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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Can India be First World?

We dream of leapfrogging to First World status, here’s how to do it in real life
By Sanjeev Sabhlok – What will it take for India to become a First World nation?

Such a question is about matters more important than mere economic growth.

It is about freedom, rule of law, justice, separation of religion and state. Such a question can reset our expectations and start a meaningful conversation about what we want to be as a nation.

It is time for us as a nation to step back and look at the big picture. The facts that face us are not pleasant.

Transparency International has ranked Indian governments as the most corrupt in the Asia-Pacific region. Our businesses, despite being one of the world’s best, continue to be let down by our governance system. We continue to rank close to the bottom on ease of doing business. We remain one of the least free countries in the world.

We do not protect private property. We do not have credible rule of law. The concept of justice is largely fictitious. There is very little infrastructure. Our school systems are dysfunctional. Vocational training is non-existent or of very low quality. And we continue to be one of the world’s poorest countries.

Second, we need to redesign our governance system. Today, neither ministers nor bureaucrats are accountable. They see themselves as rulers. We need to invert this mindset and hold our servant – the government – to account.

No First World country has India’s antediluvian, super-centralized IAS-type tenured service to govern everything. more> https://goo.gl/kjrftm

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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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If BJP wins 2019, will there be a 2024 election?

Don’t underestimate RSS opposition to the idea of India
By Salman Anees Soz – I believe RSS and BJP view the 2019 election as an important milestone in their desire to realize their long-standing dream of establishing a Hindu rashtra.

I believe the likelihood of India’s conversion to a Hindu rashtra has never been greater. Most government institutions are brittle. Indian democracy as we know it, stands at the precipice.

Two issues are of particular concern. First, there is very little acknowledgement of the possibility that there was always an alternative Hindutva idea of India and that it had significant support. Second, those of us opposed to Hindutva often do not look at the world from the perspective of its proponents. The game, however, has changed.

RSS is resolute in its “idea of India” as a quintessentially Hindu country. It has toiled hard for decades in pursuit of this vision. The Sangh Parivar has always had a core base of support. This leads me to believe that there was a section of Hindu society that felt aggrieved that after the creation of a country for Muslims, Hindus were denied their own country.

This grievance has simmered for decades as the Gandhi-Nehru vision prevailed and the first past the post system kept Hindutva forces from gaining power at the national level until 1998. The defeats of 2004 and 2009 delayed the project but the 2014 election finally provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hindutva proponents. BJP had an aspirational narrative, an astute strategic approach, a compelling leader in Modi, boots on the ground and a real hunger for power. more> https://goo.gl/ZLj5b6

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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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Modinomics rings hollow

Look beneath government hype, and signs of deep economic distress are evident
By Kapil Sibal – This government is in denial.

It believes that black economy has been given a fatal blow. At 7.1% India continues to be the fastest growing economy in the world. Spurt in public investment has created jobs. FDI flows are evidence of investors’ confidence in the growth story of India. Reforms have led to ease of doing business.

Let us critically examine each of these claims.

On November 8, when the prime minister announced demonetization of all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes freezing 86% of India’s economy. If this ill-thought decision was an attempt at eradicating unaccounted wealth then it failed miserably. Most cash is either invested in real estate, gold or is stashed abroad. Undisclosed cash in circulation represented only around 5% of unaccounted wealth.

Now that real estate is outside the GST net, cash will continue to be a factor in real estate transactions. What is alarming is that unaccounted cash entered the banking system and is slowly being withdrawn and reconverted into undisclosed cash.

Modi believes in seducing foreign investors in digitizing the economy, little realizing that most of India earns less than Rs 10,000 a month and seldom accesses digital platforms for bank transactions.

Record levels of Sensex, we all know, do not reflect the true state of the economy. With real estate giving no returns and interest rates down, the only option for investors is in equities. This is risky because once the bubble bursts investors will be badly hurt. more> https://goo.gl/PjHNHq

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Farmers revolt

India’s farm distress needs structural solutions, quick fixes such as loan waivers won’t do
Times of India – All of a sudden it seems to be Kashmir in Madhya Pradesh: at least five protesters shot dead in Mandsaur district, prohibitory orders and internet shutdowns enforced.

This is testimony to the deep-seated crisis in India’s agricultural economy and must serve as a wake-up call to the Centre as well as state governments. The usual populist fixes – such as farm loan waivers – is not going to defuse this crisis.

Rather, policy makers must now remove the structural bottlenecks in India’s farm economy. Agriculture supports more than half of India’s population but makes up just 15% of its economic activity. It follows that holistic solutions to farmer distress will have to combine creation of non-farm jobs and enhancement of farm incomes.

A bird’s eye view of agriculture points to an anomaly. Around 77% of farmland is devoted to staples such as cereals. This results in output almost equivalent to what high value crops such as fruits and vegetables yield on less than 20% of the land.

Rectifying this mismatch will solve many problems. This is where government policy has a crucial role to play.

The Indian farmer has to function in an over-regulated environment made worse by capricious bans on exports. This is compounded by restrictions on internal food trade, unfounded fear of new technology such as genetically modified crops and the new bogey that has coincided with the unchecked rise of gau rakshaks: restrictions on cattle trade. more> https://goo.gl/o30N06

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Head off digital colonialism

How Indian IT can compete with Google and Facebook and show the world a better way
By Mishi Choudhary and Eben Moglen – The world’s major societies are now wrestling with the enormous social power wielded by the internet’s “platform companies.”

In Europe they speak of “GAFA”: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Twitter, Uber and other aspirant companies hover just out of the main ring. Europe’s open and democratic societies have been as fully colonized by the platforms as the US: the plurality of their citizens’ email is read by Google, most of their citizens’ social and family lives are surveilled by Facebook, and so on.

Essentially, three basic approaches to deal with the power of these American data miners have emerged.

First, the US government sees them as pillars of post-industrial American power, and as an immense national security intelligence resource. It is therefore their strategic ally.

Second, proponents of “digital sovereignty,” mostly autocracies, have chosen to build national search engines and social media structures, favoring domestic private market entrants (as has happened in Russia and China), and by exercising control over national telecommunications networks to block the US companies.

Third, the European Union has attempted to control the companies’ behavior by regulation and litigation.

India has a golden opportunity to find a fourth way.

India can. India can invent competition that challenges not just the platform companies but their basic, anti-environmental business model.

Indian internet companies can provide global digital service platforms that protect, rather than destroy, privacy. Indian internet industries can provide reasonably priced, universally available, privacy respecting services that compete directly with services provided by the US data miners, priced reasonably in local terms in all the developed and developing societies. more> https://goo.gl/IuSU18

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How to speed up judiciary

Let’s make India’s slow courts, currently exacting an enormous human and economic toll, world class
By Amitabh Kant – India ranks 178th among 189 countries on the Enforcing Contracts indicator, making it one of India’s worst performing indicators in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business study.

This largely accounts for India’s overall poor ranking and has acted as a major barrier for investments to India.

The glut of cases in the lower courts is where the root of the problem lies. Most importantly, we need to acknowledge it and monitor it on a continuing basis.

We need to have access to high resolution data on judicial processes at both the high court as well as the lower court level. A number of courts do not have data under the “Date filed” column, the most crucial piece for identifying delays.

The quality of data is circumspect and is non-uniform between courts, which use different abbreviations, categorization, and formats which makes comparing data between courts an arduous and costly process. Significant progress has been made towards computerization of courts.

However, computerization must include within its ambit the standardization of data collection across courts and not merely computerization within silos. more> https://goo.gl/e1aJ7W

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