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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

‘Oppn is leader-less and program-less,’ says Ravi Shankar Prasad

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for law, and electronics and Information Technology speaks of his ministries’ work over the past 58 months.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2019 09:58 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
‘Oppn is
‘Oppn is (Hindustan Times)

In an interview with Hindustan Times’ Kumar Uttam, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for law, and electronics and Information Technology speaks of his ministries’ work over the past 58 months — a period during which the electronics and IT ministry has overseen growth in electronics manufacturing, and the law ministry dealt with a turbulent period as far as judicial appointments (and the methodology for the same) are concerned.

What have you been able to achieve as the Electronics and IT minister in the last five years?

The foundation of Digital India was laid by the Prime Minister during the campaign of 2014 when he said IT (India’s talent) plus IT (information technology) is equal to IT (India tomorrow).

Digital India is to bridge the digital divide. It is more for the poor and designed to bring digital inclusion; and is based upon a low cost technology. India’s population is 1.3 billion. There are 1.23 billion Aadhaar numbers, 1 billion phones, nearly 500 million smart phones. The mobile internet is one of the fastest in India. We opened 340 million bank accounts for poor people through Jan Dhan. We spoke of JAM — Jandhan, Aadhaar, Mobile — trinity. Then we started sending direct benefit transfer to poor — from MNREGS payment to ration to other subsidies.

Rs 6.24 lakh crore have been transferred to bank account of poor in last four years and eight months. We have saved Rs 1.10 lakh crore, which used to be pocketed by middle men and fictitious claimants. Then there is digital delivery of services. People come to AIIMS in New Delhi for treatment and used to struggle for appointment. Today, you can get an appointment for AIIMS digitally from any part of India. 321 government hospitals are there as e-hospitals. E-scholarships, again linked with Aadhar, have been given to 18.44 million beneficiaries and the total value is Rs 2009 crore. There is Jeevan Praman for pensioners, who are settled abroad or in places other than from where their retired, to prove digitally that they are alive. Nearly 10 million pensioners are using it. E-visa is extended to 161 countries. More than 220 million farmers are using soil health cards. 585 markets are linked with e-NAM. We have UMANG app where 1,200 government services are available. About 400 have already been loaded.

What proportion of government services have been digitised over the last four years?

BHIM UPI is a low cost technology. The number of transaction was just 4,000 per day in November 2016 and it rose to 20 million in December 2018. The value of transaction was ₹ 5000 crore in September 2017 and it was ₹1 lakh

crore in December 2018. There are common service centres, or digital kiosks delivering service. They were 84,000 when we came to power. Now there are 3.20 lakh CSC; and 2.15 lakh of them are in gram panchayats. 1.2 million boys and girls work there, delivering services such as banking, insurance and railway ticketing. We had to make 60 million people digitally literate, 20 million of this have become.

We opened BPOs (business process outsourcing centres) in small towns. I gave a subsidy of ₹1 lakh per head if you open a BPO in tier 2-3 towns. Nearly 260-plus BPO have started operating today; note the places — Kohima, Imphal, Dibrugarh, Guwahati, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and others. This shows digital appetite of India. Close to 50,000 young boys and girls are employed in these.

There has been a controversy about safety of Aadhaar data. How do you respond to it?

This is my Aadhaar (shows his card). It contains my photograph, my gender, my name, my permanent address in Patna and my father’s name. That’s all. What it does not contain is my religion, my community, my caste, my income, my education, my medical records and my sexual preferences by which I can be profiled. The system contains my finger prints and my retina scan. 37 million authentication were done through Aadhaar the day before yesterday. The system is federated. The authentication centre doesn’t know what any query is for. They just check that this is number of Aadhaar and he is Ravi Shankar Prasad. They just match. It is query based. It is again a low-cost technology developed of India. These are living dynamic examples of Digital India.

What have you achieved on the front of electronic manufacturing?

India has become a big centre of mobile manufacturing. There were just two mobile factories when we came to power. Now we have 127. If we include the component part, then India has 268 mobile factories. We have become the second-largest mobile manufacturer of the world. There are 94 units of electronic manufacturing in Noida and Greater Noida alone. Samsung is making 10 million mobile phones per months (in India).

Has all this helped create jobs?

How much jobs have we created? Nearly 1.2 million people work in CSCs, 5 lakh-plus in mobile-electronic manufacturing; and nearly 50,000 plus in rural BPOs. IT is offering about 4 million direct jobs and one-third of it is for women. I am keen to push India’s digital economy to a 1 trillion dollar economy. 500 billion dollar is our aim by 2025; that and 6.5 million jobs. We have also come up with an electronics policy that will help us make India a hub of electronic manufacturing – close to $400 billion plus about 10 million jobs.

Are you satisfied with what you have achieved?

I am not fully satisfied, but I can claim some modest satisfaction with the transformation I have been able to do.

Will you share some credit with the previous UPA government, which started some of these projects?

There were 2 mobile factories then, only 80,000 CSCs and not a single such BPO. After all, when they (Congress) have been in power, I cannot say straight away that no scheme was thought of (during their term). But take just one example of national optical fiber network, which was a scheme of the Manmohan Singh government. How many km between 2011 and 20114? Just 352 km. How much we have done? 2 lakh kms in close to four years and five months and 1.22 lakh panchayats have been connected. We were brought to power to expedite things, to deliver and work honestly. That is what we are doing.

What have you been able to achieve as law minister?

Nearly 20,000 courts are digitized. We have got very big national judicial data grid, which has about 100 million cases — decided and pending. At a click of the mouse, we can know which case is pending where. 1400 old laws have been scrapped and access to justice has been improved.

There has been a lot of controversy about judicial appointments. How do you respond to them?

Highest number of judges has been appointed in the last four years. And don’t forget one thing; one year went by in the fight on national judicial commission. 126 high court judges were appointed in 2016, which is the highest in last 30 years. It was close to 118 in the next year. Last year it was 110-115. We have already done about 15-appointments this year.

What is the status of the Memorandum of Procedures?

There is a substantial agreement already. Some issues keep on coming, such as screening of lawyers for appointment. I can only tell you that it is a work in progress. Where they have taken a view, we have certain reservation. We keep on discussing it. Regardless of MoP part, we never held up the appointment process.

Will you push for the early release of the land in the Ram temple case?

I do not wish to make a comment. The date (for the hearing in the Supreme Court) has been fixed for February26th. I only hope and wish that hearing will be expedited. I would earnestly urge for an expeditious hearing. The suit is 70 years old. Let’s not forget it.

There has been this debate about court cases delaying development work. Do you see any merit in this argument?

Separation of power is also a basic structure. The law of the land is binding on all of us, including the judiciary. Governance is a complicated business. Lots of pros and cons and feedback has to be taken, and there has to be accountability. I know all the judges don’t do, but if some judges have a feeling that we will also take govenance upon ourselves, then I would gently like to tell them, under the Indian Constitution, governance and accountability go hand in hand. You can’t govern and not be accountable. Accountability is to the mechanism of parliament and ultimately to people of India. I always support PIL in cases of corruption. PIL should be really for the needy and the underprivileged, but the present habit of headline observations and PIL filing is something to be considered.

Let us move to politics. Will you contest the Lok Sabha election from Patna?

It has to be decided by the party. Why should I even comment on something, which is not in my jurisdiction? I am a party worker, I remain like that.

Why is there a delay in dentifying the seats that Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan will get in alliance with the BJP?

That work is on. Allow us to handle politics in our own way. You first say apka alliance hoga ki nahi hoga (whether your alliance will happen)? When it happens, you ask seat banta ki nahi banta (have you distributed seats)? When we have distributed that, you ask kaun si seat ladenge (which are the seats you will fight)? Have some patience. We will handle it.

The BJP got a majority in 2014. Do you think BJP can return to power with full majority in 2019?

100%. India of 2019 is not the India of 90s. Indian voter is mature and knows whom to vote for in parliamentary, assembly and municipal elections. Because of Narendra Modi, his leadership, his persona, his gravitas, his performance and the BJP and the NDA; people loathe the idea of having four to 11-month prime ministers. Modi could do so much, because he is a leader with authority. The authority flowed from the majority he commands. Who is the leader of the maha-milawat on the other side?

The BJP lost three states to the Congress. Will the opposition alliance be a challenge for the BJP?

We had more votes than the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. In spite of the convention politics of Mohan Bagan and East Bengal in Rajasthan (a reference to electors preference to vote out an incumbent government), we gave a good fight. I am willing to acknowledge that we were defeated in Chhattisgarh. But you take all three states and the surveys; people also said they will vote for Modi as PM. In case of UP, though there is an agreement, how far it will relate on the ground is a debatable question. They (the opposition) are leader-less and program-less. Their only common agenda - Modi hatao (remove Modi).

Do you see any sign of revival for the Congress?

I can not comment on that. Yes they have won three states, but will they will be an effective player in the Lok Sabha? I don’t think so. You must understand that Congress will have to bring back their basic support base in India, which has been washed away. Congress is a fringe player in Bihar, minor player in UP and Maharashtra and finished in Bengal.

First Published: Feb 24, 2019 07:12 IST

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