by January 11, 2000 0 comments

It’s fashionable, these days, to be IT savvy.

No wonder then that our state governments are in competitionwith one another to prove that each is savvier than the other. And what do theyhave to show for it? You have half the chief ministers of the country lining upto meet Bill Gates! And the finance ministers of the other half makingallocations in their budgets to set up cyber cafes!

If I were to take a parallel example, I’d say the currentapproach is akin to building the paan shop or the roadside dhaba instead ofbuilding the highway. There is not enough bandwidth. But our governments want toset up cyber cafes all over their states. There is no state in the countrywithout power cuts. But each is busy building software technology parks!

So, what should be the role of the government in creating anIT savvy state? It should create the enabling environment and the basicinfrastructure–the highways–so that individual enterprise can build the paanshops.

What constitutes the enabling environment? At the top of mylist are not rules and regulations or the lack of them. Surprisingly, theenabling environment for IT to flourish is not all that different from what anyother industry needs. Good roads, uninterrupted power, and assured communicationinfrastructure are the most basic of these needs. If only these are present, canIT enterprise spread out of its current pockets of concentration into more andmore cities and towns across the country.

Next in my list is education, rather English-languageeducation. There is no denying the fact that one of the important reasons whyIndia has been able to achieve what it has in IT is because of the familiaritywith the English language. Everyone knows this. But still, many states are goingout of their way to kill this competitive edge for the future generation, byinsisting that the only medium of education be the official language of thatstate.

Now come rules and regulations. Our problem is not so muchthe absence of rules and regulations, but their narrow interpretation. And theages we take to change archaic ones.

These points apply as much to IT as to any other facet of ourlives. Countries that are super powers did not become so by concentrating ononly one area while ignoring the others. We cannot really progress in IT withoutthe social and infrastructural problems being taken care of. No amount of ITlaws can take us to the next level if we don’t have the telephone lines to logon and transact business under those laws. No IT controller can help us if thecost of acquiring a digital certificate is pitched way above the reach of most.That is a truth that our rulers seem unwilling to accept.

I have propounded nothing new. All I have said is what othersbefore me have stated so often. But the sad fact is that we do not seem tolearn. We do not seem to care when long-term benefits are forgotten in the rushfor short-term political gains. We applaud when our chief ministers queue up tomeet Bill Gates, and keep quite when nothing else is done. That is our problem.

Everybody seems to be basking in the glow of the upturn inthe Indo-US relations. What caused this upturn? It was Arjun Malhotra (formerlyof HCL, now with Techspan) who hit the nail on the head when he said that it isour programmers who have got us the respect that our politicians and bureaucratscould not in fifty years! Let us not forget this. And let us not put that inperil.

Krishna Kumar


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