How an avowedly “nationalist” government allows India to be digitally colonized by US and China

By Raghav Bahl – With great gusto, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to convert our country into a digital superpower, a Start-up India that would reconfigure the world with its tech smarts and savvy.

According to Bob van Dijk, CEO of Naspers (Africa’s biggest company, a media and internet conglomerate that is also the largest investor in China’s Tencent), “India needs to make sure that it builds an ecosystem for the success of local businesses. If I am blunt about it, I think Europe is a digital colony of the US. There’s no decision making in search, content, social or video, which basically means there is no ecosystem of capable internet entrepreneurs or professionals … if I were your prime minister, I would have that bent of mind.”

Yes! Just as Chambal dacoits looted central India in the 1970s/80s, Shenzhen and Silicon Valley dacoits are savaging our digital landscape in the 21st century. We have already resigned ourselves to the astonishing dominance of Google and Facebook, without even a shrug of resistance. These American titans take nearly 90% of all digital ad dollars from India. They own the digital identities of over a billion Indians. They know what we search, buy, whom we date, where we live, what politics we follow, what we say, think, and everything we do!

It’s a shame that this is happening on an avowedly “nationalist” government’s beat. more>

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Can ‘Make in India’ work?

Why India is not going to be the next China – or anything like China ever


By Kanti Bajpai – Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised he would promote a ‘Make in India’ revolution. Nearly four years later, a manufacturing revolution is nowhere in sight. Make in India was supposed to not just boost manufacturing, it was also supposed to generate employment. Estimates show there has been virtually no jobs growth.

To be a manufacturing power, a country needs a strong state which identifies niche areas, supports them and encourages innovation. It enforces contracts and property rights. It also provides public goods including law and order and an efficient bureaucracy.

Nobody would pretend that the Indian state is anywhere near being a strong state. It is often violent and despotic, but that is a measure of its weakness, not its strength.

India has no history of industrial-scale innovation – no world historical inventions that it has scaled up.

It is a trading nation and a nation that does well in areas that requires delicate craftsmanship and care, areas that are (for want of a better word) human in scale. It is also a nation that does well in providing services. It could, with better laws, incentives, and technology, be competitive in tourism, hospitality, fintech, and international education and healthcare – areas where human beings still count, where more personalized attention matters and where machines and scale are less important. more>

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American lessons for India

By neglecting science and public welfare, the US is losing the marathon in some respects
By Dipankar Gupta – We look up to America for a number of good reasons. But there are a few cautionary tales as well, especially in the area of public spending.

The US, however, rarely looks outside its borders, east or west, for ideas. The Midwest, the country’s navel, is where it gazes most often. This is where elections are won or lost, and where homebred culture and cars are made.

Between 2000 and 2017 there have been as many as 25 train mishaps in the US, prompting the head of Amtrak to confess that the latest crash is a “wake up call”. It took 60 years, between 1940 to 1999, for 25 train accidents to happen, but only 15 years since to clock that number.

This graphically demonstrates how rapidly public railways have declined in America. We are not starting on the subject of the 56,000 US bridges that need urgent repair. This may sound and taste like India, but we are still talking America.

According to Mark Reutter of Progressive Policy Institute, in the first 13 years after 1956, as much as 46,350 km of interstate roadways were built and, tragically, 95,600 km of rail tracks taken out. In an ironic coincidence, 1956 was also the year when Japan started planning its high speed trains.

Railways have never won state support in the US after their heydays in the 1930s and 1940s. Politicians complain that trains will never make money, so why fund them? In Europe, the calculations are very different.

For example France’s prestigious, high speed TGV train service makes regular losses but gets government money anyway because the public benefits from it.

Not only does TGV reduce travel time, its wide network has also brought booms to towns, like Lille, that had gone bust in the 1950s. China’s high speed train system is also not a financial success, but the country is going ahead with planning a 500 kmph railway system anyway. more>

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India’s Achilles heel: Bureaucracy

2G judgment indicates the nation’s civil servants are the real weak link in its governance
By Sanjiv Shankaran – Policies and guidelines which led up to the 2G allocation spanned two governments: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA and Manmohan Singh’s UPA. The common thread that binds them is the disappointing quality of work when it came to fleshing out details in policy. Given the ambiguous nature of guidelines and poor drafting, controversies are a foregone conclusion.

Poor drafting of legislation has been the bane of India’s legislative framework. The telecom rules were a particularly appalling case. Definitions of critical terms such as “associate companies” are not clear. It’s these aspects which come through in OP Saini’s judgment, making one wonder if we are looking in the right place for answers to what happened.

Some senior bureaucrats come in for adverse mention in the judgment. Former telecom secretary DS Mathur is regarded as evasive in his deposition. Consequently, his testimony is discarded by the court as he is considered an unreliable witness. Another bureaucrat, Pulok Chatterjee in the prime minister’s office, fails to meet a citizen’s legitimate expectations.

Unsurprisingly, the prosecution is shown up in poor light. Their incompetence is another incalculable cost imposed on society. more>

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Make in India is looking more and more like a bad joke

By Abheek Barman – Flashback to September 2014, when PM Narendra Modi unveiled a scheme called, ‘Make in India’ (MII), with a gear-and-cogs lion logo. Three years later MII has, literally, gone off the rails. By October next year, work was supposed to start on the largest MII project: a $2.5 billion venture by America’s GE to make diesel-electric locomotives in Marhaura, in Chhapra, Bihar.

But two weeks ago, New Delhi switched off the Bihar project, saying electric trains were the future. Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who gambled his political future by breaking with a Congress-Lalu Yadav coalition to ally with BJP recently, isn’t amused. He says it’ll take ages to electrify India’s 1,10,000 km of tracks. As a two-time rail mantri and Bihari, Nitish should know.

Against government claims that 96% of Bihar villages are electrified, a 2015 survey found only 8% of households get electricity for 20 hours a day. A staggering 80% of homes don’t use electricity for lighting, but get by with kerosene lamps. An incensed GE wants India to pay it Rs 1,300 crore ($200m) in compensation. Such irony: our loss-making, cash-poor railways will now pay to cancel MII investments. What is New Delhi smoking?

New Delhi thinks electric trains will save India the cost of diesel. Is electricity made out of thin air? A study in the mid-2000s argued that it makes no sense to run heavy freight trains, moving under 100km per hour, with electricity.

For the near-30,000 young people trying, but failing to get jobs every day, Make in India is a joke in poor taste. more> https://goo.gl/rS7R1N

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PM Modi’s Digital India will fail without mass IT awareness programs

A major hurdle towards implementing the Digital India mission is the digital divide in the country.
By Pradipto Chakrabarty – While the Digital India initiative is great on paper, its execution has been far behind schedule.

Even though mobile penetration in India is high, Internet connectivity is one of the lowest in the world. Without connectivity, the effectiveness of digital services is hugely compromised.

Lack of language and digital literacy in using technology to access and use information is another problem. Although inexpensive smartphones are available, most people — especially in rural and semi-rural areas — have no idea how to use them.

The root cause of such barriers is our under-resourced education system and abysmally low IT awareness among user communities. more> more> https://goo.gl/cRrw6h

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Why is Trai even considering bill and keep model?

Airtel boss Sunil Mittal, in a letter to Trai chairman R.S. Sharma, says ‘at a loss as to why Trai should be considering bill and keep model’ and break away from the global practice of interconnect user charges
By Amrit Raj – What surprises the most, he wrote in the 24 July letter, is no one has talked about abolishing IUC (interconnect usage charge) for international call settlement, which is prevalent across markets.

Neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal charge about 2-13 cents. Similarly, when the calls come into India, Trai has set an IUC to be paid to the mobile operators at 53 paisa and, in turn, the Indian international operator charges approximately 1 cent as IUC for the incoming calls on their network.

“The Trai not even debating this issue, therefore, confirms Authority’s acceptance to the principle that IUC is indeed a settled global practice built on fair and equitable settlements for work done by each operator for carrying each other’s calls,” Mittal said.

Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd is pressing for the bill-and-keep model, wherein IUC (paid by the telco from which a call originates to the telco which receives the call) will be effectively scrapped.

Rivals Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd, on the other hand, want these charges raised to at least 30 paise per call from 14 paise now. more> https://goo.gl/Ntz5Cd

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Three consortia led by Alstom, Siemens and Stadler Bussnang eye Rs 2,000 crore ($310m) coach factory project

By Rajat Arora – The proposed rail coach factory that would produce coaches with aircraft-type interiors is expected to come up on railway land in Kanchrapara near Kolkata on a public-private partnership basis and will involve a total investment of Rs 2,000 crore.

This is the second-largest tranche of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the rail sector under the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The first major FDI in railways came in 2015 when projects to set up two locomotive factories were awarded at a total cost of Rs 3,300 crore ($511.5m). more> https://goo.gl/RJGrrK

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Reliance rattles Indian telcos again by unveiling ‘free’ 4G phone

By Promit Mukherjee and Sankalp Phartiyal – Despite Jio’s rapid rise, funded by mega-profits churned out by parent Reliance Industries’ (RELI.NS) core refining and petrochemicals operations, it has been unable to tap more than 500 million non-smartphone users in India, who still rely on old feature phones to make calls and send text messages, as its network only supports 4G-enabled phones.

Reliance sees the new handset, named JioPhone, allowing it to target India’s entire mobile market for the first time. more> https://goo.gl/bmB5N6

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India’s inward nuclear turn

It has taken 12 years for the Indo-US nuclear deal hype to give way to sober realism
By Brahma Chellaney – India, duped by its own hype over the nuclear deal, had announced plans to import Western reactors costing tens of billions of dollars. The Indian plans helped to motivate Toshiba to acquire Westinghouse – a takeover that ultimately proved a huge blunder, plunging Toshiba into a grave financial crisis.

Having invested considerable political capital in the vaunted Indo-US deal, India today confronts an embarrassing situation: the nuclear power promise is fading globally before New Delhi has signed a single reactor contract as part of that deal. To save face, India, with one of the world’s oldest nuclear energy program, has embarked on a major expansion of domestically designed power reactors.

Given that the Indian nuclear plant construction time frame averages seven years, India’s decision to ramp up its nuclear power capacity may contribute little to meeting its goal of making 24-hour electricity available to all villages and towns by 2022. But the decision will yield major economic dividends, including boosting domestic industry and creating tens of thousands of jobs. By providing $11 billion worth of likely manufacturing orders to Indian industry, the decision will help to transform the domestic nuclear industry.

In this light, the travails of the Indo-US deal may be a blessing in disguise for India. more> https://goo.gl/WXPswv

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