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Hard choices

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DQW Bureau
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The computer hardware segment is getting more attention among policy makers. The Ministry of Information Technology (MIT) has set up a special study team to look into the various issues facing the hardware industry.

The team is expected to study the constraints affecting the growth of the hardware sector and recommend policy changes and initiatives required to put it on a growth path similar to that of the software segment. Despite being an early starter, with the first PC arriving in India in early 1980, it is the software sector which has been a major success story. And so it got all the attention that goes with success.

One of the reasons for this special attention on the hardware industry has come from a briefing given by the MIT to the Working Group on IT preparing the government's Tenth Five Year Plan of investments. The National Task Force on IT in 1998 had set an ambitious target of achieving hardware exports of $ 10 billion by 2008. Current year's exports are targeted at $3.5 billion. However, the industry is not likely to achieve more than a fourth of this target in 2001-02. The target achievement was similar in the previous years also. Hence the alarm bells have started ringing in the corridors of MIT.

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Hardware exports have been happening in fits and starts. It is not yet an organized industry in its own right. A few players have accounted for a major part of the hardware exports. And these exports have been mainly in the form of hard disks, power supplies, printers and other such peripherals. Bulk of the 5.8 million PCs in the country are imported or assembled locally based on components sources from abroad.

The key to the industry lies in the increasing penetration of desktop computers in the country. The Task Force has set an ambitious target of having 20 million computers in the country by 2008. This target is achievable provided certain steps are taken.

Inspite of continuously declining prices, a PC is still a high-priced item even in middle class homes. It has yet to reach the level of sales recorded by color television. But a PC can reach that status quickly.

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However, for that to happen, a PC has to become an invaluable tool in accessing a host of information and services, currently not available in India. For instance, online banking is slowly taking off. If all banks facilitate this through secure networks, the burden that is currently associated with banking transactions for most Indians will be a thing of the past. 


Middle class Indians travel a lot. Currently, only reservation status and other related information is available online. If online booking takes place, one could visualize a sudden spurt in computers.

A school teacher in New Delhi is putting up his class notes at his own website so that students who miss the classes can pick them up at their convenience. Why restrict this to an individual effort. Schools and colleges can easily facilitate many more such IT-enabled interfaces in providing an array of education-related services. Education sector offers immense possibilities like this to fully leverage our expertise to farther corners of the country and could be a big stimulant to the growth of IT industry.

IT need not be the preserve of elites. The Stockholm Challenge Award winning projects of TARAhaat.com in the Bundelkhand region of North India and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Pondicherry villages offer immense scope for scaling up to the interior regions for successfully leveraging the technology and provide people what they actually require. The study group study these examples for replication.

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