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Govt moving at frenetic pace to make India a semiconductor hub: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Govt moving at frenetic pace to make India a semiconductor hub: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Ahead of the inaugural industry conference, SemiconIndia 2022, union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, talking to BT, highlights the importance of the conference along with other developments in India’s Semicon Mission.

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Within months of announcing the Rs 76,000 crore financial outlay for making India a semiconductor hub by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY), the India Semiconductor Mission (ISM) is hosting its inaugural industry conference – SemiconIndia 2022. The conference, on the theme ‘Catalyzing India’s Semiconductor Ecosystem,’ has been organised in partnership with industry and industry associations, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the event. The conference will also witness participation from global leaders from industry, academia and research institutions including names such as founder of Indo-Us Venture Partners - Vinod Dham; Sanjay Mehrotra, President & CEO of Micron Technology; Randhir Thakur, President, Intel Foundry Services, Intel; and Nivruti Rai, Country Head, Intel India. Days ahead of the conference, union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, speaks exclusively with Business Today highlighting the importance of the conference along with other developments in India’s Semicon Mission.

BT: What’s the mission and vision of SemiconIndia 2022?

RS: The conference serves as the formal launch pad of India’s semiconductor strategy and policy which envisions making India a global hub for electronics system design and manufacturing.

The upcoming Semicon India Conference, in my opinion, is very important. [It is a] sort of a first step, in creating a much more organised global awareness of what India is aspiring to do and aspiring to achieve. So far, we have engaged with many people on a one-on-one basis -- companies who have applied, companies who want to apply, companies who are exploring the application, companies who just want to know what is going on, companies who are cynical, [and] companies who are confident. So those have been all in the sense engagements that have been led on a one-to-one basis - government and that enterprise.

This is the first time that we are actually showcasing to the world all of the various types of queries and questions that come about when they talk about the Indian semiconductor ecosystem. Such as, what is the nature of the talent base in India? What are the issues with the state government? What kind of technology trends do we see in India? What is the market for semiconductors and electronics in India? What is the direction of research as we see in the semiconductor space? So that is on one hand.

On the other hand, we are showcasing the capabilities that already exist in India. That is the start-ups, on one hand, governments-owned various microprocessor programmes. The academic institutions and their programmes and projects, and then the multinational biggies that are over here in India and that are not here in India. It's a global semiconductor conference - the first of its kind. And I like to say, it is coming together with the best and brightest minds in semiconductors to discuss what will be hopefully the best and brightest semiconductor ecosystem going forward.

BT: So, can we expect some really big announcements?

RC: Well, I think we will see announcements, whether they're big or small. For me, all announcements that make forward progress are big announcements, but I don't know what you consider big or what is your definition of big. I think there will be announcements. But these are not announcements designed to be a big bang or small bang or medium bang or any of that. These are all very foundational types of announcements that deal with design, deal with the talent deal with state governments, all the other various issues including corporates, enterprises, and start-ups and all doing their own announcements.

But understand that this is the first step for India. This is not like other countries that have done multiple years of Semicon conferencing and getting this networking process going on. For us, this is the first year, and already, from what I see from the response to the conference, given that it is happening post-COVID, it's been a tremendous response. On the other end of the spectrum, everything about what India is doing and what is our strategy and how we address some of these issues that people think are long-standing weaknesses for India to be a player in this space, all of this will get discussed.

BT: The government announced the semiconductor scheme in December 2021 and received five credible proposals by mid-February. So, when are we expecting some further development in this space?

RC: Nothing in the semiconductor space is about instant gratification. So, first of all, none of these proposals is like setting up a small factory or setting up a start-up. These are very complex investments. These are things that have to be studied. There's a considerable amount of money that has been invested from the government of India on this and so there is a process that will be undertaken.

One of the main real important starting points for that process is the hiring of the CEO of the India Semiconductor Mission. And that process as you know is underway. So, we will do this in a very transparent and very systematic manner and institutional manner. It is not going to be driven by one person's opinion or the other person's opinion.

As you know, we have India Semicon Mission, we have set up an advisory board for ISM with some very top minds and, therefore, this will be a process where the ISM is built, is activated and then the ISM and the advisory boards will meet and then the process of evaluating these proposals that have already come in and proposals that will come in in the future will start. Maybe the reason why people are slightly judgmental about this is because of the pace that we have set for ourselves. No country has done this at the speed that we have done. We had a policy in December, we started talking to the industry in January. Understand that the process of inviting selecting, evaluating and responding to is a process that will be done very transparently in a very systematic manner.