New Delhi: India has all the ingredients to become a global technology leader, according to technology industry veterans.

At the EmTech India event organized by MIT Technology Review and Mint, the buzz was all about India’s potential in digitalization on the back of massive mobile penetration, ongoing programmes to improve broadband connectivity and Aadhaar. Industry leaders remained bullish about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programmes—Digital India, Start-up India and Make in India.

India is moving towards its goal of becoming a digitally connected country, said R.S. Sharma, chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

“It is evident from the fact that the country now has more than a billion mobiles and data (consumption) is growing at 65% annually. This shows there is a massive interest in accessing services such as e-commerce and e-learning," he said.

The government’s ongoing initiative Bharat Net’s aim is to connect India’s 250,000 panchayats at an estimated cost of $18 billion. Meanwhile, the government is looking at alternative approaches to connect India, including cable TV pipes and White Spaces (refers to the unused TV channels between the active ones). Another powerful soft digital infrastructure is Aadhaar, Sharma said, adding the government has started creating products based on Aadhaar like e-sign, which lets users digitally sign documents and digital lockers, which lets users store and save documents on cloud.

“With RBI issuing licences for payments banks, people can go to neighbourhood stores to take out money," said Sharma, adding mobile payment is gaining traction in India rapidly.

“India has all the basic building blocks of Digital India ready," he said. “What is required, however, is for all the ecosystem partners to work together to ensure this vision is realized. All the technology pieces which are available, there is innovation waiting to happen on the top of this stack."

“Somehow, we have a mindset that we always have to follow the West. We should rely on technology we have built on. While we did not have a head-start, we do have an advantage going forward and, thus, we can leapfrog. For instance, we have gone from no connectivity to full connectivity. We had around 2 crore wireline connections in the past and now we have 100 crore mobile phones; so, it is possible to leapfrog and we must leapfrog."

The government launched Digital India after coming to power in 2014 to ensure government services are made available to citizens electronically by improving online infrastructure and by increasing Internet connectivity. The initiative includes plans to connect rural India with high-speed Internet networks.

The Startup India campaign was launched in August to promote bank financing and create a favourable business environment for start-up ventures. Make in India is the flagship programme of the Modi government. It was launched on 25 September 2014. It aims to encourage Indian and multinational companies to manufacture their products in India.

“If you want to do a start-up, this is the right time; the infection point has a just happened," said John Chambers, executive chairman of Cisco Systems Inc. Even as India still has a long way to go when compared with the US in the 1990s, Chambers said India is going to see a generation of start-ups coming up who will set examples for the world.

Kumud M. Srinivasan, president of Intel India, echoed the sentiments. India’s dream of becoming a start-up nation is facing challenges such as illiteracy, malnutrition, poor infrastructure and low-yielding crops, he said. “Our government is trying to get over this through efforts like Digital India, Start Up India and Make in India. In Make in India, we talk about competing with China with low-value, high-volume manufacturing. But we have to look at high-value manufacturing to improve the situation. Once we get there, the rest of the development will follow," she added.

According to Kunal Shah, founder and CEO of Freecharge, the biggest challenge for start-ups is investment support. “I don’t know whether the government should be participating in it. But that is the need of the hour," he added.

Responding to this, Raghav Narsalay, managing director, Accenture Institute for High Performance, said, “In initial stages, incentives do make a difference. But it is only for a certain point of time. Finally, it is the entrepreneurial zeal that matters."

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