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Tale of no priorities

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DQW Bureau
New Update





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The domestic market and industry will grow only when there is clear

prioritization and consistent policy

The part of the IT industry catering to the domestic market is also

struggling with different agendas.

For the first time after the slump of the last three or four years, there was

a growth of 24% in the domestic IT market during the year 2003-04. While this is

a great development it still hides the fairly dismal picture of IT penetration

in India. With an average of nine PCs per 1,000 people, India sta-nds as yet at

one-third of the global average of 27 PCs per 1,000 people. There are many

reasons for this.

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To start with, the success of software and services tends to overshadow the

needs of the growing domestic market. When we talk of IT industry in India, what

comes to mind is the export segment and not the domestic segment. In reality the

export market and industry and the domestic market and industry are very

different birds, though unfor-tunately they do not always get discussed as two

different issues.

The part of the IT industry catering to the domestic mar-ket is also

struggling with different agendas. First, there is the agenda of making the

domestic market grow in terms of hardware. Two and a half million PCs a year in

a country of more than a billion people. That is half the size of nothing.

Second comes the question of the source of supply for this market. Should it be

fed by imports or by products assem-bled in India? If the imports route is

chosen we need diffe-rent policies. If the domestic assembly route is chosen we

need different policies. And lastly there is a dream of repea-ting the software

success in the hardware field. And to that end we have a different set of issues

to tackle. And to an extent there could be a clash of priorities.

Start with the PC penetra-tion in India. Research-if there was some

required-has clearly shown that prices have to come down and other incen-tives

have to go up if this has to increase. The overall incide-nce of government

duties remains close to 35 percent-which means that the sub-Rs 10,000 price

for a PC rem-ains a dream. The People's PC routinely makes a guest entry and

leaves at the end of the third episode. Depreciation benefits are asked for

routinely and rejected routinely. Exciting applications that will make people

shell out money are developed but not marketed because the market is not large

enough. And the market is not there because there are no applications.

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Move to domestic manufa-cture. Not that there are no strengths available to

make this happen. In the eighties, the country was designing and manufacturing

computers. In the nineties, one company, PCL, even procured an order to

manufacture something like 40 percent of Dell Computers' boards in India. HCL

designed and produced some great UNIX machines. Wipro had a great manufacturing

set up for computers. There were other companies like ORG, DCM and ECIL. We even

designed a supercomputer. Somewhere along the line the story lost its sheen.

Move down the list and look at the potential of exports from the country.

There have been EHTP sche-mes, incentives, conferences, policy recommendations,

study groups and more. The high cost of inputs, the lack of infrastructure, lack

of investment, failure to attract MNCs to set up shop in India, amidst other

causes, have remained the issues for a considerable period of time.

The temptation to recom-mend solutions is strong. I am sure many reports from

a decade ago would offer some. Unfortunately, that is not going to work. A new

perspective is required if substantial change is to happen. And the first step

has to be defining the prio-rities-what is that we want to go after? Domestic

market growth, indigenous manufa-cture, hardware exports? Till the priorities

become clear and a consistent policy is followed development will remain just

that-a set of repackaged reports.

Shyam Malhotra is the

Editor-in-Chief of Cyber Media publications.

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