Promotion of IT sector has to be institutionalized


IT was great to see the Chief Minister of the state recently extending invitations to the CEOs of the corporate sector to invest in J&K. This is what the ministers should be doing for their respective sectors. It is the duty of the ministers to facilitate investment in their sectors for meaningful job generation. The Chief Minister had scheduled the meetings with the corporate sector while his Darbar was moving from Srinagar to Jammu. In fact if you remember, a few days before opening Darbar at Srinagar, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had undertaken similar assignments. He travelled to Mumbai to meet Shahrukh Khan and Dilip Kumar. Obviously he was not asking for autographs for his grandkids. The Chief Minister was playing salesman for his tourism sector. He briefed the tour operators in Mumbai and tried to convince them that Kashmir would make a fine tourist destination during the summer of 2015. 

Tourism department, dedicated entirely to the promotion of tourism in the state, employs thousands of people. There are public sector undertakings like JKTDC to further complement such promotional efforts. We also have public sector undertakings in other major segments of our economy including Handicrafts and Horticulture. Clearly the promotion of our traditional sectors has been institutionalized.

Then there are certain orphan sectors in our economy. These are segments that are paddling their own canoes. The state government has no spare resources to promote them, let alone turn the Chief Minister into their brand ambassador. One such segment condemned to orphanage is the local Information Technology industry. 

Just to put things in perspective, handicrafts generated 1300 crores for our state economy last year while as IT sector generated 307 crore in revenues during the same year. If you add communications component to the IT sector – which would be plausible because in most countries it is deemed and branded as ICT sector rather than IT sector – we are talking about a significant component of our state economy. Now consider the time it took to develop these sectors. Handicrafts is a six hundred year old industry in the state. The efforts undertaken by Sultan Zainul Abadin in promoting the handicrafts industry during its formative years is part of our legend. We come across passages in Rajatarangni which point to apple export activities in Kashmir dating back to ninth century AD. Information Technology sector in J&K, in comparison, is hardly 20 years old. In all probability this sector will overtake handicrafts in a couple of decades. Furthermore, in all probability, the IT sector may overtake handcrafts without government ever lifting a finger to promote it. That is the conclusion one can draw based on the apathy we have witnessed thus far. My fear is that the policy makers may never sum up the vision to harness and handhold this sector. The crime though is unforgivable, precisely because there is potential to generate over one lac jobs within a matter of few years if the state government gets its act together.  

For an industry that generated 307 crore in revenues last year, employing over 10 thousand youth, you would be surprised to know that its corresponding government department has merely seven employees – none of whom is dedicated to promotion of IT as an industry! The local entrepreneurs have done their job by incubating this sector and growing it beyond its infancy. It is now the job of our state government to harness its potential. Information Technology is one of those portfolios which is usually assigned to young ministers. What, if one may ask, is the point in assigning a resourceless department to the energetic and young? I, however, hasten to add that this start-from-scratch scenario presents the current IT minister, Imran Ansari, with a huge opportunity. After security issues, unemployment is the biggest challenge facing our state. Given the employment potential realized thus far by the local entrepreneurs in this sector, IT could outclass all other ministries in the state in job generation over the next few years. 

What the sector requires is due attention during these formative years. What we require is the Chief Minister to keep meeting corporate IT sector CEOs like his recent meeting with Anil Ambani. The Chief Minister and the IT minister must interact with officials drafting Digital India plans and make sure that the entrepreneurial opportunities and job opportunities Digital India presents are adequately cashed by the state. 

What we do not require is the IT Department coming up with short term piecemeal interventions. We have witnessed those efforts before and they fell by the side. The IT dept undertook empanelment of local IT companies to implement small e-Governance projects. The empanelment was sabotaged within one year of its rollout. The previous Chief Minister had instructed the department to prepare guidelines that would ensure that IT projects under 1 crore in value be exclusively implemented by the local entrepreneurs. That too was sabotaged. The government set up a task force to frame promotional policies for the IT sector. The task force met only a couple of times. There was no follow up and the effort was put to rest. From Ompora to ITI to HMT we have been promised IT parks but apart from the joint efforts of STPI and SIDCO at Rangreth in terms of built-up office space – which can cater to about 10% of the IT industry right now – no office infrastructure exists which we can term as an IT park. 

If the IT minister takes up the task of promoting this sector, the policy has to be holistic and not piecemeal. The IT department is presently confined to being a nodal agency for implementing certain citizen centric IT projects. It does not carry any mandate to promote the local IT industry. It has to create that mandate first. 

The promotion of IT sector has to be institutionalized. To give it a start, the department should create a promotional cell that works with the revived IT Task Force. The revived IT task force should be mandated with the mission of framing the IT policy for the state with a defined component for industry promotion. The proposed promotional cell may graduate in due time in accordance to the vision enshrined in the new IT policy. The issues that IT task force needs to discuss should include drafting of a meaningful Public-Private-Partnership in state e-Governance, creating policy and environment for attracting corporate IT sector investment, setting up of IT parks and various other important bits. The IT minister should himself head the task force. It is the job of the present minister to proactively define the contours of our IT policy along with the stakeholders and it should remain his job to get the necessary cabinet approvals for creating resources for implementation of that policy.

Jahangir Raina has been a member of previous State IT Task Force. 

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