasthan in 2004. Delimitation then forced him to change his constituency and he won from Ajmer in 2009, defeating the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party which had not lost the seat since 1984. Echoing the words of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi of attracting more youth into politics, Pilot said there was need to change the perception of India’s politics and create a positive image around the Indian politician. “People who have some conviction, who have some principles, they should come. That’s why I keep talking to university students all across the country. You don’t have to be from a political background,” he said. “You must be involved in the process, ask questions, go vote, make people accountable.”

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