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June 8, 1998


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Software chauvinism: The taskforce to draft India's IT policy doesn't include MAIT, the hardware industry's largest grouping.

Priya Ganapati in Bombay

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The Manufacturers Association for Information Technology has threatened to come out strongly against the government if it is not included in the taskforce set up to draft the 'national informatics policy'.

MAIT Deputy Director Vinnie Mehta told Rediff, "We had a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office. We want hardware to be as strongly represented as software. You cannot make any country an IT superpower by concentrating on software alone. Your goal and vision needs to be broadened..."

The recently elected Bharatiya Janata Party government had announced the creation of the taskforce last month. The party has promised to give the computer industry extreme priority "to make the country a superpower in the sphere of information technology within the next three years."

Yet, the Prime Minister's office has failed to include MAIT in the taskforce. MAIT is the biggest organisation of computer manufacturers in India.

The taskforce, headed by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and scientist Professor M G K Menon as co-chairpersons, will also include 16 other members.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies is a prominent member of the taskforce and would represent the software industry well.

But the only consolation MAIT has is that three of its past presidents have been given representation in their individual capacities. They are Wipro Infotech President Ashok Soota and NIIT Vice-Chairperson Rajendra S Pawar and TVS Electronics Director Gopal Srinivasan.

Mehta agrees. "Hardware does find representation in Soota, Pawar and Srinivasan. It is not that hardware has been completely ignored," he says.

When asked why MAIT's current President Manu Parpia has not been named on the taskforce, he said "Presidents come and go. That is not important. Yet, the chair needs to represented. If it does not happen it is erroneous."

He is insistent that MAIT as an entity cannot be ignored. "Countries like the US, Japan and Ireland have a strong software as well as hardware base. They cannot have a balanced development otherwise. We are hopeful that MAIT will be in soon."

But hope or no hope, MAIT is positively angry. Mehta explains, "We learnt that we have been left out of the taskforce after reading a news report in one of the dailies!"

"We would like to believe that it is an oversight. Honestly, it is in very bad taste," he told this reporter.

Now, a MAIT delegation has met senior officials in the PMO and conveyed their resentment over being neglected. Mehta has said "We are talking with everybody in the government. We have written letters to (chief of National Informatics Centre) Dr N Seshagiri."

A United News of India report claims that the taskforce has already realised that MAIT cannot be dropped and invited the association to its first meeting next week. But Mehta told Rediff that it has "got no official confirmation as yet."

MAIT has had plenty of experience in implementing policy. Right now, it is involved in preparation of policy for Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and a few other state governments. The governments of Delhi and Himachal Pradesh are also consulting MAIT for working out their own infotech policies.

Yet the shadow of India's software industry regularly shows up MAIT in poorer light. Software has grown very well and made its mark in the international market. And on the domestic front it has overtaken the Rs 100 billion hardware sector.

Mehta points out that "MAIT, which was established in 1982, is the mother of all IT bodies from which NASSCOM has also sprung forth."

He is defensive. "I agree that NASSCOM has done a good job. But the hardware industry is fraught with problems. Even the recent Budget has not been very kind to us. For manufacturing to thrive, the right kind of business environment has to be created.

"India has a large market size. But all depends on how you realise it. Now, the new index in the global market is in terms of PC penetration. In India, we have 1.8 PCs per 1,000 of the population. In the US it is close to 400 per 1,000. So unless there is a domestic manufacturing industry you are not going to increase penetration of IT on the whole.

"IT penetration helps train manpower which will have a direct bearing on the software industry too. If the government ignores the hardware sector, it is being silly."

Asked if there is a perception that the hardware sector is being discriminated against, he said, "I don't know, honestly. Discrimination is a very strong word to use. But you could say that I am an incorrigible optimist.

"We don't want to politicise ourselves. We would just like to work as professionals and see that the hardware industry gets proper representation."

"Yet," he wonders why things went awry, "the government is not short-sighted."


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