NER needs special fund for IT
Guwahati can be the gateway to South-East & Far East Asia

A special fund for development of the IT sector in the north eastern region is strongly felt and the federal ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) may give a thought to this issue, so feels V.S. Bhaskar, Commissioner & Secretary, Information Technology Department, Government of Assam. “Bandwidth costs need to be subsidised because of its remoteness from international cable landing stations in India”, he told Amitabha Sen in an interview. Besides, spending in the IT sector has to be increased in this region to develop IT activities, he added.

Commenting on the role of Assam in the region’s IT development Bhaskar said that the state capital Guwahati can become a gateway to South East Asia and Far East Asia due to its aerial proximity to the region. Government of Assam has been trying for sometime to attract one of the major IT companies of India to set up a development centre in Guwahati. The successful conduct of the 33rd National Games has changed the perception on the North East, he pointed out.

AS: In longer term perspective Indian government, the North Eastern Council in particular, is giving utmost importance to the north-east region to see that the region positions itself to become the back office for the Southeast Asian and Far East Asian countries. India’s increasingly closer relationship with ASEAN in particular, the importance of Northeast region is enormous. How would you like to look at this issue and what are your suggestions, both from short and long term points of view, to make it happen?

VSB: Guwahati can become a gateway to South East Asia and Far East Asia due to its aerial proximity to the region. There are initiatives from DONER and a North East Investment week had been organised in Bangkok in 1st week of October, 2007. Similar interactions should be made in the other Countries also to promote investments in the region. Some major event should be organised in the North East with delegations from these countries. This, I believe, will trigger business related initiatives.

AS: Assam being the big brother of the NE region has a pivotal role to play and has to shoulder greater responsibility to make the region as the IT gateway to SE and Far East Asia. How the state is preparing itself to face this challenging task.

VSB: An IT Park is being proposed to be setup near the Guwahati Airport. Work is in progress on the project.

AS: What would be your suggestions to the NE council and the Indian government to build up Assam as the nerve center and a major plank of future growth of IT industry in the region, besides what have already been done by the council and the Indian government?

VSB: Government of Assam has been trying for sometime to attract one of the major IT companies of India to set up a development centre in Guwahati. All efforts should be made to bring the 1st IT company to setup a development centre/BPO which will build up the confidence among other IT companies to setup centres here.

AS: As an investment destination for both national and multinational IT companies, what is the state’s USP? How you would like to differentiate Assam from other states in this respect? Is Assam government planning any new IT policy offering more attractive incentives for the potential investors in IT compared with other states? Would you be suggesting incentives from the Indian government in this respect?

VSB: North East is the land with high literacy rate and highest number of English speaking workforce. An IIT and number of Technical institutes are rolling out large number of qualified professional.

Also a new IT policy will be published soon. Special incentives from GOI are required to attract companies in IT sector.

AS: Closely linked with the expansion and growth of IT is stable and quality infrastructure like telecommunication. On the other hand, the region being hilly one and with difficult terrain has limitations in terms of physical connectivity. Where Assam stands in this respect and what would be your suggestion to the NE council and the Indian government to ensure a stable and quality telecom structure and facility, specially when broadband capacity, as you know, is key to internet connection?

VSB: Major telecom players are already operating in this region. All the major players are being persuaded to improve and expand the OFC network. At the moment we cannot say that Assam is not well served on the Internet connectivity.

AS: So far as e-governance is concerned, could you please enlighten us on what the state government has done so far for empowerment of people? CIC at the primary level is a success story. What is your plan in the second phase? Any forward integration plans?

VSB: As a part of NeGP program 2 e-Districts are planned for this year. Sonitpur and Goalpara have been selected for the purpose. A state Wide Area network (ASWAN) is going to be established soon. About 4500 Common Service Centres (CSC) will be set up in PPP mode. CICs will be integrated with the CSCs. A State Data Centre will also be established.

AS: To catch up with other states in the plain, are you in favour of a Special Fund for IT in northeast as the region is much way behind other states?

VSB: DONER may have a special fund for IT sector. Bandwidth costs need to be subsidised because of its remoteness from international cable landing stations in India. Also spending in the IT sector has to be increased in this region to develop IT activities.

AS: Besides its course in Assessment of Competence in IT Skills, what more you would be expecting or how NASSCOM could help the states in the region in spreading IT?

VSB: NASSCOM can bring Indian as well as International companies to this region through some events. At least two to three IT events should be planned for the North East.

AS: Last but certainly not the least, is the issue of perception of northeastern region. What steps you would be suggesting to the Indian government, the NE council in particular to counter false portrayal of the NE as a region beset with terrorism and insurgency? What steps at the state level have been initiated to change this perception?

VSB: The successful conduct of the 33rd National Games has changed the perception on the North East. The State Government has major investment plans for development of infrastructure, healthcare facilities, educational facilities etc. In the hospitality sector too, 5 star hotels are in the offing due to the initiative of the Government.

October 11, 2007