You are driving into new areas like airports and agriculture. Where is Bharti headed?
First of all, let me state that telecom will continue to remain a focus area for us. There is a lot of work to do over the next two years. We have to broaden and deepen our coverage across the country. The job is to connect Bharat. Every day, more and more cell sites are being rolled out.
Eventually, Bharti Tele-Ventures would fly on its own, with the senior management being freed up to focus on new projects and initiatives. For us, airports and agriculture represent highimpact significant business opportunities. I am very keen on the airport project (Bharti is a bidder in the government's Mumbai and Delhi airport upgrade plan) as we hope to build a worldclass airport that will do the country proud. Let's see how that works out. On the agriculture front, it is early days as yet.
How's the experience been so far with agriculture exports?
The office is up and nearly 40odd people are working on this project (Bharti has a 50:50 joint venture with Rothschild Group). We have made three shipments of grapes, mushrooms and litchis. We have learnt a number of lessons. The state of infrastructure is the main issue. Our first lot of grapes sold well in Europe, something that is not easy to do, but the second lot we had to sell at discount. The third lot was even worse. Another shipment of mushrooms to the Middle East was a complete disaster. Delays at the Delhi airport, long loading time, customs clearance, and lack of refrigerated containers on Air-India the whole infrastructure needs major upgrades. So, what does this mean for the initiative?
Even before we started, I was sure we would learn a few lessons with infrastructure being the way it is. Currently, we are only trading in farm products. We intend to go the whole hog from sowing to growing to exporting. In 60 days, the fist lot of okra (bhindi) and baby corn (being grown across a few hundred acres in Uttaranchal and Punjab) will be sent overseas.
Coming back to telecom, what can consumers hope for in the days ahead? Better networks, cheaper tariffs and new services. That said, I must point out that call rates would have been even cheaper but for the high taxes that are imposed on this industry. Do you know that as much as 35 per cent of your bill is tax in various forms? No other sector hotels, steel, etc has to pay such high taxes. The government needs to act on this and I promise the benefits will reach users immediately.