“We have been consistently saying that India’s laws must be followed by every company in the country.”
“We have been consistently saying that India’s laws must be followed by every company in the country.”
In an interview with The Hindu, Union Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnab spoke about the digital economy policy road map, focus on making India ‘self-reliant’ in telecom technology and recent allegations that the Indian government forced Twitter to hire its agents. to do. He also talked about efforts to increase revenue from freight services as well as the government’s plans to improve railway customer amenities, bring in new engines and upgrade trains.
What policy roadmap do you envisage for the telecom and IT sector?
We are working on a comprehensive legal framework for the digital economy. It has four dimensions. Telecom first. Telecom is the primary means of accessing digital services. Hence, a new Telecom Bill to replace the laws made in 1885 and 1930 is in advanced stages of drafting. Stakeholder consultation process is about to be completed. The second would be the Data Protection Bill. The third is a comprehensive Digital India Act that we are preparing to replace the IT Act of 2000 vintage. These are the three bills. Now beyond that, there are some policy frameworks, for example, the National Data Framework which we have uploaded for consultation, then the cyber security framework… these are outside the law, but because of the changing technology landscape it is more like a policy framework.
Shouldn’t there be separate laws for cyber security?
Cyber security is a constantly evolving area. Globally, it is dealt with in a techno-legal framework where technology plays a big role and there are policies to support the technology. I don’t think putting in place a law for cyber security will make the threat disappear. It has to be a technical-legal solution. For this, we need to continuously invest in infrastructure, new processes, training people and making common citizens aware. However, we must always be alert to new threats.
Twitter’s former security chief Peter Zatko alleged that the company lacked the ability to protect users and their data. Leave a comment
This is a very serious concern. They will be held accountable for any lapses in data protection. We expect each social media platform to use the best available technology. They must do everything to protect users’ data. And it is mandated by their own policy…it is a very fair expectation. If they don’t, they must be held accountable.
Mr. Jatko also alleged that the Indian government forced the microblogging platform to put a government agent on its payroll and give it access to sensitive user data?
I read in the news that Twitter categorically denied this before a parliamentary committee.
From a policy perspective, how is the government looking at balancing privacy with the use of data to deliver better services?
Data protection and privacy principles are now well established around the world. What is important is to create an easily implementable, highly accessible implementation framework, so that citizens living in remote areas can get the same level of grievance redressal as citizens living in cities. That’s what we really need to work on — accessible, inclusive and equitable frameworks. When a citizen gives data to the government based on a consent framework, and the government uses data analytics to provide better services… as long as it’s part of that consent, it all fits the policy.
Our focus now is to ensure that the implementation of these principles and the data protection framework should be modern-day, accessible to everyone, very easy to implement and digital. It should not be that we are trying to create a paper system for a digital world. The new draft should be released soon and we will bring it to Parliament in the budget session.
Should the country’s law enforcement — and not the companies — have the ultimate authority to remove content from social media platforms?
Yes. This structure exists around the world. If you look at the per capita number of requests to take down content that does not comply with the country’s laws, India has the lowest. Laws of our country must be followed by anyone working in India. It cannot be that they (social media companies) say ‘this is my idea of what the constitution should be.’ We have consistently said that the laws of India must be enforced by every company operating in the country.
Will the equipment needed for 5G roll-out come mainly from American and European companies?
It won’t just be American and European. We are also building a strong ecosystem in India. In fact, within the next year we will be exporting telecom technology to the world. The complete technology stack for telecom services consists of four distinct parts: core network, radio network, telecom equipment and mobile handsets. C-DOT (The Center for Development of Telematics) and a consortium of academic institutions have developed and tested highly robust cores for 4G. On the 4G core they have now built a 5G core, which is almost ready. Reliance Jio created their own core.
Then, we have the radio network, which communicates between the consumer and the tower. Our PLI scheme and start-up ecosystem has brought at least six radio designers and manufacturers today. We are integrating all these radios into the C-dot core. So, building that ecosystem means we can now take our solutions to the world. Similarly, in telecom equipment manufacturing, with the PLI project, 30 telecom equipment manufacturers have invested and started production.
The fourth segment is mobile handsets. Currently around 25% of all mobile handsets manufactured in India are 5G-enabled. Manufacturers are set to increase production of 5G devices by 70-80%. Entry level 5G handsets are priced around ₹15,000 today and may come down to ₹10,000-12,000 very soon. There are about six or seven developed countries whose telecom service providers have sent serious confirmation inquiries to Indian system integrators as to when the C-DOT technology stack will be fully ready. It is ready and tested and soon it will be launched in 1 lakh sites across the country. The technology is considered proven once it has been installed on 15,000-20,000 sites. So, we will have those credentials and within the next year we will be ready to export telecom technology to the world. So this is one sector where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat vision is being implemented very well.
What about semiconductor manufacturing?
We are making excellent progress. Typically, these decisions take 14-18 months. We uploaded the policy on January 1 this year. Hopefully, we will be able to complete this entire process by this year and the first fab could be commissioned this year itself. It can actually be multiple fabs with a very good design ecosystem. The world is looking for a reliable and trustworthy partner like India.
The Cabinet recently approved a relief package of ₹1.64 lakh crore for state-owned BSNL. This follows a similar ₹70,000-crore package announced in 2019. What gives you the confidence to change at this time?
The 2019 package has made BSNL a stable entity. It has made operating profit (at EBITA level) in the last financial year. Now from this level, we need to make it a growing company in terms of customer numbers, revenue and profitability. For this, the first step we are taking is to provide very powerful 4G network to BSNL. The C-DOT advanced technology has been rigorously tested under the Prime Minister’s Atmanirbhar Bharat programme. We will launch 4G network next month and very soon we will upgrade it to 5G. So, by the end of 2023, BSNL will start offering 5G services which will increase revenue potential and subscriber base. The second big thing for BSNL is the very significant growth in the number of broadband subscribers. Today BSNL is adding about 1 lakh new fiber connections every month. These two components are revenue items. Third, our laser-sharp focus on reducing costs and increasing revenue. So this gives a clear directional emphasis to BSNL’s journey and we believe that BSNL will become a strong market stabilizing force in the coming years.
BSNL is playing an important role in reaching unconnected areas and bridging the digital divide. As for MTNL, most of the work has already been shifted to BSNL. MTNL’s balance sheet is very complicated, it has huge debt, so we are working on it.
For railways, is the current increase in freight services enough to compensate for passenger services?
The Prime Minister has given us a very clear mandate to completely change the entire passenger experience. The first of these is the railway station. So today around 50 railway stations are being completely redeveloped to world class standards. Second is getting new generation trains. The new Vande Bharat train is being tested for a speed of 180 kmph and the results are excellent. At the same time, we are working on a completely new type of engine with a 9,000 HP engine. Conventionally, we are doing 4,000 HP and 6,000 HP. The new engines are state-of-the-art in engine technology and will be designed and manufactured in India Then for shorter point-to-point distances, for example, 30-40 km from a major city, an entirely new generation metro train will run on Indian Railways. These will replace MEMU and DEMU trains. So we are upgrading the entire spectrum of trains. And in the next two years, you will see all these things coming on track. The third is passenger safety. We are increasing the deployment of Kavach (indigenously developed train protection system) to 3,000 km this year, which was the budget target of 2,000 km. On the cargo side, we added 185 million tonnes (MT) last year. Railways have added 20-30 MT in the past which is unprecedented. This year, we are on track to add about the same amount of new cargo. For the last 70 years railways have been losing their market share to road and last year we started the journey to gain market share. This journey will continue this year as well. This will have a major impact on logistics costs in India. The only way to reduce this is to have more rail shares. Our passenger subsidy is now ₹62,000 crore… about 55% subsidy to each. So how do we fill that gap? That gap has to come from having more cargo. So all these initiatives will transform the passenger experience on Indian Railways.
Is there any case for increasing the rent along with the increase in amenities?
We are not thinking of increasing passenger fares. Over the last eight years, the Railways has consistently moved towards improving passenger amenities, improving the passenger experience — from cleanliness to on-time trains to station amenities… At the same time we are focusing on carrying more cargo. The results of eight years are now visible.
Will we be able to achieve 96% operating ratio this year?
With a huge passenger subsidy of ₹62,000 crore and a pension cost of ₹55,000 crore and a salary and wage bill of ₹1 lakh crore, the railways’ social obligations are more pressing. Profit is not the motive. Amid all these socio-political and economic constraints, we are trying our best to balance revenue and expenditure.
The original dedicated freight corridor project timeline has seen multiple extensions. What is the current status of the project?
The project started in 2007. As of 2014, the number of launched tracks was zero kilometers. Since 2014, we have launched 1,350 km and that is a huge number. It started operating and running around 180 trains per day. We have started availing of two freight corridors.