On the one hand when government is talking about ‘Digital India’, the net neutrality debate is seen against the core interest of net users who are to be the beneficiaries of the government initiative. As lakhs of mails are flowing to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) allegations are being made about government protecting certain corporate interest, Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser, and Pramod Saini, Sr Correspondent spoke to the Telecommunications Minister Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad on Digital India and Internet Neutrality Debate. Here are the Excerpts:
- Prime Minister Modi and you as the Minister of Telecommunications have been talking about Digital India. What is the content and mechanism of this programme?
We in India today have 97.5 crore mobile phones and 30 crore internet connectivity. In terms of internet connectivity, we have left America behind and are second to China. My approach, under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, is to make it 50 crore by the year 2019. Very soon we shall be touching 100 crore mobile phones in India. It means, against the population of 123 crore, we shall be having more than 100 crore mobile phones.
Digital India is a mission mode programme of this government. Digital India is to empower digitally the people of India, to bridge the divide between digital haves and digital have nots. It has basically three components. One, to create a digital architecture as a utility for the citizens of India; two, digital delivery of services—public and otherwise; and, third, digital empowerment of people of India—digital literacy, digital knowledge, etc. We are laying down optical fiber network to all 2,50,000 Gram Panchayats of India for e-education, e-health, e-commerce. It is a programme where the State governments and Central government have to work together. Under the ‘Make in India Programme’, we are promoting electronic manufacturing in a very big way.
- How you are going to promote this?
Our government is promoting the manufacturing of electronic goods in a very big way. We can give employment to nearly two crore people of India. We are promoting the Electronic Cluster Scheme in a significant way. We have received 38 proposals for it, and we have principally and effectively approved 20 of them. Others are in process. A lot of government incentives are there for it.
- Regarding Internet Neutrality Debate, it is alleged that Government is favouring certain corporate on this issue. How do you see this?
I, through Organiser, salute the creations and contribution of Indians. Indian IT and ITinable products are top in the world. India is a big destination in outsourcing. All the big companies in the world like Google, Facebook, etc have offices in India. The Prime Minister has desired that I want the Indians to produce companies like Google, Facebook. That is what the Indians are doing. In this light, our commitment is towards a non-discriminatory internet available to every citizen of India. That is the fundamental point I would like to highlight. And all this architecture is basically for that only. Broadband or broadband penetration is important, which we are doing.
- What about the interest of the marginalised?
It is a question of principal for us. Digital is more for the poor and marginalised. We want to bridge the divide between digital haves and digital have-nots, digitally literate and digitally not-literate—I am not talking about illiteracy. The common people have a stake. The Prime Minister has told us that, “I want governance in the palm of an individual”. All the government services should be available on mobile phones. Recently launched ‘Visa on Arrival’ scheme is our creation. Similarly, when a person retires, to get a pension he/she has to confirm whether he is alive repeatedly. Suppose, if someone goes abroad after the retirement with his/her children, or a person from North India starts living in Kerala, he will have to come to his post office, get medically examined or to the pension payment office. We have created an IT product ‘Jeevan Pramanam’, where you can digitally improve your image and convey to the office concerned proving that you are alive. It is connected to a website. We have involved the common people in a very big way. We have sought the services of ‘MyGov” after we came to power. We have sought feedback from the people on various initiatives like Ganga cleaning. In a short span of just 10 days we have got 7 lakh suggestions. That kind of engagement is there.
- How government is working on the issue?
In January itself, I constituted a committee of my officers. The committee is going to give its report by second week of May. As far as TRAI is concerned, it is a body which works under the TRAI Act. Its responsibility is to give suggestions. The decision is to be taken by the government. Their suggestions are considered by the Telecom Commission. You may have seen in newspapers today about spectrum sharing guidelines, how their report has sought to be reconsidered by the Telecom Commission.
The seat on which I am sitting has been in controversy for the wrong reasons. You may have seen the spectrum auction. The highest ever, one lakh ten thousand crore rupees, came in a free, fair and transparent auction of the spectrum. In this line, once the TRAI and my departmental reports come, we will take a final call. But I see Rahul Gandhi is very much upset off late. I am deliberately making this statement. I am happy that Rahul Gandhi is speaking after being in the Parliament for ten years. I don’t do like that. But as a Minister I cannot declare that I will tear an Ordinance and throw it in the dustbin. There is a process and it has to be followed. And that we are following. But my final conclusion is that Internet is the finest creation of human mind. And to become truly global, it must have linkage with the local. Not only in terms of connectivity, but in terms of content also most of the Indian languages have been properly computer wide developed. They have presence on the internet. They have done that. Therefore, I can only assure the people of India that a non-discriminatory internet availability be there and is a matter of prime commitment by us.
- Rahul Gandhi also alleged that you are under pressure from Corporate?
Rahul Gandhi should reply me first who was under pressure when 2G was happening? Which companies influenced it then? Why not Rahul Gandhi spoke a single word criticising what was happening then? The Coal Block allocation is too well known. The previous government used to be under pressure of companies. Who were trying to acquire natural resources through corrupt means? Also, when the 66A of IT Act came, who brought it? The previous government only. I am saying on record that when we came to power, it was already challenged and pending in the Supreme Court. I got the entire affidavit changed saying that this government is for free expression of speech on the social media. I requested through my law officer to take time that I will revisit the entire guideline, and if need be I will change the law itself. The Supreme Court said, no we will decide it. Then we said if Article 66A of the IT Act cannot come within the ambit of Article 19 (1 and 2) of the Fundamental Right we don’t support it. Where was Rahul Gandhi? Why he didn’t do it. And for what it was brought about? Where was Rahul Gandhi when Twitter Bars of certain journalists were being controlled and prohibited? Because some minister was in problem. He knew who the minister was. Where was he then? It is hypocrisy. Rahul Gandhi can best be described as ‘Rent a Call’.