Memoranda for Submission to the Chief Ministers of the Two Telugu States.


Digitalization in India – True Facts



Digitalization in India – True Facts

Dr T H Chowdary*


On the 21st , of May the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, a number of  Congress leaders paid tribute to him and asserted that  the digitalization that is, the extensive use of information technology in India is the gift of Rajiv Gandhi . It is as well to know the real facts .  The following  two fair observations  of very wise men are  apt to be recalled .

·         Success  has many fathers; failure is an orphan .

·         There may be  several factor for conception but there could be only one  cause  ( this observation was made by  a judge in the US who awarded the patent  for the invention of telephone to Alexander Graham Bell rejecting several others claims


2. Both these great words are relevant to  recall. The true facts about the extensive use of IT and digitalization  in our country must be known. As one involved since 1967, in all the processes  that have lead to the extensive digitalization  of numerous activities of  governments , businesses, educational institutions, and activists ( aandolan jeevis),   I venture to  state the following facts  that are  principally responsible for India’s digitalization achievements .


3.  For extensive use of IT and digitalization of every type of information, it is necessary  that we have a nation-wide, broadband telecommunications  infrastructure and information instruments like laptops, smart telephones all affordable  even  by   poor people. Structural  reforms  in the    regime for the telecommunications are  essential.  The monopoly of the  government Department of Telecoms (DOT) had to be  ended; new technologies and services are



to be launched and  lakhs of  crores of rupees investment is to be brought into  the sector and competition  and innovation had to be fostered. This is a long process. The country was struck up with  Nehruvian  socialism  which envisaged that the commanding  heights of the economy and services  (including telecommunications ) should be occupied by government  entities only.  Unless the  grip of  Nehruvian socialism as an ideology on government’s economic  and industrial policies is deftly  loosened, there could be no regime change in telecoms.


4. Sri P.V Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister of India during 1991-96 heading a minority government (which he deftly  converted into a majority ) gave up Nehruvian  socialism and launched the liberalization of the Indian economy. Heeding to sage advice, he put an end to the  permit- license- quota raj. He allowed  two private telephone companies  (P-Telcos) in each metropolitan city ( Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and  Chennai) to launch  cellular mobile telephone services. This was  inspite of severe opposition from militant unions in the DOT and  a diehard socialists and communists.  He followed it up by  proclaiming  the National Telecom Policy  in 1994 ( NTP -1994)  which  permitted P-Telcos  to provide  many types of telephone and  information services.  The DOT remained as  policy-maker, licensor,  regulator and competitor  to the   P-Telcos. In this multiple  roles, DOT  imposed many obnoxious conditions on the fledging  P-Telcos.  All over India, a number  of P-Telcos  got licenses to provide not only telephone but  a variety of services  like   radio paging, video conferencing  etc. This was a very great  beginning though  with imperfect in license  conditions for  competition.


5. The P-Telcos  found to their great dismay that the conditions imposed  by the policy maker -licensor -competitor-regulator that is the DOT   were crippling them . There were many other services which were  becoming available all over the world but not get introduced in India.  Prime Minister ( 1998-2004) Sri Atal Behari Vajpayi  was  faced with this problem of the P-Telcos’   inability to roll out services  because of the impossible conditions . He appointed  the Prime Minister’s National Task Force on IT & Software    with known liberalizers ( like me ) as members . This Task Force  made 108 recommendations  which were accepted immediately and resulted  in the removal of the obnoxious  conditions  in the licences and  opened up  free for all  competition , with statutory regulation -  the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India  (TRAI) .  Sri Vajpayi  corporatized the  telecom services  provided by DOT as Bharat  Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)  and  created a level playing field between the  P-Telcos and the government- owned  BSNL/ MTNL and allowed the latter two companies  to offer  every type  of   service and construct  necessary infrastructures. Sri Vajpayi announced the new National Telecom Policy in 1999 (NTP-‘99) .


6. It is the work of these  great people, P V Narasimha Rao and Atal  Behari Vajpayi that  facilitated  the huge expansion of telephones and  competing infrastructures  like broadband, Optical Fiber, terrestrial and submarine  cables and  satellite based and terrestrial l  microwave radio  transmission  facilities . The result was the  birth of   12  P-Telcos ,  fiercely competing with one another .  New technologies  brought  down  costs  of new services. Competition brought down prices.  In the  month of  Sept  2010 India set up a world record - 180 mln mobile telephone subscribers were  added in that one  month . There were just 10 mln  land lines   for 1000 mln   Indians  in 1994 . That  is one phone for 100 people. Today  we have  117 cr mobile phones for 130 cr population -  a telephone density of 93 per 100 people. In 1994 when the  first NTP was adopted the annual spend of a person having a telephone at Rs. 10,000 was equal  to the   annual per capita income of Rs. 10,000. Today,  the annual Average Revenue Per User  (ARPU)  at about   Rs. 1800  is  a seventy seventh ( 77th )  of the PCI  of Rs. 1,40,000. That is why the poorest of the poor including  many beggars are  having a telephone. The smart telephone  which is multi-functional  connects to the  internet .  600 mln Indian people use eh Internet . Working from home,   on-line classes,  on-line  money transfers have all become possible because of the  universal  affordability of the  telephone. The telephone instrument  today   is a multi -purpose  device -  sending and receiving e-mails, short  messages,  facilitates audio video conferences, takes photos , shows  directions for travel  and so on . This is  digitalization.


7. The third person who  popularized  IT and  digitalization  is  Sri Chandra Babu Naidu during his  Chief Ministership of the undivided AP (1997 -2004).    Utilizing his clout with  the United Front government of   Prime Ministers  Deve Gouda and I.K Gujral , he got special funds . Under proper advice and  the Vision  2020  document,  a State-Wide Ara Network (SWAN) was built up in AP linking  all the   districts  for  audio and video conference from the Secretariat in Hyderabad.  Government services like  registration  of property transactions , birth and death certificates   and such other  services  were delivered to the public through service centers, e-seva kendras. It was extended upto Thaluka level.   The public telephones  were upgraded  with facilitated bank loans to the attendants  to deliver   every type of  telephone and information service including access to the iIternet from these service centers.  Sri Naidu  was  very thoughtfully and  magnanimously  made  the Co-Chairman of the  Vajpayi’s National Task Force for IT  and Software. 


8. Rajiv Gandhi also contributed  for  progress towards  digitalization  but in a small way.  His tenure  as Prime Minister was just for 5 years of which  the latter half   witnessed  great resentment  about it .”Galli galli mein shor hein ; Rajiv Gandhi chore hein” was the war cry  the opposition parties  raised as  the Bofors scam  surfaced.  What he could  do was  to separate the telecoms from  postal  service as  Department of Telecoms ( DoT) and  set  in motion  corporatization of its  operations beginning with services in Delhi and Bombay as  the Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Limited (MTNL) and for international  services to another corporation,  Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). Corporatization  helped  MTNL  go to the market raise money through bonds for investment  in the two  telephone systems.   The corporatization  of the  government’s telecom services all over India  was  completed by Sri Atal Behari Vajpayi who  created  the  BSNL effective from 2 Oct 2000 (that the BSNL as a  PSU is not able to  compete with the P-Telcos and is now on oxygen. As  no PSU  can compete and survive and thrive  under free competition).   


9. Modesty  should not prevent me from mentioning   the work done by the Center for Telecom Management and Studies (CTMS)  which  was founded  in 1989 by me while  I was Chairman and Managing Director of the VSNL. Continuing my private and public  campaigns  for  de-monopolization of  telecoms in the country since 1967,  the CTMS conducted seminars,  workshops and round tables   in several cities of the country advocating the de-monopolisation  of telecoms and entry of  private  companies into the service   sector and competition    and statutory regulation.  It ran the monthly  journal, “Journal of the CTMS” from 1991 to 2017. I went round the country addressing  Chambers of Commers, meeting with political leaders and opinion makers and writing articles  and giving talks  over radio  and TV. Apart from the journal of  the CTMS  in Economic Times, Economic and Political Weekly(EPW), Seminar, Hindu Business Line,  Voice & Data and Eenadu published my articles which were running commentaries on and advocacies for flawless  deregulation, just and equitable license conditions. 


10.  There were other  great people  from within the government  and outside in  support of my advocacy. Sri N.Vittal   a distinguished IAS officer as Secretary of the DOT , Dr N.Seshagiri, Director General of the  National Informatic Center (NIC), Sri Sudhindra  Kulkarni, Media  Advisor to Sri Atal Behari Vajpai   and  the  Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) especially its  first  DG Sri T.V. Ramachandran were all actors in this  long and effective process of demonopolisation and  competition. Successive governments hav,e   in their  own way,  taken to  digitalization of every government activity . The society is  getting informatised  .  The following dreams  and   aspirations  are being   realised:


·         Frederic R. Kappel,  Chairman of the then world’s  largest  telephone  company  AT&T in America addressing an Annual General  Body meeting  in 1965 said, that, “ in the near  future every person born on this planet   need  not  be given a name but be given   a telephone number;  and if that  number is called and there is no answer,   we can conclude that the person is  dead”. Today  almost every  person excepting the too old  and   too young  have  smart telephones and the telecom network  is planet -covering .

·         I propagated the slogan, “communicate for work and commute only for pleasure” and illustrated  the economics by saying that the energy  contained in a tea spoon full of petrol can power  a 10 mnts  long telephone conversation over 40 kmts  for 25 paise while the commutation cost  would be several times the cost of that tea  spoonful of  petrol.

·         The regime for telecom service should be  changed from  apply apply no reply” to “hath hath mein telephone; gaon gaon  mein  Internet”.

11. All these  aspirations are being  realized .  The advances  in  informatization of society are so rapid that we have been having  a quick  succession of  improved technologies   – 1G in the 1980s to 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G now and very soon 6G.  Each successive generation of new systems has been greatly enhancing  the amount of information transmitted /exchanged  and   reducing the  time in which  that has become possible.  (1,849 words)