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The decision by Samsung to open the world's largest mobile phone factory near Delhi gives a boost to the government's Make in India programme. Minister of electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad tells Jacopo Dettoni how the country is preparing for a hi-tech future.

Q: Samsung has announced the upgrade of an existing facility near Delhi that will see it become the world’s biggest mobile phone factory, with a capacity of 120 million phones per year. What does this tell us about the Make in India programme?

A: The government is undertaking reforms to transform India and digital transformation is an important component of that. Therefore, programmes such as Digital India, Make in India, Skill India and Start-up India are all tech-based programmes designed to empower ordinary Indians. Electronics manufacturing is also part of that process. India is a country of 1.3 billion people, 1.2 billion mobile phones, 450 million smartphones and 1.22 billion digital ID cards to supplement physical identity.  

India is emerging as a big market for mobile companies, and a hub for mobile manufacturing. There were only two factories producing mobile phones when this government came into power [in 2014], now there are 120. The expansion of the Samsung plant is an indication of the growing importance of India as hub for the production of electronics, both for domestic and foreign markets.

Q: What has changed in these past few years to make the country a destination for numerous electronics producers?

A: Investors are welcome, foreign investment in the sector is completely free and it’s a huge market of 1.3 billion tech-savvy consumers. Besides, there are plenty of human resources, good engineers, good workers, good managers. And smartphone penetration is only going to rise. Ordinary Indians now prefer smartphones. Samsung is only one manufacturer in the country. Chinese and Indian companies are growing too.

Q: The Indian government is working on a bill concerning data protection. What will it look like?

A: We are still waiting for a report from an expert committee to send a bill to the parliament. I can say it will be a robust data protection law. Once the report comes out, we will make a law. India is also becoming a centre of data analysis. Data is the new oil, therefore there has to be a balanced view about safety, security and consent and also innovation. As far as privacy is concerned, there is already a judgment by the supreme court saying that the right of privacy flows from fundamental rights, but innovation cannot be killed [because] of privacy. What is important is that data protection should be such that it offers a balance. What kind of balance? Let’s wait for the report. The next parliament will address the issue.

Q: Cybersecurity is also a growing concern among policymakers and private companies. How are you dealing with the issue?

A: Prime minister Narendra Modi clearly stated that the cyber war is a bloodless war, and all the world has to work on that. We are doing cyber training, cyber drills, there should be more training among chief security officers in all the organisations from the police to the judiciary. The internet has to be available, but it has to be safe and secure. Terrorist and extremists cannot claim right of privacy.

Q: Recent landmark reforms such as the Goods and Services Tax [GST] and the demonetisation programme had to deal with major issues due to the existing gap in the access to technology of large parts of the Indian population. How are you addressing the issue?

A: With regards to the GST, the number of taxpayers in India is growing steadily, 10.2 million traders were registered on the GST system within one year of its introduction. Now the whole system has become more robust, and the tax base is rising. The demonetisation programme was a way to make India more transparent in terms of cash use. We opened 310 million bank accounts for the poor, and started sending welfare [payments] through mobile phones. Digital platforms have become a way to give voice to the poor people.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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