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No one can stop India from becoming a supreme digital power in next 4-5 year: Ravi Shankar Prasad

Come to India. We are offering you a big space for electronic manufacturing, says Prasad.

, ET Bureau|
Feb 23, 2019, 08.00 PM IST
ravi shankar prasad
We are proud of our IT profile, we are proud of our digital platform and we are also proud of our democracy. If we blend all the three no one can stop the march of India, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Law & Justice and Electronics and Information Technology, said in an interview at the ET Global Business Summit.

Edited excerpts:

We have to wait for the legislation on data localisation to be passed but on the crucial question of where the data has to be located, where do we stand? Different regulators have different ideas. For example, RBI may have jumped the gun and came out with a separate regulation on localisation.

My problem is that as a person who is supposed to move the bill in the parliament, you are asking me to disclose everything. But certain broad ideas I will give you. We went for the widest consultation possible. I will not say data is the new oil, but people want sanctity of their data. I understand that some degree of automatic movement of data is integral to the digital landscape, but should a new data imperialism come, is the larger question.

If some companies have the monopoly on global data and seek to unleash a new design of data imperialism, that will not be acceptable. India is too huge a country to surrender before that. Second is the issue of data sovereignty. It is going to become very important in the coming years. I know it is a work in progress. It will be debated.

For instance, I have a medical record. I am entitled to have my medical record in a sensitive secure place. But let me give you the counter narrative. Suppose, in a particular area a particular illness is developing and you want to know the reason for this. You need to have data, social, economic. But that data must be anonymised. If you have these kinds of pragmatic ideas, then you would think a good way will be found. But in this debate every stakeholder has to become pragmatic, that is how I feel.

Other major controversy at least in recent times is the whole dialogue which is going on with Whatsapp with respect to the lynchings and so on. India has asked whatsapp to change the end to end encryption and Whatsapp has refused to do it. Where do we stand on this issue?

Yes I have taken a very tough decision on that. I acknowledge it. While Facebook has the biggest presence in India, Whatsapp also has the biggest presence in India. Twitter has the third or fourth biggest presence in India. They are welcome to do their business in India because India is a huge market for them. But if some fake news is to be circulated and re-circulated on the question of lynching, you do not need to have a rocket science to know why in a particular area on a particular day at a particular time on a particular issue, millions of circulations are being done on Whatsapp.

They understood it and I appreciate that. They have limited it to five. We have also said you must have a local grievance compliance officer and your company needs to be registered in India. Those they have accepted. There is the issue of debate on the origin of the fake news. They have a view. We have a view. They say our technology cannot permit that. My take is I never want all the sensitive dialogue between a journalist and his client on the Whatsapp, a doctor and his customer, a lawyer and his client or their family Whatsapp group to be disclosed. But if certain Whatsapp messages are being circulated and re-circulated, and have the potential to cause serious mayhem, terrorist promotion, radical ideas promotion; if police acknowledges you to find the origin of that, then they need to think about it.

I am very clear that there is no limitation to the innovation in technology. India has become the second biggest start-up movement in the world in the last three and a half years and there are eight unicorns, that means they are $1 billion dollar plus companies.

Certainly Whatsapp is a mixed bag. In recent times. there has been the phenomenon of certain stories of messages about corporate CEOs being circulated…

I only hope that should not become a Whatsapp group to criticise the editors.

There could be. So those are interesting issues which arise from Whatsapp. I do not want to name the person but it eventually ended in real consequences and a real inquiry starting.

On a very serious note, Whatsapp as an institution need to recognise that it should not become a party to corporate rivalry. Whatsapp is too important an innovation of human mind to get its sanctity lost by these kinds of mechanisation. Therefore, let us be very honest about it. Companies do compete, companies do fight and one fake circulation leads to downfall.

We are not always fake.

Alright concede it. Therefore let those battles be fought in a more proper….

It is obvious that you are avoiding the defamation laws by circulating it on the Whatsapp. But everything in Whatsapp may not be fake, some may be exaggerated but are not fake. What about end-to-end encryption? Have you asked Whatsapp to give up that feature in certain emergency situations?

Let me clarify again. We appreciate Whatsapp for what they are doing in India. Whatsapp has become big movement. Whatsapp also empowered ordinary people. The biggest thing I hear if I can use in Hindi when I go to tour in the remote part of India is “Sir Whatsapp pe bhej dijiye (Please send it on whatsapp).” Even in villages they talk like this and I am very happy because I am seeing a new India emerging.

But if the Whatsapp platform is used, abused for terror, radicalisation, promotion of corruption and creating havoc in the country, they owe an obligation to abide by the rule of law of India.

Often before a decision is taken by the GST Council, items are circulated on WhatsApp. Some maybe accurate but some are about raising duty. WhatsApp will say that they cannot control it, it is an individual act…

You see this “Cannot” with a capital C, I do not appreciate. There is nothing impossible in technology. And let me tell you, I have been an activist from my student life. Many of my friends know me but handling this IT and electronics portfolio in the last four and a half years, I can say that the way India is transforming, no one can stop India from becoming a supreme digital power in the next four, five years. I am very sure about it. I am by temperament not an optimistic person, but this is what I have seen happening.

When I visit a BPO in small towns of India -- Guwahati. Muzzafarpur -- out of 400 persons working there, 200 are girls, mostly come from rural background and many of them call their parents ke mantriji aa rahe hain hamse milne ke liye (the minister is coming to meet us). I see this as an empowerment. No one can stop this march and the biggest success of the digital story is that ordinary Indians have become involved in this process.

There is a dark side of internet, abuse on Twitter and things like that. What are your views on that, is there a government policy?

The parliament committee is examining, I cannot say more. We are in the process of revisiting lots of guidelines under the IT Act. Consultation is going on. India is a democracy and you must be unbiased, you must give scope for every idea to be reflected, language should be civilised. Banning one side and not banning the other side will not be fair.

But on all the social media, I have one request to make; on many issues there need to be a little more sensitive to cultural nuances of the country they are operating in. For instance, on child pornography, there is a global consensus. When complaints are brought to my notice, I feel very disturbed. I have conveyed to them. YouTube, when I see some degree of promotion of prostitution directly or indirectly, that is not right. It is a public body. I am not talking of banning, but these kind of sensitivity needs to be maintained. But lest I be not misunderstood, we fully support creative freedom on social media, including the right to articulate their views.

Do you still agree with the Supreme Court judgement on striking down Section 66A?

Supreme Court is supreme. I can only make this comment that this case was filed before our government came to power. The first thing which was brought to my notice was this file. I said you go and convey to the Supreme Court on my behalf that fortunately or unfortunately, I am handling the law and justice, the telecommunication and IT all the three portfolios. I will personally look into it, let them give me three, four months time and come with solutions which is a blend of freedom and adequate protection. They said no, we will go for it. But one problem I hear and that is a serious problem, after 66A judgement, when people come to me saying that I am being trolled on Twitter what should I do? Perhaps adequate mechanism presently is not available. We will have to think into it.

One question on electronic manufacturing. Because of the US China dispute, most MNCs are tweaking their supply chains because they do not want to completely depend on China. Isn’t it a big opportunity for India?

Yes, I am very happy you have asked that question I would like to appeal to the people present here that India is emerging as a big centre of electronic manufacturing. Only mobiles from Rs 16,000 crore has risen to Rs 1,32,000 crore. Today Samsung has set up its mobile factory in India manufacturing one crore mobiles per month.

For your kind information, out of the 268 factories, 94 have come up in Noida and Greater Noida. It is emerging as Singapore of India. Therefore, as I said, electronic policy we have come up with and are also giving a lot of other incentives. MSIPs were there, now we are thinking of interest subventions and counter guarantees etc.

Let me use this platform to make a declaration that the government led by Narendra Modiji is keen that India become a big centre and what is happening in China India is offering you a big space for that. Come to India, we have human resource, talent and proven record of governance and India has developed in the last four and a half years as far as electronic manufacturing is concerned. That is how I look at it.

I would like to remind about how we create and treat India, my good friend Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, came with an idea of free basics. He said I am going to offer free basic services to India, I said welcome. Then I found that it could be free only if you enter through his gate. I said India is a democracy. it believes in many gates and I did not give him permission. That is how we look at India. We are proud of our IT profile, we are proud of our digital platform and we are also proud of our democracy. If we blend all the three no one can stop the march of India.

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