Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad starts his weekend
in Boston with some Tech talk

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad meets with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

By Kavita Chhibber

 On February 5th, while the city of Boston was mercilessly dumped with 4-8 inches of snow, it did not deter the organizers or the invitees from attending a special luncheon and roundtable discussion in honor of Union Minister of Communications, and Information Technology  Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is in town to give a keynote address at the India Harvard Conference.

Prasad, in spite of jet lag and a nagging cough, charmed an avid audience talking about the transformation the new government has brought to India in a matter of 15 months. “When Mr. Vajpayee introduced the Highway Program, there was a lot of opposition and today the entire transport architecture of India has changed. Today no one opposes the Highway Program. Mr. Vajpayee’s government was known  through the National Highway program. Mr. Narendra Modi’s government will be known for the Information Highway program. Our Prime Minister understands the power of information technology.”

The Union Minister then talked about transforming India through several initiatives - digitalization, startups, cleaning India, connecting with people through direct interaction on social media and in person. “The Prime Minister has asked cabinet ministers to spend at least 30 hours with constituents. Listen to even the person on the street who has something to tell you.”

He highlighted some key projects taken on by the government, including encouraging the underprivileged to open a bank account: “In 6 months, 20 million accounts were opened and 30,000 crores were deposited. For an annual sum of 12 rupees, accidental insurance of 200,000 is guaranteed. For an annual sum of 344 rupees your kin would receive 200,000 after your death, even through natural causes.” Unique programs  creating digital identity has made it easier to stop any kind of roadblocks in receiving pensions, such as identity theft. The boom in cell phones and internet access to millions of people has made the world of doing business so much easier, said the Minister. “Indians first observe technology, then they adopt it, then they enjoy it and then they get enlightened and empowered.”

The Minister also shared stories of Imran Khan, a math teacher and self-taught technology geek, who builds apps for 3 million people taking competitive exams. He also spoke of a lawyer friend who had a punctured tire. “He googled the nearest mechanic who came and messaged the problem, said he would fix it in 45 minutes and to be ready with the payment.

“We are creating an infrastructure for citizens to access delivery of services through E-commerce and the innovative spirit of  Indians is blossoming. There is a new E-commerce portal in Mumbai, for instance, ’localbaniya.com’ where people are being asked to order groceries etc. online and they are being delivered to their homes.” eTaal is another platform where all the government services get automatically recorded. In 2014 the state and central services were 290 million. In 2015 digital delivery services have increased to 580 million. Through innovative use of IT we have cloud digital logs and a million people have come on board. Khoya Paya is through the Ministry of Social Justice where underprivileged lost children are being helped with their pictures all over the internet.

“As many as 40 domestic and multinational financial giants, including Citigroup, Barclays, and ICICI Bank, have sought to partner India post for its upcoming payments bank centers to cater to the needs of people in rural areas with little access to the internet.

With 100 million mobile phones manufactured, India is now a hot market for smart phones. Internet usage has also witnessed a rapid growth and has gone up to around 400 million and I am confident that at this growth rate we will cross 500 million by the end of 2016. India is on the cusp of a digital revolution,” said the Minister highlighting that investment in India was a huge opportunity.

“All the major companies in the world - namely Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Nidec, Samsung, Bosch, Jabil, Flextronics, Continental - are in India besides all the top Indian companies who are already there.

The Minister also said that for good governance transparency was a must and that the new Government is not only transparent, it is willing to work with entrepreneurs ready to bring business to India. “Choose your sister cities, or start wherever you like. Let us know how we can help.”

The Minister patiently answered a wide array of questions and reiterated the government’s willingness to work with business collaborations and being open to any suggestions for improvement before leaving to meet Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

John Barros, Chief of Economic Development for Boston representing the Mayor’s Office, was introduced by Amit Dixit and read part of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s letter to the Minister, acknowledging the special cultural, educational and economic relationship the city shares with India. The Mayor also acknowledged in the letter the contribution of  the Indian American community to the city and throughout the region. The Mayor made a special mention of the South Asian Council for the Arts and its collaborative effort with the Massachusetts office of Trade investment in proudly hosting the “Doing Business with India” event along with Diwali celebrations at the Boston City Hall.

Mayor Walsh reiterated in his letter that Boston was looking forward to advancing the relationship between Americans, American Indians and Indians through a growing commercial network and sharing of technological. scientific and educational advances while appreciating each other’s cultural expressions.

Barros pointed out that the city of Boston is currently enjoying an amazing growth period -the 3rd largest from the fiscal development standpoint for the city in 400 years and the contribution of Indian investors and developers was significant in that growth. Barros was accompanied by Nigel Jacob, Co-founder, Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and William “Buddy” Christopher, the commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

The event was co-hosted by  the South Asian Arts Council, Global Indian Business Council, Computer Society of India and Banyan Tree Capital and Massindia partnership.

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