Fwd: [bytesforall_readers] Knowledge Is The Next Big Idea In India’
- Satyanaryan Gangaram ‘Sam’ Pitroda is a person we need to get our
ideas in front of.
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From: Frederick Noronha <fredericknoronha@...>
Date: Sat, Oct 31, 2009 at 14:03
Subject: [bytesforall_readers] Knowledge Is The Next Big Idea In India’
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Knowledge Is The Next Big Idea In India’
When telecom engineer and entrepreneur Satyanaryan Gangaram ‘Sam’
Pitroda first pitched his idea about a possible telecom revolution in
India, he told then prime minister Indira Gandhi that he wanted to
elevate the telephone from being a mere instrument to conduct a
conversation into a tool for social change.
It was an expression that caught Ms Gandhi’s attention. Also present
at the meeting was a big supporter of his ideas, a man who would be
prime minister one day, Rajiv Gandhi. “I knew that Rajiv was actually
with me right from the word go,” recalls Pitroda.
That was in 1981. In the next two and a half decades, Pitroda’s ideas
have revolutionised the telecommunication industry — and indeed
transformed the lives of millions of people in India. There have been
occasional sparks of tensions with those who have called Pitroda “a
man with a technology-proponent’s view towards problems and lacking a
social scientist’s approach”.
But that has not bothered Pitroda. Now, the man who saw tomorrow is on
a new mission. After heading the National Knowledge Commission (NKC)
for the last four years, telecom czar Pitroda has been appointed an
advisor to the Prime Minister of India on information infrastructure
and innovation. In a telephone conversation with KUNAL MAJUMDER,
Pitroda says his next big challenge is to revive the knowledge
industry in India. He wants to use modern tools like the Internet to
simplify governance and, once again, to transform people. Excerpts
from the conversation:
Photo: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
In some way, this is your second innings with the government. Have
things changed for the better?
I don’t know about first or second or third innings. I have been
working for the government through the National Knowledge Commission
(NKC) for the last four years. I think this is more of an extension
than an innings. I had a roadmap — some of it was visible and known to
me and those who worked with me, some of it was not.
So, how is your role in shaping a telecom revolution in India linked
with your present mandate?
In the 1980s, we realised that the Internet and telecom could become
two major tools in nation building. And they did. It transformed
India. Now, we feel knowledge is the next big idea. We need to focus
on the knowledge industry. Unfortunately, not everybody appreciates or
understands this. They think I’m just speaking schools or colleges,
which is not true.
India has a long history of spreading knowledge. Our Buddhas have
spread knowledge of education across the world. Nalanda was a hub of
knowledge, with scholars visiting it from around the world.
Unfortunately, we have lost that knowledge. We need to revive that.
So it’s about connecting knowledge with information infrastructure?
It is about using information technology to transform the lives of
people. The challenge is how to use IT to improve education, health
services, and even national schemes like the NREGA. We should also
look into how to shift back office work from Bengaluru to small
villages. This will transform the lives of the poor. We are already
working on how to link 2,500 panchayats through broadband services. IT
can also be the right tool to simplify the judicial process. We can
bring down the time span of cases from 10-15 years to just three
In a traditional country like India, with a major literacy problem,
would such a technology work?
No doubt there is a need for a new way to look at technology. Learning
paradigms have changed across India and the nation is fast seeking
integration of technology. But the overall quality of education is
pretty bad and this needs to change. We need to plant the seed among
the young people. Just like with telephones, we can drive a change. In
fact, the goverenment’s system must be geared towards systemic
accessibility. Access to education changed my life. And I am a firm
believer of the fact that access to knowledge is essential for
developing a large country.
But we seem to be waiting for it for long. When you first came here,
it was more than two decades ago?
You need to see the success for yourself. In fact, I can see it
already happening on the ground. We already have the metro in Delhi,
3G mobile phones and other successes. Now, we need to multiply them.
We need to increase the pace of modernisation. The big need for us at
the moment is to manage our population. Just imagine if we had just
600 million, with the current economy and facilities! India would
actually be on top of the world.
But how does a nation resolve issues when modern projects collide with
social issues, like Tata’s car project.
Honestly, I do not know much about the problem. So, it would be unfair
for me to comment on it. But I know that there are a lot of modern
tools that can help deliver better and quicker solutions. We need to
make use of such tools in our work. For example, at the National
Knowledge Commission, I made it clear that I would not handle any
file: everything had to be done through email. Plus, we put every
detail, including the reports and money spent, on the website. This
made things transparent and accessible. You need to involve those who
would eventually be a part of your project right from the word go.
India wants developed infrastructure but bulk of the projects are in a mess.
We need to work on solving problems rather than pointing them out.
It’s like an onion, you peel one layer, and you get another. It
requires talent to find solutions in India. All we need is a decade of
innovation to transform this country. We are not like Africa. We have
a lot of talent. We just need to take care of the population growth.
Many don’t understand knowledge in India. They think I’m just speaking
schools or colleges, which is not true
The other field that you are advising the prime minister on is
innovation. Indians are known for their innovative tendencies.
However, the innovations have been more of a survival tactic. Has
We are in the early stages of innovation. The NKC has put forward a
report on this. Innovation would deal more with products and services.
There is a lot of room for innovation in the social sector as well as
in the government. Innovation can help us uplift 300 million Indians
from poverty. In fields like sustainable energy, we need innovation.
Unfortunately we are stuck in the 19th century. We need to change.
Tell us your views on the identity card project that is being led by
Nandan Nilekani. Is there something that you would have done
differently than what he is doing?
I’m working closely with Nandan Nilekani on this project. It is a very
important step and a very unique project. A national ID card will
simplify public service and create more accessibility. Many years ago,
I realised access to telephones will transform India, now access to
knowledge will transform millions of lives across the country.
You once said you love challenges. One of the biggest facing India is
Naxalism. What would be your approach to solve the crisis
They are our own people. We have got to love them and get them on our
sides. We do have fights in our own families. The government must push
for sustained development in those regions and let them maintain their
traditional livelihood. Nobody wants violence by choice. Work with
them, engage them and eventually, make them realise the pleasures of a
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 44, Dated November 07, 2009
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