The Consulate General of India in New York and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) hosted India’s Union Minister for Law & Justice and Electronics & Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, at a business dinner in New York City, on October 20.
The event took place at White and Williams, a multi-practice law firm founded in 1899 and located near Times Square. At the dinner were select business executives, entrepreneurs and representatives, along with attorneys from the firm.
USISPF President Dr. Mukesh Aghi opened the proceedings by introducing Tom Butler, one of the law firm’s partners, who welcomed the guests.
The Consul General of India in New York Sandeep Chakravorty praised Prasad’s work ethic, having attended this event immediately after another meeting the day before in the Bahamas over the Diwali holiday. Chakravorty pointed out how Prasad is a “political institution in his own right” with a varied background in technology and legal matters.
In his opening remarks, Prasad stated that “India’s digital initiative is designed to bridge the digital divide between digital haves and digital have-nots.” He stressed that the technology employed must be affordable, developmental and inclusive for all. In a deliberate understatement, Prasad said that India had a population of only 1.3 billion, yet is home to 1.21 billion mobile phones, just under half of which are smart phones. Domestically, there are now 104 factories producing 170 million mobiles annually, many for export.
Prasad went on to quote other equally impressive statistics regarding the “Digital India” campaign to help better Internet infrastructure and access throughout the country. In the last three years, the current Indian government has laid 244,000 kilometers of the National Optical Fiber Network, which was instituted to provide broadband connectivity to villages and small towns.
Three hundred million electronic bank accounts have been opened for the poor and underprivileged, and linked to the Aadhaar (“Foundation”) Card, the universal biometric ID using fingerprint and iris recognition, which India has been using since 2009.
As an example, Prasad produced his own Aadhaar Card, noting that it costs just $1, is produced with locally developed technology and contains only a photo, name, gender and permanent birth address, nothing else which can allow for profiling. The card facilitates everything from patients accessing hospitals to farmers negotiating prices for crops at different markets to defendants seeking legal advice from pro-bono lawyers. It can also be used to get travel visas and make digital payments more easily.
According to Prasad, India’s emerging digital economy offers a very promising area of business, in areas such as communication, IT services, e-commerce and cyber security. Prasad added that the Indian government’s objective is to capture a one trillion dollar economy within the next 3-5 years.
Wrapping up his presentation, Prasad related how top graduates of the Indian institutes of information technology used to que up for an opening at Google, but now they are keen to form startup companies. On a concluding note, he invited the attendees to come to India and explore “India’s digital story”.
Afterwards, there was a Q&A, where a number of audience members commented on different topics such as setting up multiple “Silicon Valleys”, further biometric implementation, deadline dates for technology roll-outs, making the governmental regulatory environment more competitive and implications of the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) on business revenue in India. Prasad was gracious in replying to all queries and carefully recorded any issues that needed further attention.
Parikh Worldwide Media Founder and Chairman Dr. Sudhir M. Parikh engaged Prasad with a question about including individual blood group information on the Aadhaar Card, since auto accidents are the number one cause of death in India.
Prasad replied that because the card is a general platform, the government wouldn’t want it to have any kind of indication that could be used in profiling the card-holder, highlighting the need to balance privacy with availability. Dr. Parikh’s suggestion, however, was noted by the Union Minister for future consideration.
The US-India Strategic Partnership Forum is a non-profit organization committed to creating a strategic partnership between the U.S. and India, by promoting bilateral trade and bringing business and government together in new ways, to provide meaningful opportunities that have the power to change the lives of citizens.