Special fund be created for IT in NER
State has right ingredients for IT, ITES

Considerable political stability (the same government in power for the last 15 year); crime free state with no insurgency problem; and a large English speaking population -- all these are the right ingredients for IT enabled Services (ITeS) in the state. “It is here that we have an edge over other states”, M.G. Kiran, IT Secretary, Government of Sikkim told Amitabha Sen in an interview. But all is not hunky dory for this hilly state. Natural calamities occasionally lead to snapping of optical fibre links. “If we must have a thriving IT sector in Sikkim we cannot afford such breakdowns. The broadband capacity also requires to be enhanced many folds so that it can cater to the bandwidth guzzling ITES”, he said.

Kiran welcomes the idea of having a corpus fund for the development of IT in the North-East. “A fraction of the Non Lapsable Pool of Central Resources (NLPCR) should be kept aside for fuelling the growth of IT industry in the region which would lead to the strengthening the economy, creation of employment opportunities and income generation in the private sector, he felt.

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?

MGK: As rightly pointed there is a growing interest in the North Eastern States of India by various South Asian and Far East Asian countries. Recently a delegation from Thailand had visited Shillong to explore the possibility of having a tie up in various areas of common interest like tourism and horticulture. A delegation from Burma was also in Sikkim for similar reasons.

The North Eastern region because of its geographical congruity to the South East Asian Countries can become a thriving platform for providing various services.

AS: As an integral part of the northeastern region how Sikkim is preparing itself to face this challenging task

MGK: Sikkim is gearing itself to improve its infrastructure like roads, telecommunication network, and amenities for the tourists etc. The Roads are being widened and the telecommunication network is being buttressed. An airport is also being set up in Sikkim. This would set the stage for more investments to flow into the state.

You all know that Sikkim was recently declared as the best small state for making investment by INDIA TODAY.

AS: What would be your suggestions to the NE council and the Indian government to build up Sikkim as 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?

MGK: The telecommunication infrastructure requires to be improved considerably and reliable and wide bandwidth should be available round the clock at concessional rate to encourage BPO business for which Sikkim has immense potential.

AS: As an investment destination for both national and multinational IT companies, what is the state’s USP? How you would like to differentiate Sikkim from other states in this respect? What are the major selling points of Sikkim IT Policy, the incentives in particular for the potential investors in IT compared with other states? Would you be suggesting incentives from the Indian government in this respect?

MGK: There are many USPs Sikkim has as a favourite investment destination. Sikkim has a high literacy rate over 82%. With the same government in power for the last 15 years there is considerable political stability. Crime free state with no insurgency problem, Sikkim has a large English speaking population. All these are the right ingredients for IT enabled Services in the state. It is here that we have an edge over other states.

The IT Policy of Sikkim focuses on empowering citizens and making life easier for them by harnessing E-governance. It also aims at facilitating income and employment generation in Private sector and improving productivity in Government Departments through computerization.

Capacity Building is another area where a lot of concerted effort is being made. Computer familiarization and career-oriented courses are being organized by the Department of Information Technology throughout the state.

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 have limitations in terms of physical connectivity. Where Sikkim 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, especially when broadband capacity as you know, is key to internet connection?

MGK: Sikkim has a moderately good telecommunication network. However for it to be amenable to be used for ITES it would have to be strengthened and upgraded considerably. Because of the vagaries of nature like landslides, the optical fibers, snap frequently and this results in disruption of communication. If we must have a thriving IT sector in Sikkim we cannot afford such breakdowns. The broadband capacity also requires to be enhanced many folds so that it can cater to the bandwidth guzzling ITES.

Like electricity, internet connectivity should be ubiquitous and be available in every household across the state. This would stoke the development of Information Technology in the state as a cottage industry.

AS: So far as e-governance is concerned, could you please enlighten us on what the state government has done so far empowerment of people? In respect of Community Information Center (CIC) at the primary level where the state stands? What is your plan in the second phase? Any forward integration plans linked to CIC?

MGK: E-governance can be used as an effective tool to bridge the digital divide. We have made considerable headway on the e-governance front in the state. Through the CICs that we have established all across the state, citizens are now able to download various forms and access information on various schemes that the government has to offer to them. Under the NEGP program we have prepared our Detailed Project Reports for computerization of various mission mode projects these have been submitted to government of India for funding.

The State Government State Wide Area Network (SWAN) which would offer internet connectivity to the Block level will be established in another 6 months and would enable the Government to provide e-governance services to the grass root level.

There are 45 CICs in the state and these are playing an important role in taking the benefits for IT to the grassroot level. Besides undergoing computer familiarization courses at the CICs, citizen use them to access host of information from the Internet. The users are from a wide spectrum- farmer, students, unemployed youth, teachers, housewives and tourists. The Government of India was funding the operation of the CICs in the state. However the funding is now being discontinued and we have been asked to integrate these CICs to Common Service Centres (CSCs). A private body would run these CSCs with little viability gap funding from the Ministry of IT. The CSCs would provide a host of services to the citizens and are expected to run on a self-sustaining revenue model.

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

MGK: It would be a good idea to have a corpus fund for the development of IT in the North-East. A fraction of the Non Lapsable Pool of Central Resources (NLPCR) should be kept aside for fuelling the growth of IT industry in the region which would lead to the strengthening the economy, creation of employment opportunities and income generation in the private sector.

AS: How NASSCOM could help the states in the region in spreading IT?

MGK: We know that NASSCOM is spearheading the development of IT in the country and has been instrumental in influencing and guiding Government policies on IT. NASSCOM can play an important role by lobbying with the Central Government for more incentives for the growth of IT in the North East Region. It should also encourage its constituent members to set up units in the North-East.

It is heartening to note that NASSCOM is being keenly involved in administering the NASSCOM Assessment of Competence (NAC) Test in the North-East. The NAC is aimed at benchmarking prospective Call Centre/BPO agents. Candidates armed with an NAC certificate would be considered employable in the Call Centre and BPO industry. The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) is doing the funding for organizing the NAC in the North East.

In Sikkim the NAC would be administered to one thousand candidates in three testing centres in November this year. The state would thereafter have a large pool of NAC certified personnel who can be readily employed by the booming IT industry.

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 NEC in particular to counter false portrayal of the NE as a region beset with terrorism and insurgency? What steps at the state have been initiated to change this perception to attract investors in IT?

MGK: Fortunately, Sikkim has not been plagued by insurgency; in fact the state is the most peaceful border state in the country. We have been taking many measures to attract investors. We have been actively participating in North East Business meets and various exhibitions all across the country to project and showcase Sikkim as the right place to invest in. As an outcome, many investors have established their units in Sikkim. Recently the Department of Information Technology has facilitated an entrepreneur from Delhi to set up a call centre in Sikkim. We hope he successfully runs his unit.

Sikkim has been a favourite Tourist Destination; we also want it now to become a favourite IT destination.

October 11, 2007