Union minister for communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that electronic manufacturing and reviving confidence were among the new government’s topmost priorities. He spoke to HT on a range of issues. Excerpts:
What will you do about the retrospective tax provisions that have fuelled fears of uneasy business environment?
The UPA government had unleashed tax terrorism and uncertainty, which not only creates anxiety amongst the business class and negatively impacts the investment climate. We realise the importance of a tax policy roadmap, so that the people are aware of the future and can plan accordingly. We will provide a non-adversarial and conducive climate. The taxation regime should be stable in line with our (BJP’s) thinking to create trust.
There has been a string corporate disputes that have also hurt India’s image as an investment destination. What are your views?
I have written to the Law Commission on how we can find a solution to deal with contractual disputes, cloaked as criminal prosecution. I have told the law commission to think of some out- of-the-box solutions on whether we can have some alternative mechanism to avoid motivated complaints as these deter investment and investors both. Genuine cases of corruption and malpractices, however, need to be prosecuted.
What’s the status of the Department of Posts’ proposal to set up a commercial bank?
It is on my agenda. India has 1.55 lakh post offices and the total savings deposit is estimated to be Rs 6.40 lakh crore. This base can be used for financial inclusion in rural areas and for this postal banking is an exciting idea.
The controversies involving the telecom ministry has hurt the industry as well as India’s image. How do you plan to turn it around?
The days of lobbying and influence peddling are over. The way India has been governed for so many years rises a lot of questions —about decision making and its effects on governance. In the 2G spectrum cases, the department has not yet filed an affidavit. A CBI case has to be at least supported. Nothing has been done. The decision will be taken on merits, with twin objectives in mind — growth and consumer interest. The Vodafone, 2G issues have created a sense of negativity. My biggest job in telecom ministry is to revive the confidence of my officers, by fair and transparent decision-making process.
Is that going to be the focus of your presentation to the Prime Minister on telecom sector?
I will not go into the specifics. The Prime Minister is very focussed. He does not want reporting, he wants action, vision and roadmap.
What is going to be your biggest push for this sector?
Electronic manufacturing — India’s electronic consumption is going to reach $400 billion by 2020 and the import bill will cross even the fuel bill. It has huge potential for growth and employment. An electronic development venture capital fund would be set up. We also propose to do road shows in India and abroad and take a proactive role to reach out to all the chief ministers and request them to avail of this facility.
Will there be a tax breaks for such initiatives?
That is an issue to be considered and for that I will have to speak with the finance minister. However there is already modified special incentive package scheme (M-SIPS) that offers government subsidy as an encouragement for those who establish electronic manufacturing units.
Other than manufacturing what will be your priority areas?
We will explore if we can supplement small startup IT firms with some more incentives. I am working on it.
What about lack of fab facility in India?
Two fab installations is being promoted in a very big scale. We are pursuing it in a big way and exploring one near Delhi and another at Bengaluru. I am personally pursuing it.
The IT ministry has also pending issues of spectrum. How do you plan to address them?
Yes, settling the mess of these are on my priority—spectrum sharing, spectrum trading are being studied.
What are your plans for promoting fiber optic network in the country?
I have already fixed the target for setting up National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN). We will cover 75,000 km in 2014-15, One lakh km in 2015-16 and another one lakh in 2016-17. I will visit some of the pilot projects.