The National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development held a meeting in Raj Bhavan, Calcutta on 3 August 1998 to discuss issues relating to the development and growth of Information Technology in the State of West Bengal. His Excellency the Governor of West Bengal, Dr. A.R. Kidwai inaugurated the meeting. The Task Force was led by Professor M.G.K. Menon, Co-Chairperson of the Task Force and the participation of Government of West Bengal was led by Dr. Ashim Dasgupta, Finance Minister of West Bengal and included Dr. S.K. Sen, Minister for Power and Science & Technology; Professor Satyasadhan Chakraborty, Minister for Higher Education; Shri N. Adhikari, Minister for Law; Professor Probitra Sarkar, Vice Chairman of the State Council for Higher Education; Shri Manish Gupta, Chief Secretary; Shri Nandan Bhattacharya, Managing Director, West Bengal Electronics Industry Corporation Limited (WEBEL) and other senior officials. The list of participants is enclosed at Annexure-I.
The following are the detailed proceedings of the meeting.
The highlight of the meeting was the determination on both sides to promote Calcutta as a major centre for development of Information Technology for domestic and export markets. The Task Force agreed to include Calcutta in the list of cities where High Tech Info Habitats are proposed to be established.
In his inaugural address, His Excellence the Governor of West Bengal cited various reasons as to why Calcutta should be considered as an important location for the development and growth of Information Technology. He pointed out that the Government has declared that within ten years India will be made a major IT power in the world. He pointed out that India has a culture of scholarship and learning with Indians excelling worldwide in several fields including information technology. He advocated that the country should support the efforts in creating a 'Subic Bay' in West Bengal. In science in general and physical science in particular, West Bengal is a leading State in the country. We can utilise the large pool of talents available and create Information Technology as a major industry for reducing educated unemployment.
Professor M.G.K. Menon, Co-Chairperson of the Task Force, opened the meeting with a presentation of the work of the Task Force so far. While emphasising that the complex field of Information Technology is permeating all strata of the society, he pointed out that as the impact of Information Technology on the social and economic front is widespread, it cannot be the prerogative of any one State or the Centre. Every State has to participate and build up Information Technology in the State on the basis of its core competence and factor advantages.
The Member Convener of the Task Force, Dr. N. Seshagiri, explained in detail, several of the policy instruments out of the 108 given in the Information Technology Action Plan approved by the Cabinet, with specific reference to those which had great potential for implementation in West Bengal.
Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni, representative of the office of the Prime Minister in the Task Force, explained the major features of 'Operation Knowledge' drive launched by the Central Government and suggested that the Government of West Bengal should take a major proactive initiative in implementing 'Operation Knowledge' in the State.
The Finance Minister of West Bengal, Dr. Ashim Dasgupta, emphasised the comparative advantage of setting up Information Technology business in Calcutta. He described in particular, the initiatives taken by the Government of West Bengal in developing a 400 Acre Saltlec Electronic Complex with a world class infrastructure. Dr. Dasgupta observed that "the emergence of Calcutta as a major IT centre will not only help in the development of IT in the whole of Eastern India, but also in bringing India's economic and Information Technology links with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and other countries of South-East Asia. If we act fast, we could turn the current crisis in South-East Asian economies into India's advantage".
He outlined two approaches from the point of view of the State Government which are mutually inclusive: The first one is a commercial approach by which the fastest possible commercial and technical access to global areas can be realised. Primarily, export led growth may pose problem of vulnerability to external pressures as happened in South-East Asia recently. The commercialisation-led IT is therefore, to be addressed cautiously and in a planned manner by taking advantage of the IT manpower paucity in first world countries. The second approach is based on IT-led social development in which social objectives should be endemic. It should lead to efficient increase in production and growth with increase in employment and sustainable increase in output. He advocated the collection and processing of time series data, cross-country data and other such applications which give better understanding of the growth of GDP which is only one-third depending on physical inputs and three-fourth with knowledge input.
He outlined the priority of West Bengal broadly as follows:
Agriculture, land reforms, information on small and marginal farmers, land reforms
Information on Animal Husbandry and Fish Shoal Movement
Industry and finance information
Preventive Health Care and Primary Health Schemes
Power Sector - Transmission of surplus capacity to others
Tax structure, resource mobilisation
Decentralisation - Panchayats Municipalities - Soil Survey, PH and Acquifier data
Industrial growth related to electronics like EHTP, Software Technology Parks, etc.
The State has historical comparative advantages. It is in West Bengal that the first broadcasting station and the building of the first computer, ISI-JU, took place several decades ago. There are more than 400,000 students who are mentally conditioned for IT training. Pent up demand for PCs in West Bengal is high as there is a shortage of space at Saltlec Complex and IT Habitat is essential to be set up very soon. The setting up of Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in West Bengal has shown new avenues for entrepreneurship due to proximity to South-East Asian markets. He suggested to the Task Force that a financial package for such development of IT in West Bengal should be carefully worked out by determining how much of funds can come from the Central Government and how much from the State Government, Private sector, etc., as well as how much of these has to come as equity and how much as loan.
Dr. S.K. Sen, Minister of Power and Science & Technology emphasised the importance of development of human resource from the primary level to Post Graduate level by utilising, wherever gainful, the tool of Information Technology. He pointed out that the power sector in West Bengal is investing in setting up a DAMA VSAT Network by May 1999. The Power Grid Corporation will lay optical fibre through private sector participation for creating a backbone infrastructure in West Bengal. The last mile linkage will be set up by encouraging self-entrepreneurship .
Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta; Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur and Universities have been identified as resource centres for Information Technology. The Presidency College has been identified for Multimedia Course development in Bengali.
Shri Prasad Roy, Secretary, Development Planning, pointed out that, today, every Department has personal computers. Computerisation of Land Records, CAD-CAM and Motor Vehicles Registration has been done in a few districts. He pointed out that there is a need for setting up of better data networks. He advised that NIC should take immediate action to upgrade the computer network in the State and take immediate action for expanding the network to Development Block level.
Shri Nandan Bhattacharya, Managing Director of WEBEL, described the recommendations of a Special Committee on Information Technology commissioned by WEBEL, which has outlined the following:
KPMG is developing a document for an IT Vision for West Bengal.
The Saltlec Complex is getting saturated. Therefore, a new city between Saltlec and the Airport is expected to be created soon.
A High Tech Park called, 'Infinity' is being set up in a 1.5 million Sq.ft of space.
An Asian Gateway is being set up 10 kilometers away from Saltlec Complex.
WEBEL is laying special emphasis on institution building like IBM Centre for Software Excellence, Communication and Information Technology University, Asian Institute of Media Studies and the Multimedia Study. To these, will now be added at Calcutta, an Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT).
The Task Force should declare Calcutta as an Info Habitat Centre immediately.
A number of entrepreneurs in West Bengal made a brief presentation about the status of their enterprises and their prospects for the future. Shri Vikram Dasgupta of ACE Marketing emphasised that for Software companies, people should come first and not the land. The man-land ratio is the highest in Information Technology. He also pointed out that a careful campaign for making Calcutta as an ICON City should be taken up on priority. Another entrepreneur pointed out that Calcutta has a major potential as it offers competitive wage-salary rate for its highly educated IT professionals.
Commodore Prem Chand, Member of the Task Force, pointed out that packaged hardware and specialised subsystems including a multi-source component industry is essential for a balanced growth of information technology. He advocated that major efforts should be put in the Content creation as a synergy between strengths and weaknesses of various States and how best they could be synergised.
Shri N.R. Narayana Murthy, Member of the Task Force outlined a three-ponged proposal for making West Bengal a preferred destination for Information Technology.
Development of a Software Package for Scientific computing/CAD/CAM/CIM
Youngsters in West Bengal should be induced to stay back in West Bengal by creating appropriate investment climate
The middle tier manpower has to be consciously developed as there is considerable lacunae at present.
Shri Ramachandran,. CEO of RAMCO Systems who attended the meeting on special invitation, outlined the problems of package software developers in India. Taking the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software as a case in point, he pointed out that the development cost is only 10 percent while the marketing cost is 90 percent for small packages. It is for this reason that many companies find it difficult to get into the business of small packages. By getting into the development and marketing of large packages, it is possible to reduce the ratio of marketing cost to development cost. He advocated that the Government has to give support for creating brand image for large packages developed in India. The Government should consider giving protection for package software industry for a limited period in order to make them globally competitive.
Professor P.V. Indirsesan, Member of the Task Force, pointed out that Calcutta has a high potentiality for becoming a research city to get the maximum benefits out of the human resource talents available in West Bengal. The Government has provide quality services in power, education, etc., and minimise delays in Government clearances. He advocated that the State Government should think big, even to the extent of targeting $ 4 billion in exports in addition to local markets for giving employment to more than 1.5 million people directly and indirectly.
- Shri Rajendra Pawar stressed the need for initiative for setting up IIIT from the State only. He also suggested that wherever possible IT related courses may be introduced in Colleges. Shri Pawar highlighted the need to utilise a large group of ex-servicemen in penetration of IT in the urban and rural areas.
Referring to Section 3.0 of the Background Paper prepared for MoHRD by the IT Task Force, Shri Pawar stated that some amount of reforms in IT education had to be introduced and the three pronged strategy has been derived. Further the shortage of teachers will have to be resolved at a fast pace.
Moreover, the formal system of education has good assets like land, faculty, well equipped laboratories, etc. while the nonformal system have the philosophy, pace and speed. The synergy between the two system of education will give a tremendous boost to IT penetration and promotion.
Shri Pawar described the role of powerful vision of Malaysia in its endeavour to become the multimedia capital of the world in 10 years. He highlighted the abundance of creative talent in West Bengal and suggested that with the states visionary approach, West Bengal could be a leader in multimedia.
Dr.Ashim Dasgupta, Minister-in-Charge (Finance) stressed that in addition to the assets of formal education in the State, there are strong teachers association and a strong panchayati raj system through which the mindset can be achieved. All that is needed is the costing and hardware.
Dr.Nandan Bhattacharya presented different views from the media all over the country and abroad highlighting West Bengal as the destination for investment in India. He further stated that in most cases the entrepreneurs look for land first and then the manpower where West Bengal looses over other states and appealed that the requirement may be reversed in which case West Bengal is the ideal destination.
Dr.Dasgupta expressed his concern over security of information and requested the IT Task Force to include this as a major issue.
Lt.Gen. S.Mehta informed that a large number of army staff at all levels have been trained in IT and will be retiring from services. These ex-servicemen would prefer to settle down in their own villages or towns. They could become a good workforce in usage of IT if facilities can be made available. Further, an ITI in IT may be setup in West Bengal where the servicemen could be sent one or two years prior to their retirement. This has already been done in Haryana.
Lt.Gen. Mehta also stressed the importance of indigenous hardware systems for use in Defence as the imported ones can no longer be relied upon in the interest of security of the Country.
Prof.B.Nag raised concern with deadlines for setting up educational infrastructures. He emphasised to refrain from rushing towards deadlines so that elaborate planning may be done. He also stressed that cross migration to IT may also be given importance.
Prof. Nag stated that the IT Action Plan stressed on export potentials but have not emphasised on It penetration for which there is no indication of figures and estimation of growth as well as demands of infrastructure.
He informed that 97% of hardware components are produced only in Korea, Taiwan and Japan. He stressed the need for component manufacture domestic requirement of hardware.
Dr.Dasgupta felt that West Bengal should be recommended by the task force for implementing Hi-Tech Habitat along with the five locations mentioned in Recommendations. He further added that clear role of the Government of India, State Government and Banking Institutions may also be defined. The endorsement of Banking sector may also be included in the recommendation as they will play pivotal role in all the endeavours.
Dr.Dasgupta added that a high powered Committee on IT will be set up under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister.
Concluding the days proceedings, Dr.Dasgupta said the views of West Bengal Government will be placed in writing within 7 days and the State would like to be in continuous touch with National IT Task Force. Professor MGK Menon promised to give full support on behalf of the IT Task Force.
List of Participants
His Excellency Governor of WB
Task Force Members
3. Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni
5. Commodore Prem Chand
7. Shri T.H.Chowdhry
8. Shri R.S.Pawar
9. Shri N.R.Narayana Murthy
10. Shri Anil Bakht
West Bengal Government
1. Dr.Ashim Dasgupta
Minister for Power, S&T
3. Prof.Satyasadhan Chakraborti
Minister for Higher Education
4. Shri N.Adhikari
Minister of Law
5. Shri Manish Gupta
Government of West Bengal
6. Prof.Probitra Sarkar
State Council for Higher Education
7. Shri S.N.Ray
Secretary, Commerce & Industry
8. Shri S.Sen
Department of S&T
1. Prof. B. Nag,
704, Prerana Apartments,
Opp. IIT Mumbai Main Gate,
Andheri (East), Mumbai.
2. Mr.Nandan Bhattacharya
West Bengal Electronics Development
Salt Lake Electronics Complex
CEO, Ramco Systems
No.5, Sardar Patel Road
Information Systems Division
ITC Ltd.,Virginia House
5. Mr.Amar Nath Dutta
Chairman & Managing Director
Phoenix Software Ltd.
Module Nos.534, 535 & 536
SDF Building(4th Floor)
Salt Lake Electronics Complex
Fax: 321 9652
R.S.Software (India) Ltd.
A-2,234/3A, Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road
7. Mr.Arvind Aggarwal
Vedika Software Pvt.Ltd.
21, Lansdowne Road
8. Shri Vikram Das Gupta
9. Professor Ashish Sen
Fax: 357 1739
10. Mr.Subhendu Mitra
Fax: 357 1711
Fax: 357 9664
NDS Computer Ltd.
Cognizane Technology Solutions
Fax: 357 3214
14. Mr.Roopen Roy
Price Waterhouse Associates
15. Mr.Plerre Marlard
Sema Group Software(I) Pvt.Ltd.
Fax: 334 3409
WEBEL Informatics Ltd.
1. Dr.(Smt) J.Chaudhari
State Informatics Officer
NIC West Bengal State Unit
2. Dr.Subir Roy
Regional Computer Centre