Having completed four years in power, digital delivery of services and employment generation through the common service centre scheme are the biggest achievements of the National Democratic Alliance government, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad told Indian EXpress in an interview. Prasad said that digital health and literacy are areas where work needs to be accelerated. Edited excerpts:
What have been the biggest achievements of this government in the digital technology sector over the last four years?
Digital India has become a mass movement touching the life of common and poor people. Four years down the line, common service centre movement has become big. From 23,000 common service centres in 2014, there are 2.91 lakh now. Apart from providing digital delivery of services, they have also created employment for 10 lakh people and have created entrepreneurship.
Bringing technology to rural areas of the country was one of the promises of this government. Apart from common service centres, where else have efforts been made?
Eighty-nine business processing and outsourcing units (BPOs) in 27 states of India in far-flung areas like Imphal, Kohima, Guwahati, Patna, Muzaffarpur, Bareily, Kanpur, Bhiwandi have been set up in the first phase of the rural BPO scheme. In the next lot, places like Ghazipur, Dewaria, Jahanabad and Gaya are going to be covered.
While the government boasts about the success of electronic manufacturing, there has been criticism that only assembly is done in India…
Electronic manufacturing is also a great success story. From two mobile units in 2014, there are 120 now. Those who criticise setting up of assembly units first must know it’s a norm worldwide. Now, even the other ecosystem, which includes components, sub-assemblies, is coming about apart from manufacturing of consumer electronics, automobiles, LED lights, solar panels, etc. India is emerging as a big country in electronic manufacturing.
Are there any areas where more could have been done in the last four years?
In four years, the progress is remarkable. I have to accelerate its speed more in the areas like digital health, digital literacy and delivery of digital services. We have also seen enormous success of Aadhaar as part of the JAM (Jan Dhan-Mobile-Aadhaar) trinity. As of date, there are 30 crore Jan Dhan accounts, 120 crore Aadhaar and 121 crore mobile phones in the country. We have saved over Rs 90,000 crore through direct benefit transfer. Fictitious claimants and middle-men are now out. Four years have shown poor people getting empowered through technological developments such as e-hospital, soil health cards, e-scholarships, Jeevan Praman Scheme, e-NAM. All of this technology is homegrown.
Employment in the information technology (IT) sector has been a cause for concern. There were reports last year about mass lay-offs in the sector. What has the government done to address that?
In the IT sector, 39.97 lakh people work directly, according to the Nasscom estimate. Nearly, 3.5 times or over 1.30 crore work indirectly. In the last four years, 6 lakh jobs have been added by various IT companies including more than 1 lakh in 2017-18. We are promoting digital economy for it to reach $1 trillion size in the next five to seven years to address the rising demand in India that will add 50-75 lakh more jobs.
The government’s role in generating employment has been promotion of the common service centre scheme that has added 10 lakh jobs. Each village level entrepreneur is employing five to seven people on an average. Five lakh jobs have been added in mobile and electronic manufacturing, which the Centre has promoted. Further, 12,500 jobs have been created in the BPO sector through the rural BPO scheme, and this number is still rising. Therefore, employment potential is robust and I’m not even talking about jobs in other sectors created as a result of growing digital technologies. I am only talking about what is directly dealt with by my department.
Has the government been able to address the problem of skilling, which is said to be one of the key causes for concern in job creation in India?
Digital India is transformative in empowering ordinary Indians ably assisted by other programmes like Startup India, Standup India, Skill India and newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, etc. Most important thing is that it is also empowering all genders. One-third of employees in the IT sector are women.