New Delhi: As junior minister for communications and information technology, Sachin Pilot is closely involved with telecom policy, besides overseeing the 150-year postal department. In an interview, the 33-year-old Congress parliamentarian from Ajmer spoke about the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s plan for the postal department, and its new telecom policy that will allow for mergers and acquisitions in the sector and for sharing and trading in air waves. Edited excerpts:
How is the postal department making use of the progress in communication technology for services beyond delivering letters, such as for money transfers?
The department of post is a very old department, a very crucial part of our cultural heritage, our nationalism. As of today, we have 155,000 post offices, and a majority of these post offices, in fact 90% of them, are in rural areas.
With 800 million Indians using mobile phones, Internet services and new forms of technologies, the traditional volume and revenue streams of the department are on a steady decline. We need to re-innovate, explore new avenues for our earnings.
The network is crucial. We are trying to computerize it. We are also offering services —insurance services and financial services. We are trying to make sure that utility bills can be paid from there, railway tickets can be issued from there, to increase its foothold. The idea is to make it a strong, economically dynamic organization. We are working on re-training the skills of the people in post offices.
How do you see the postal department playing a role in the UPA government’s goal of achieving financial inclusion?
India is a country that has grown in the last decade at 9% GDP (gross domestic product) and the need of the hour is financial inclusion. It’s probably not practical for all the banks to have branches in the 650,000 villages we have today for equitable distribution of financial goods and services.
Initiating changes: Pilot says the new telecom policy will allow for mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Post offices have a physical presence in every nook and corner of the country. We are trying to synergize between the financial services sector and the trust and the faith and the sanctity the department carries... So the department of post, with its presence and skilled employees, can become the agent of change to bring about financial inclusion. So, financial inclusion, expanding the scope of these institutions to have banking systems inculcated in our services, is the objective of the department.
Ten years down the line, what do you see as the role of the postal department, given the advances in communication technology?
We will probably be doing more services in a digitized format. India has 22 official languages. In my ministry, information technology, we have encouraged people to have the local content, local language and those software applications can be used to deliver these services—financial banking, postal services, etc. The department of post is very well placed to reap the benefits of the culmination happening in ICT (information and communication technology).
As the presence of the postal department is so wide, we can use them not just for NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) payment, which currently happens through post offices in some villages, for other social sector schemes, too.
There is a growing anger against politicians, especially among youngsters. What role can a politician like you play here?
The perception about politicians certainly needs to change. We will have to encourage people who are upright, honest and who are working with some conviction (in politics). I believe as politicians, we will have to live as examples. We have to inculcate faith in the political system. Younger people taking up that role helps in establishing that faith...
I don’t think there is anything wrong in having a transparent system. If it brings out the not-so-good side of our system, so be it. Let’s not be in denial. Let’s fight it (corruption), let’s confront it and uproot it. That’s the message we want to convey. As far as the government is concerned, it’s been our policy that if anyone is found in any wrong conduct, misconduct or omission, he or she would be taken to task.
The telecom ministry is in the news for the wrong reasons (controversies over the irregularities in second-generation spectrum allocation). What are the other initiatives the ministry has taken in the recent past?
What we have been able to do is to provide the cheapest call rate on the planet. What we have been able to do is to add 18 million subscribers every month. What we have been able to do is create the world’s second largest telecom market. What we want to do and we will do is to have a new telecom policy... The new telecom policy will come out in a few months. We have been making sure that all the stakeholders are brought for discussion.
The government must realize reasonable revenues for its resources, which is spectrum. Very soon, we will decide on a mechanism to price it. We must also ensure robust growth for the industry. We don’t want to kill the industry with our new policy. The third and most important aspect is that our people should have the best quality of services at the cheapest price. These three will form the pillars of the telecom policy.
It will be transparent, above board and will have everyone’s interests in mind. We are going to allow mergers and acquisitions to take place. But we have mandated that each circle should have at least six players to operate to allow good competition. We have talked about spectrum sharing, spectrum trading, uniform spectrum charges. We will soon take a decision.