Dr. Debesh Das
 

‘Software alone will not do’
Bengal chips in Advanced IT

EVEN the most knowledgeable person, conversant with Indian IT scenario may pause a while when an acclaimed Indian researcher in VLSI (Very large System Integration) makes an assertive and unambiguous observation about the future of Indian IT: “Software alone cannot take India to greater height. The country has to put equal emphasis on Hardware that is an integral part of IT. Despite not being dominant in software as such, China is fast catching up its global position in IT though they have come much late in the scene. Let us not forget that behind a chip design for hardware there is little of hardware as such. In a chip design 90 percent is software and only 10 percent is practical hardware. What China is doing in hardware, software forms an integral part of it and they are doing that software. Without that how they can progress in hardware.”

Undeniably, Bengal has lost many a growth opportunities in IT for being a late starter but the new leader of the state IT sector today does not want to be caught in similar dilly-dally situation, rather he wants to be ahead of many a states in the country and would like to take special care and give required emphasis on hardware, its chip design related activities in the state. He looks quite determined and firm in his stand to provide all possible back-up support to the aspiring firms who are keen to invest in chip design and even go a step further not only to make the chip design but to go in for manufacturing of hardware itself. “Without expansion of hardware chip design activities and manufacturing base, our country cannot consolidate and further strengthen its position in the international IT market”, said Dr Debesh Das, the new IT Minister of West Bengal in an interview by Amitabha Sen.

Bengal IT minister’s dream plan to venture into chip design activities in the state on a sustainable basis has a very strong logic to vet: the global chip design market today is estimated anywhere between $20 and $30 billion and with the expanding IT and consumer electronics markets in India the chip design market is set to increase manifold in coming years. In fact, the new IT minister has already set the process rolling. IIT-Khargpur that has a dedicated VLSI Design Lab, has been asked to prepare a concept note on this. “The concept note will tell us what we should do, how we should move in this respect. We are already on the job. In India there are few chip designing firms. But they are mostly in Bangalore. I am entering into a new segment, which can be called Advanced IT”, said Dr Das. His ministry has initiated dialogues and exploring possibilities with global majors in chip design like Intel, Texas Instruments and Synopsis for putting up chip design facilities in the state. Chip design being an integral part of it, Dr Das’s plan gets added importance in the light of the central government’s decision to have a separate Semi-conductor policy for the country.

But will not his arc lighting on Advanced IT send wrong message to the IT leaders in the state, particularly those who are mainly in software development? Will it not trigger off their apprehension of being out of main focus of his IT plans and programmes? “No…no…certainly not. The question does not arise at all. There is no deviation from our IT policy and planning. Those who are in software have formed a strong IT base here otherwise we would not have been where we are today. They are making significant contribution to the state IT sector’s growth. They will continue to get required state government support whenever asked for. What I am trying to do is to add more strength to our IT base. As I have told earlier, software alone would not do to reach our goal. The hardware growth is equally important,” Dr Das said.

 

The minister is very hopeful of major investments in the state IT sector in coming years. “We have no doubt that in coming two to three years time there would be substantial investment in the IT. We are creating necessary facilities for such new investments. If these investments are made, the manpower in the IT sector will also double or treble. I am very hopeful and pessimistic about this”, he said. It is a known fact that biggies like Infosys, Wipro and others have decided to invest substantially in Bengal IT sector but the issue that has emerged as a major hurdle to them is the price of the land. “ We are alive to the issue. We are trying to sort it out. In this state three percent is land and population is eight percent. Farmers are better today in terms of financial condition. These two factors are major

reasons for land being costlier here than many other states. But we are seriously looking into the matter and trying to address the issue as early as possible. We will see land price issue does not come in the way of these major investments in the state IT sector,” the minister said.

My first priority is investment. We want new type of industry. I want chip design related industry to come up in west Bengal. We have no doubt in coming two-three years there would be substantial investment in the IT sector. We are creating necessary facilities for such new investments. If these investments are made, the manpower in the IT sector will double or treble in coming few years. The ultimate objective of our IT policy and planning is to empower people through e-governance to improve their quality of life as a whole.

Closely linked with this is the availability of skilled manpower for the IT and ITES facilities. “Investment alone would not do. A very vital issue is the availability of required skilled professionals to meet the increasing demand arising of these new investments. As such in all-India perspective Bengal’s share in total availability of skilled professionals is significant but this has to be increased further,” the minister pointed out adding that this is a very vital issue and is being addressed on top priority basis. The expected investments in next three years or so would augment substantial employment opportunities. “ We are aware of this issue and has already taken steps to meet the requirement of the industry. All the universities including Jadavpur and West Bengal University of Technology have been involved in this process. We are in discussion with the IT companies to work out possibilities of these firms organizing training for pass-outs. We will do…we will definitely do something this year itself”, asserted Dr Das.

While his attention is drawn to the NASSCOM study that shows by 2010 there would be a shortfall of about half-a-million skilled professionals, the minister said thousands of engineers are coming out from various state-run engineering universities, private engineering institutions in the state but all are not getting jobs. But what about the left-outs? How to make them employable in IT? “This is a very important issue to be dealt with. We will have to find out what are the problems coming up in their way to get the employment in IT ? I would like to discuss the issue with the industry. This is a very big issue for us and the government is attaching utmost importance to address this issue. Whether syllabus of various universities need to be restructured to suit the industry requirement, how to provide more and more training facilities-- all these are to be taken up with academic institutions and the industry as well. We have started the process,” the minister said.

What is your USP to sell Bengal as an investment destination for IT? “Infrastructure. We offer the best infrastructure for IT compared to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai. I do not want to comment on the state of infrastructure in other cities or states. The industry leaders know it better. We are doing something that no other state has done so far. The electronics complex in Salt Lake has been given an exclusive industrial status. The complex has been brought under separate local administrative machinery that will take care of IT companies’ requirements only.

“So far as infrastructure is concerned, we are ahead of others in terms roads and transport. Being closer to the international airport we have an added advantage. So far quality of power is concerned, we are at par with other states. In terms availability of talent, Bengal has a large pool of talents. In terms of technical manpower we have an edge over many other states. So far as telecom connectivity is concerned we are at par with other states. Once the proposed submarine cable landing station in Haldia is set up, the connectivity cost will reduce substantially,” the minister explained.

Yet another major focus area of Dr Das is e-governance. A good governance to the citizens of the state could be achieved through e-governance. Services to the citizens could be provided in efficient and effective manner, he said adding “We expect to connect all gram panchayats in the Burdwan district within this year. Within 2007 all the blocks in the state would get the connectivity. Initially we have identified 14 departments to bring under the e-governance scheme out of 54 departments. More and more departments would be brought under this scheme as and when identified. While implementing e-governance we are giving topmost priority to Health.”

The new IT minister is keen to empower people at the grassroots level through extensive implementation of e-governance. “Our long term plan is to equip all gram panchayats with one computer each and create facilities to provide farmers e-information about price movements of agri-products in different markets, to update them on farming technology etc,” he said. Will this e-platform be like ITC’s e-Choupal that among other things aims to unshackle the potential of Indian farmer who has been trapped in a vicious cycle of low risk taking ability, low investment, low productivity, weak market orientation, low value addition, low margin, and low risk taking ability? “I have not seen e-Choupal but heard about that. Yes, it will be almost like that. Through this e-platform farmers will be able to know daily movement of prices of their produce and other agricultural commodities. If they are aware of real price movement then no one will be able to deprive them” said Dr Das.

Many large IT companies have already set up their shops in and around Kolkata and for expanding their business many of them are looking for more land or built-up space. Besides, there are many who want to set up IT units in Bengal. If the state wants to attain its target to become India’s premier lnfotech destination by 2010 and to contribute 15 percent of the country’s IT revenue and 20 percent of ITES revenues, the government has to address these issues as early as possible. What steps the state IT department is taking in this respect ? “In order to address the increasing demand for land and built-up space supported by quality infrastructure, an IT Hub at Rajarhat near Kolkata international airport is being developed on Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis. The proposed IT Hub sprawling over 330 acres is being constructed as an integrated complex to attract prospective investors and maximum possible proportion of land is allocated to IT & ITES industries. Land has been earmarked for SMEs also,” the minister said.

This apart, in the proposed SEZ in Bantala on the eastern part of the city some land will be earmarked for IT also. Four Software Technology Parks are being set up in Khargpur, Haldia, Durgapur and Siliguri. The telecom connectivity is already in place in all these four places, he said.

One of the major issues that the IT companies in the state are facing is strike and bandh. How you are going to address this sensitive issue? “In software, those who are in higher income brackets cannot strike work as per existing labour laws but the issue involves those who are comparatively in much lower income bracket. According to our Politburo, they have the right to form union. They have the right for collective bargaining and the right to strike as a last resort. Let me give you the other side of the picture also. There is a foreign bank operating from Salt Lake electronics complex for long and working 24 hours. The state had seen so many strikes and bandhs in the past but the said bank never raised this issue with us”, said Dr Das adding that things depend also on work environment and work culture that develops within an organization, he said.


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August 3, 2006