A spate of reformspost-1991 economic crisishave given impetus to the Indian economy, particularly to the ICT sector. As part of the reform agenda, the Indian Government has taken major steps to promote ICT including the creation in 1988 of a World Market Policy, with a focus on software development for export; telecommunications policy reform; privatization of the national long-distance and mobile phone markets; and development of a more comprehensive approach to ICT. Although India's success is commanding increasing attention and investment, it has yet to result in the distribution of social and economic benefits across a broader base of the population. Challengesincluding the perception of an unfavorable regulatory climate, an overloaded judicial system, poor infrastructure and costly access, and limited use of ICTremain. The emerging shift in government strategy, toward knowledge-intensive services, has created a climate more conducive to addressing enterprise, domestic infrastructure, education and the use of ICT to meet development needs.
Policy: India's focus on self-reliant industrialization in the 1970s and 1980s has been replaced with reforms aimed at positioning India in the world economy: the foreign direct investment process has been streamlined, new sectors have been opened up to foreign direct investment and ownership, and the government has exempted the ICT industry from corporate income tax for five years. These reforms have helped India to become increasingly integrated into the global economy through growth in the export of software and skill-intensive software services, such as call-centers.
In 1986, the Indian government announced a new software policy designed to serve as a catalyst for the software industry. This was followed in 1988 with the World Market Policy and the establishment of the Software Technology Parks of India (STP) scheme. As a result, the Indian software industry grew from a mere US$150 million in 1991-1992 to a staggering US$5.7 billion (including over US$4 billion worth of software exports) in 1999-2000representing an annual growth rate of over 50 percent.
The establishment of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was a key step towards effective implementation of telecommunications reforms. In 1992, the mobile phone market was opened up to private operators, in 1994 the fixed services market followed, and finally in 1999, national long distance operations were opened to private competition. Prior to these reforms, the Department of Telecommunications had been the sole provider of telecommunications services.
In addition, to attract foreign direct investment, the government permitted foreign equity of up to 100 percent and duty free import on all inputs. Government-created technology parks also offered professional labor services to clients, a cost-effective program for India since ICT labour is so inexpensive by global standards.
Infrastructure: Teledensity in India has reached 3.5 percent of the population. Approximately 1 percent of households have fixed line connections, compared to 10 percent in China. The mobile sector has approximately 3 million users, growing at 100 percent per annum, and is expected to outstrip the fixed line market in the near future. The number of Internet accounts is around 1.5 million, growing at 50 percent per annum. India also has very high penetration rates of terrestrial TV, cable and radio. Voice and data wireless solutions, for both domestic and export markets, are increasingly produced and used locally.
Access to telephones in Indian villages has improved in the last five to six years through the introduction of the Public Call Office (PCO) run by local shopkeepers. More than 60 percent of the villages in India have at least one phone. This also includes over 800,000 Village Public Telephones (VPTs). Worldtel is undertaking a pilot in four states to secure financing to upgrade the Village Public Telephones so they will soon be Internet-accessible.
In some urban locations, India's Software Technology Parks (STPs) provide infrastructure, buildings, electricity, telecommunications facilities and high-speed satellite links to facilitate export processing of software.
India also has a number of progressive computerized networks in place, including a stock exchange, the Indian Railways Passenger Reservation System, and the National Informatics Centre Network (NICNET), which connects government agencies at the central, state and district levels.
Enterprise: India's well-established framework for protecting intellectual property rights has been an important inducement to business investment: well-known international trademarks have been protected by Indian laws, even when they were not registered in India. In 1999, major legislation was passed to protect intellectual property rights in harmony with international practices and in compliance with India's obligations under TRIPS.86
Much of the initial domestic demand stimulus for ICT and ICT services industries in India has come from government: 28 percent of total IT spending to date can be attributed to government and public sector expenditure. Major areas of government expenditure include: financial services, taxation, customs, telecommunications, education, defense and public infrastructure. As a result of the growth in ICT use in India, the ICT industry itself has also increased its domestic economic activity, for example, a number of ICT companies have developed accounting and word processing packages in Indian languages. The potential impact of this growth on the domestic economy is much broader than developing software for export only.
Human Capacity: In spite of relatively low literacy rates among the general population, India has several key advantages in human capital: a large English-speaking population and world-class education, research and management institutionsa direct result of investment in self-reliance in science and technology. In addition to establishing Indian Institutes of Technology in various cities around India to create a large pool of technical skills, the government has a computer policy to encourage R&D in personal computers. The IT training sector continues to grow at a rapid rate: total training revenues in 1998 were estimated at US$225 million, 30 percent up on the previous year. However, one of the biggest challenges to the Indian software industry remains the difficulty in attracting and retaining talented professionals.
Content and Applications: India has a large population with great linguistic diversity. Creating and maintaining locally relevant content for a country with 418 languages is a challenge. Nevertheless, local language content is slowly making ICT more relevant and accessible to a broader cross-section of the population. For example, India's Center for Development of Advanced Computing has recently launched a scheme called iLEAP-ISP to create a free multilingual word processor to be made available to all Internet subscribers. On other fronts, some states such as Tamil Nadu have launched their own initiatives to support the standardization of local language software through interface programs that can be adapted to word processors, dictionaries, and commercial keyboards for use in schools, colleges, government offices and homes.
An emphasis has also been placed on the development of relevant e-government applications in India. Some states such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have started to introduce applications which allow citizens to have faster and more transparent access to government servicesfor example, the provision of information on laws and regulations, and the procuring of licenses and official documents online.
Strategic Compact: Public-private partnerships, catalyzed by the IT Ministry, have played a key role in India's ICT-related development. One of the positive results of this effort has been the IT Act of 2000, which was based on the recommendation of the National IT Task Force, and aims to set the overall strategy for the IT sector. In addition, the government and the private sector are starting to come together to foster ICT development. For example, a joint effort by the Computer Science Automation Department at the Indian Institute of Science and a Bangalore-based private company have developed Simputera cheap micro-computer that enables illiterate users to browse the Internet.
© 2001 Accenture, Markle Foundation, United Nations Development Programme.
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