When communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad visited Bangalore soon after taking charge last year, a number of young people, many of them from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, approached him and said: “Ravi Bhaiya, please do something.” They wanted Prasad to help the educated young people in small towns and villages.
The two dominant elements in that discussion – Bangalore and educated young people from small towns – planted an idea in Prasad’s mind, which has taken the shape of a plan to spread the business process outsourcing (BPO) movement beyond its current bastions. He revealed its final contours in an interview with HT on Thursday. Central to it is the Rs 1 lakh the Union government will give for each seat.
The plan is to help set up at least 480 call centres of 100 seats each, totalling 48,000 seats, in small towns. Working in three shifts, each call centre can employ 300 people. These will be distributed among states on the basis of their population. So Uttar Pradesh, the most populous, gets 8,600 seats and Bihar, with a sizeable population of its own, gets 4,400.
India has a booming BPO sector, but it has stayed largely confined to big cities with a large population of graduates and technically qualified people like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Mangalore, Chennai, Vishakhapatnam, Hyderabad, etc. “I must encourage BPOs in small and mofussil towns. The idea is to have BPOs in Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur, Gorakhpur, Jodhpur, Sambalpur, Saharanpur, Jaisalmer, Aurangabad, and such places. This is a big opportunity,” Prasad said.
An established company will hand-hold a local entrepreneur for setting up the call centres. The local entity can be an agency, society, individual, partnership or a company. “We will give Rs 1 lakh in subsidy per seat. State governments need to provide them with electricity and security. We will soon call for expression of interest,” Prasad said.
Call centres have suffered from rising manpower cost and high attrition. Both would be less – costs as much as 30% to 40% less – in small towns. The good call centres that come up under this programme could easily be tapped by large companies in India and abroad, whose need for customer support is always on the rise.
Besides, says Prasad, they could also handle the government’s work as a lot of government data, from Indira Awas Yojana to the rural employment programme to below the poverty line population data, needs to be digitised.
The whole programme is also likely to generate a lot of indirect employment. For instance, mobile maintenance centres can grow around the BPOs.