THE big bang of claims of the government, from down-town streets up to the UN headquarters, to showcase an altogether outsourced Akash-2 tablet PC as the nation’s frugal innovation has once again exposed the growing techno-paralytic dependence of our government upon China. The beginning was made with the outsourcing of telecom hardware leading to total sublimation of manufacturing as well as R & D in that area of vital technology, of crucial dual-use for the economic growth and security of the nation. Now, this wave of rendering the nation externally dependent in most fields of technology, including electronics, power equipments and power plants; largely upon China which is also a security threat of the first order for the country, is spreading across the sectors.
The Akash 1 unveiled earlier by the then HRD minister Mr. Kapil Sibal as the flagship of frugal innovation of the country in the field of IT hardware had proved to be a hoax, as the touch screen was altogether resistive to any touch and battery was too shortlived to allow one to operate the device purposefully. The buyers could get nothing except repentance for having chosen that product.
Now, the Akash-2, i.e. second version of the tablet PC launched after the failure of the Akash 1 was assigned to be developed and tested by IIT Mumbai. IIT Mumbai has just passed over the order for the same to the Datawind, a London head-quartered company, registered in Montreal, Canada. The Datawind people then, landed into China, purchased an ‘A 13’ tablet PC, designed by All Winner Tech of China, and available off the shelf at $42 (Rs. 2260) per piece there and supplied it in India. These were shipped to India by Kalong Technology Co. Limited and Dasen International Electronics Co. Limited. It is worth mentioning here that IIT Mumbai is being alleged in the media reports, to have issued a certificate dated October 29 for importing about 20,000 tablet PCs into India and recommended import duty waiver, just a day before the launch of Akash-2.
This ready-to-buy ultra-cheap table PC, available in China off the shelf for $42, was then launched by nonetheless than the President of India on November 11, and was also showcased in the UN on November 28 as India’s innovation-pride, aimed at revolutionizing the education sector. As this product would be made available to the students at 50% subsidy, the government would thus be subsidizing a technology-development for China, from the Indian Taxpayers’ money, at a time when it (the government) is showing its utter inability to subsidise the poor farmers and household consumer in the country.
Moreover, how the government or IIT Mumbai can claim innocence in this fraud of claiming this ultra-cheap tablet PC available off the shelf in China as an innovation pride of the country, when the government itself has exempted customs duty on its import from China, at the recommendation of IIT Mumbai ? Had some Indian entity (any firm or an R & D organization or any institute of repute) been subsidized to develop this tablet PC indigenously, India could really develop its technology in this area, which was quite feasible.
It is indeed the most sinister a design that the country is being pushed into the dark age of 19th century by rendering it externally dependent in most fields of technology one after the other, in the name of liberalization and globalization. India was well on the track in most fields of concurrent technology prior to import – liberalization and foreign-investment promotion pursued under the guise of economic reforms. India was well competitive in the field of 1st generation of telecom technology in 90’s, pertaining to the development of fixed line electronic exchanges. Our technology was comparable with the concurrent world leaders like Motorola (an American Company) and Siemens (a German Company), the twin world leaders in telecom technology. But, thereafter we did not decide to invest in the development of 2nd generation, 3rd generation and 4th generation of telecom technologies throughout the last two decades. Instead, we prefered to promote import of telecom hardware in the post-reforms period. Now, we have become fully foreign-dependent and have been importing most of the telecom hardware for 2G, 3G and 4G, from China at the cost of indigenous technology development and national security. Likewise, in electronics and electrical products as well, our increasing foreign dependence is worrisome.
In electronics, our imports are touching the $ 60 bn mark per annum, second largest after petroleum, and soon it might surpass even petroleum imports. In electricals as well, in almost all categories of electrical products production is decelerating and there is a sharp decline now, in most categories of electrical products, first time after independence. In electronics, due to elimination of manufacturing, out of our total dependence upon imports, largely from China, the talented youth is dithering away from opting electronics in B.Tech. and M.Tech. programmes because of drying out of the placement opportunities into that sector in the country. Therefore, India would not be able to revive R & D and product development in the fields of electronics and telecom even in next couple of decades.
The Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers Association (IEEMA), the apex Indian industry association of manufacturers of electrical, industrial electronics and allied equipment recently released the Q1 FY13 performance of the Rs. 1,10,000 crores (USD$22 billion) Indian electrical equipment industry is highly alarming. The result shows that for the first time in 10 years the Indian electrical equipment industry has witnessed a negative growth of 2.4% in Q1-FY13 compared to the corresponding period of Q1 FY12 (14.10%).
The transformer industry has seen a negative growth of 7.6% in Q1 FY13 against the growth of 6.6% for the corresponding period Q1 FY 12. The capacitor and cable industry has witnessed a double digit negative growth of 24.8% and 12.9% respectively compared to the positive growth of 20.9% (capacitor) and 44.6% (cable) in Q1 FY12. The routing machine industry has witnessed a negative growth of 2.6% in Q1 FY13 against the growth of 9.6% for corresponding quarter last year.
Unfortunately, in the field of power plants as well, most of the orders for power plants are going to the Chinese companies. Total orders with Chinese companies are for more than 48,000 mw vis a vis for 20,000 mw with BHEL and 5000 mw with L & T, the two major indigenous players. Unfortunately, the order for latest technology based super-critical power plants (thermal) are going mostly to the Chinese companies and the Indian power major BHEL does not have any order for Super – Critical Power plants, at a time when the world is moving towards ‘super-critical power plant technology’ vis a vis sub-critical one, as the former category helps to generate power at less than the 50 percent cost with less pollution and lesser coal consumption vis a vis subcritical technology.
The subcritical power plants would soon be outdated. If the Indian power plants sector would not get orders for this new (super- critical) technology – based power plants, India would become fully foreign dependent for power plants as well, like the telecom and electronics sectors, mainly on China, all through the ensuring decades. In that case, hundreds of vendors supplying components to indigenous power majors would also turn sick, including the main equipment suppliers like BHEL and L & T, leading to total dilution and even dissolution of power plants sector in the country. China is almost on the verge of acquiring 80 per cent of the power equipments market in India.
Therefore, it is high time for India to focus on techno-nationalism, for product development, R & D and high-tech manufacturing and economic patriotism in all purchasing & procurement decisions at the individual and national levels, including a check on irrational imports and foreign capital.
Table 1: Serious Downtrend in the Electrical Equipment Industry
FY13 (Y-O-Y growth in % in Q, Final Year 2012-13)