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Sunil Mittal on 5G, C.P. Gurnani and N.G. Subramaniam of TCS on moonlighting, and more at BT's India@100 event

Sunil Mittal on 5G, C.P. Gurnani and N.G. Subramaniam of TCS on moonlighting, and more at BT's India@100 event

In a jam-packed day of stimulating conversations and scintillating repartee at Business Today's India@100 event; some of the leading personalities from India's business and political circles held forth on the challenges and positives that lie ahead for India when it reaches its 100th year of achieving independence

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group, with Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of Education, Skill  Development and Entrepreneurship; Kalli Purie, Vice Chairperson, India Today Group; Ajit Ranade, VC, Gokhale Institute of Economics Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group, with Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship; Kalli Purie, Vice Chairperson, India Today Group; Ajit Ranade, VC, Gokhale Institute of Economics

The Moonlighting Debate

Amid the raging debate on ‘moonlighting’ that has taken the Indian IT sector by storm, leading tech titans held forth on the topic at the recently concluded BT India@100 event. In a fireside chat with BT Editor Sourav Majumdar, titled ‘The power journey from services to products to consulting,’ N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, COO & Executive Director at TCS, said that moonlighting is an ethical issue. Describing the hunt for finding and retaining talent as a war, he said that while India has abundant talent, it is vital to communicate the value of being ethical and right among employees. He further added that people need to be educated about the value systems and ethics of how the Indian IT sector has grown its business, and by looking for short-term gains employees are compromising their long-term growth.

Disagreeing, C.P. Gurnani, MD & CEO of Tech Mahindra, said in a different chat titled ‘Harnessing technology to unlock infinite possibilities,’ that in light of the productivity targets that most IT majors have for employees, the instances of moonlighting are not that rampant. This chat also included Anant Maheshwari, President of Microsoft India and Piyush N. Singh, Senior MD and India Business Lead of Accenture, with Aayush Ailawadi, Technology Editor of BT TV. Gurnani further said that if somebody meets the productivity and efficiency norms, and they still want to make an extra buck without committing a fraud or compromising the values and ethics of the company, then it is not a problem. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Maheshwari said that technology can create additional growth in a slowing economy.

Further, empathising with today’s workforce, Singh of Accenture said that while it has not been easy for employees to deal with the pandemic’s fallout, they have delivered the most rapid transformation that the world has ever seen. 

(From left) Sourav Majumdar, Editor, Business Today with N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, COO and Executive Director, TCS
(From left) Aayush Ailawadi, with Accenture's Piyush N. Singh; Microsoft's Anant Maheshwari, and Tech Mahindra's CP Gurnani

 

Indian Telcos Ready for 5G

Talking about how India is not late in rolling out 5G capabilities, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairman of Bharti Enterprises, in a chat with Rahul Kanwal, News Director, India Today and Aaj Tak, and Executive Director, BT, said that 5G has started to take root across many countries around the world, and the Indian telecom industry, too, is absolutely ready to roll it out. He added that some use cases of the technology have already been developed and the prices of devices have also started to come down.

Further elaborating on how Airtel and the other telecom players in the country have been building towards this moment, he sounded a word of caution for the customers. He said that while in the beginning, the average customer might not be impacted a lot with the roll-out of 5G, the use cases that have been developed around the world could be a game changer for India. He cited robotic surgeries, healthcare management in rural areas, and distribution of centres of excellence around the country as prime examples of how 5G could prove to be transformative for the country.

Rahul Kanwal, News Director, India Today and Aaj Tak, and Executive Director, BT, with Sunil Mittal, Chairman, Airtel

“Don’t build a mega facility in Mysore because scale is not important anymore. You can have 100 centres distributed in the country so that employees can be working from very close to where they are and they can get the same experience that they would have got when they were in Mysore. Holograms, virtual rooms, virtual teaching, participative experiments; everything can be done in a distributed way because of 5G,” he said, while describing how it will enable ‘data on steroids’. Which means that internet speeds for individual customers could be modulated based on their usage and need. For instance, he described how 5G would allow operators to deliver a higher speed of connectivity to an autonomous bus during an emergency, versus an individual listening to music on her phone.

Further, he added that if India is to become a digital economy, it needs healthy telecom companies, as they are the backbone of the connectivity that is required to power growth in a growing economy in the modern world.

Safety of Users has Primacy

Holding forth on how the government is looking to revamp the growing data economy along with its supplementary sectors like telecom with the data protection Bill that has been in the works for a while, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Railways, Communications, Electronics and IT, said in a fireside discussion titled ‘India and the Tech Revolution,’ with Siddharth Zarabi, Managing Editor of BT TV, that the bill will focus on creating an online environment that has the trust and safety of users as its core operative framework.

Asked about the touchstones that the proposed law will have, the minister said that there are three fundamental focus areas on which the law will rest. He listed the first one as the idea that the user has a right over their data, how it is used and its consent mechanism; second, the globally well-established principles of purpose limitation in the use of any data; and the third is to ensure how users in the country are able to access the grievance redressal mechanism in a simple manner. Further elaborating on the forthcoming roll-out of 5G and its impact, Vaishnaw said that it will bring a big difference in the education and healthcare sectors. In the education sector—that currently considers telecom connectivity as being at the periphery of delivering education and skilling services—the rollout of 5G will turn it on its head, and then, digital will be the core and the education sector will be built around it. And the same thing will happen in the healthcare sector. Combined, these two major applications are going to make a very big difference in the lives of 1.3 billion Indians, especially for the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid in the remotest parts of the country, on the margins of the society, he said.

Siddharth Zarabi, Managing Editor, Business Today TV, with Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister, MEITY.

When asked about the sustainability of the sector and the role of taxation and levies on it, the minister said that with the large user base that India’s market provides, even a small piece of revenue is multiplied by 1.3 billion users, and the numbers become really good. And in relative terms, the taxation is not as taxing as it would be, if the market was smaller. He also emphasised that levies currently being charged will stay as they are needed by the government to serve people in the remotest corners of the country, as they are not marketable from the perspective of a company that has to present a balance sheet to its shareholders. He went on to add that the government has been coming up with a series of reforms and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been continuously pushing for a regulatory system that becomes a benchmark for the world.

Lastly, talking about the viability of the government being invested in loss-making enterprises like public sector telecom operator BSNL, he said that telecom as a sector has a very important strategic role to play in things like disaster management and security, among other things. He added that the government is committed to ensuring that BSNL stays as a healthy entity and becomes a market stabilising force while also becoming a big playground for developing Indian technologies.

No Growth Without Power

Kicking off a discussion with BT Editor Sourav Majumdar on the vitality of the power sector in India’s fast growing economy, R.K. Singh, Minister of Power and New & Renewable Energy, said at a discussion titled ‘Powering India Towards Energy Security’, that today the country consumes around 1,450 billion units of power annually. And with the rate of growth at which the economy is currently growing, the country will need 2,900 billion units of electricity by 2030. While the established capacity today is 404 GW (gigawatts), by 2030 it will have to be 820 GW. Which means that the country needs to add about 50 GW on average every year between now and then.

Highlighting the financial crunch faced by the sector, he added that no bank is willing to lend money to set up generating stations, especially conventional ones. And the reason for that, he said, was the loss of around `60,000-`70,000 crore that banks stomached when generating assets got stressed in the previous years. Saying that the country was in a similar situation today, he added that the outstanding payables by distribution companies (discoms) to generating companies (gencos) is Rs 1.10 lakh crore.

Coming down heavily on the outlier state governments, he said that their outstanding payables to their state discoms is around Rs 1.30 lakh crore, out of which, around Rs 76,000 crore is outstanding on account of the subsidies that they have forced discoms to pass on and not recompensed. He further added that since no money was coming to the gencos, he has taken remedial steps, and some repayments have been made. He also said that if the situation does not improve, no capacity will be added and no growth can happen without electricity.

Sourav Majumdar, Editor, Business, Today with R.K. Singh, Minister of Power and New & Renewable Energy

He also brought forth the wider problem of deficit in the accounts of state governments, where barring a handful of states, most states’ revenue receipts from various sources are insufficient to meet their committed expenditure today.

When asked about the political cost of not subsidising electricity supply for consumers, the minister said that there is no political cost to it, rather these questions are relevant only through the perspective of national and state growth. He further added that since guidelines were introduced to cut off a discom’s access to the national electricity exchange if they do not pay, out of the 13 states with outstanding payables, 11 have started making payments. And for the states that have still not paid, their long-term access will get reduced by 10 per cent every month.

Moreover, advocating for the need of an instrument to bring a sense of fiscal responsibility among state governments, he said that the amendment in the works to the existing Electricity Bill will look to truly spur competition in the sector in terms of services and tariffs by removing a clause, which although allows multiple discoms to operate in the same area, mandates the sourcing of electricity from the discom’s own network.

We are a Secular Society

In a debate moderated by Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor, India Today Television, on “The ‘New’ Idea of India@100,” Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor engaged with author and investor Harsh Gupta Madhusudan on a range of topics that has dominated the political discourse of the country for some time now.

When asked about the probability of a new constitution being enacted by the time India completes 100 years of independence, Tharoor said that while the leaders espousing the Hindutva chain of thought might want to make India into a Hindu Rashtra, it is easier said than done as the basic structure of the Constitution has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Following this, asked if the Nehruvian vision of secularism—that his party swears by, and which has been the guiding principle of India’s polity for most of its independent history—is under threat, he said that India has always been a secular country. He highlighted that the Constitution already encompasses secularism as a guiding principle in the sense that it has the right to worship, profess and propagate one’s religion, even before the word ‘secular’ was added in it.

Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor, India Today TV, with Shashi Tharoor, Lok Sabha MP; Harsh Gupta Madhusudan, author, investor

The debate heated up when Tharoor went on to say that one can either have the notion of Hindu civilisation as being inclusive or exclusive, and in that light asked, what will happen to the people of the country who do not identify as Hindus, but consider themselves as Indian, nationalist and patriotic in a situation where nationalism is conflated with Hinduism.

In retort, Gupta said that the Indian civilisation is the last surviving ‘pagan’ civilisation and it is the inclusiveness inherent in Hinduism that has allowed for people from various parts and religions of the world to come and assimilate in the country’s culture. He further panned the opposition by saying that they have made peace with obscurantist elements in the Indian minority and added that it is the collective failure of the Indian state in that it has been unable to protect the liberal reformist minority present within the minority.