Digital economy cannot be forced on people: Pallam Raju
New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has "twisted" some of the things in the digital revolution, such as "forcing digital transactions" on people and insisting on linking Aadhaar with everything, says M.M. Pallam Raju, a minister in the earlier Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
He contends that the genesis of India's electronics and information technology (IT) revolution can be traced back to Congress governments in the previous century, adding that the momentum has been lost now.
Raju, an electronics engineer and a former Minister for Human Resources Development, trashed the idea of a totally cashless or even "less cash" Indian economy, saying digital transactions should be "an option and convenience" and not forced upon people.
"Cashless economy has to be integral to the overall economy. It is essential where large transactions are involved, but not on a day-to-day basis. It can be an option and convenience if somebody wants to pay digitally, but cash has been the comfort factor, especially for the rural population that is comfortable transacting in cash rather than digitally," Raju said.
"Also, see how much fraud is happening in cyberspace, in terms of accounts getting hacked, money getting diverted, etc. And the chances of such frauds are higher with rural and uneducated people," he said, adding that a "suitable ecosystem" has to be created before anything is "imposed on people", which "unfortunately has not happened".
As a former Union Minister, how does he see the current government's insistence on linking everything from SIM cards to bank accounts and insurance covers with Aadhaar? After all, Aadhaar was conceived and rolled out during the UPA's time.
"Aadhaar was envisioned to link welfare schemes. The whole idea was to streamline government benefits and to curtail losses/pilferage. That is being twisted and made into big monster without adequate preparation.
"If databases are to be secure -- which I don't think they are right now -- there have to be more security features built in, and then if you utilise linking of Aadhaar for putting some checks and balances in place in the system, that's all right. But don't insist on linking everything with Aadhaar.
"That is not what founding fathers desired when they gave us the Constitution. We have a right to live our life, but that is being encroached upon," Raju said.
Raju recently wrote "A Contribution in Time: India's Electronics Revolution", based on the life of his father, Dr M.S. Sanjeevi Rao, who served as Deputy Minister for Electronics in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 's cabinet. It was unveiled by former President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
He said that while the book is a personal tribute to his father, it also tells the larger story of the genesis of India's electronics revolution.
"As Electronics Minister and Chairman of the Electronics Commission, Dr Sanjeevi Rao ushered in dynamic and far-reaching policies that enabled exponential growth of the electronics, telecom and IT sectors in India. He was part of the team, along with Sam Pitroda, which led the country into the era of telecom, computers and IT (during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's tenure)," Raju said.
"As millennials are so familiar with technology and its utilisation, it would be quite insightful for them to understand the genesis of this revolution -- when electronics was happening and becoming a phenomenon worldwide," he added.
Raju said that the vision of the leaders in India then was to make electronics-based technology accessible to the common people at an affordable price.
"It all started with consumer electronics and then became all pervasive with information technology, telecom and its role has increased exponentially," he said, speaking of the book that captures the life of Sanjeevi Rao and the contemporary milieu in text and pictures.
It also contains a report that throws light on the coming into being of the Electronics Commission and the Department of Electronics in 1971.
"The good work that was started back then (in the 1970s-80s) for creating an ecosystem for manufacturing of electronics, which are the building blocks for applications anywhere, that momentum has not been sustained," Raju said.
Of the modern internet and mobile phone connectivity revolution, Raju said that the "building blocks and the foundation of all this" was laid under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government.
"We realised there was a need for bigger bandwidth, higher speeds as the digital communication was growing and becoming all pervasive. And so we envisioned this high-speed network -- which the current government has named as Digital India.
Striking a personal note on how he conceived of the book, Raju recalled: "When our father passed away in 2014, it was an emotional moment for us. After suffering a stroke in 1998, he was paralysed, lost his speech. He was like a child (to me). It was a reversal of roles. He became the child and I became the father. When he passed away, it was like losing a child. I had to get that pain out. So the idea of writing a book occurred."