CHENNAI: Information Technology Minister T Mano Thangaraj said the previous AIADMK regime had failed to promote brand Tamil Nadu and rendered the state IT department dysfunctional.
Thangaraj opens up to K Karthikeyan about his plans to achieve USD 100 billion growth by 2030 and the investment attraction initiatives mooted and implemented by the department.
You met Tamil business community during your visit to the UK a few days ago. Did you woo or identify potential investors there?
Rise Emerge, an event to coordinate the Tamil diaspora was organised in London. They invited me. I met Tamil entrepreneurs, who are in good numbers in many countries, including the UK. I interacted with many individuals and organisations. They have a lot of potentials to invest in the state. But, the problem was the branding of Tamil Nadu, which was not done in the past. Tamil entrepreneurs have chosen Noida and Karnataka and invested there because the talent pool, basic infrastructure and ecosystem in Tamil Nadu were not marketed among them.
Are you attributing the poor branding to the previous govt?
Yes. They did not have anything to promote brand Tamil Nadu. We have introduced many policy changes and expressed willingness to make policy changes. Foreign investors are looking at political stability, infrastructure, peaceful atmosphere, law and order and access to social life. We are lagging behind a bit in terms of access to social life. There is a huge possibility like water sports, recreation and cycling on Kalaignar Karunanidhi Road (erstwhile ECR). It can be done in partnership with other depts. Our intention is to regain the glory of Tamil Nadu and woo investment. Technology transfer, wherever required and exposure was also among the subjects discussed there. We are making systematic efforts with our ICT Academy on the IIT-M campus to make our talent pool a globally competitive one.
Have they evinced interest to invest in TN?
Definitely. A couple of firms have given strong assurances for investment. We have sought a concept note from them on the project they do, their requirement and the support they need from the state. As soon as they give it to me, I will apprise the Chief Minister and we will go forward to inking MoUs. We have proposed six core areas to make the state IT Dept account for 10 per cent of the USD one trillion economy target set for the state. Those areas were also our focus during the talks, but, we won’t spare other departments. We will connect them with respective Ministers and officials if needed.
Are potential investors satisfied with the existing talent pool and infrastructure in TN?
We have the potential. It is not known to outside world. If we should become a global player, we must have global competitiveness and showcase our resources. We have introduced tremendous changes, including administrative changes in the IT Dept during the last year.
The changes will help take our potential to the next level. For the first time, tripartite discussions involving industry, academia and the IT Department have been conducted in the state. They are submitting their requirements to the government. We are taking steps to meet that. It will definitely fetch results.
How far have the discussions progressed? Did you identify areas of improvement?
There is a policy gap. It must be filled. Even in this budget announcement, we have proposed knowledge utilisation and policy areas. GCC policy is already underway. We are revising the IT policy 2018. Our IT data centre policy is widely discussed as something not prepared by any other state. If there is an area we are lagging, we will incorporate it into it.
To what extent is the government looking to partner with industries?
The state IT Department is open to explore all areas of business. It will work with all depts and industries. In investment promotion, IT and ITES sector, we will leave no stone unturned. Even the manufacturing sector might require some technological support like VR. We will cater to that.
Has the dept identified newer areas to tap?
We are exploring. We are supported by a team of people from industry and academia. Interactions happen at many levels, including with countries through consulates. We are able to identify emerging skills and areas. For instance, in training, we are identifying emerging technologies and training people on future skills at the ICT Academy. We are establishing a Centre of Excellence at the ICT Academy for that purpose. It will have continuous interaction with the industry and study their requirement. It will try to forecast the future skill required and prepare the module, train teachers and train human resources for the future.
What will be the size of the Centre of Excellence? How many can it accommodate?
ICT Academy is functioning as a full-fledged organisation on the IIT-M campus. We are doing strengthening works. We have our own funds and support from the industry. So, it should not be a problem. We can be very flexible.
The state Finance Minister had recently said that companies are willing to migrate to TN from Karnataka due to the prevailing socio-political climate there? Have any investors approached us from there?
Not only in Karnataka, but compared to other states, social harmony is far better in Tamil Nadu. That is our strength. Besides infrastructure, a stable, approachable and efficient government is also our strength. Investors trust TN because we have a government committed to secular and social justice values. There is no gender discrimination or crimes against women. Chief Minister MK Stalin reiterated it a few days ago in the Assembly. So, investors will naturally love it. Many people have approached us. NielsenIQ and Amazon have come here. I do not want to say there is HATE in Karnataka, I can say there is NO HATE in TN.
CM has been claiming that there is a renewed interest among investors after regime change. You said in the Assembly that the department should bridge the 57 billion USD gap to grow to 100 billion USD?
We (IT Dept) have proposed to achieve 100 billion USD gradually. If we progress at this pace, I am confident we can achieve more. The UK trip has given me confidence. So many Indian entrepreneurs are doing so well abroad. Earlier, they were unable to approach the state. Entrepreneurs told me that the opportunity did not arise at all.
The previous government also visited UK and US to woo investments. Where did they fail?
They did not have concrete answers to investors’ queries. If an entrepreneur approaches me now from anywhere in the world, I can tell them what the state can deliver. This facilitation was not done by the previous regime. They did not maintain a friendly approach. They did not brand anything. There was no interaction with the industry. They just roamed around the world. It has been proven that their Mission 2023 cannot be achieved. When an MoU is signed, it should be followed up and realised. They never did it. They destroyed the whole IT dept.
Are you alleging that IT Department was rendered dysfunctional by AIADMK regime?
ELCOT functioned with 400 and odd staff. They had brought it down to less than 100. We are gradually filling the posts now, including employment of staff on a contract basis for emergency purposes. We are starting from scratch.
What about expansion of e-Seva?
The same applies to e-Seva. We have proposed to add 100 new services this year. We have upgraded technology. We will achieve more in 2.0. My intention is to ensure that no citizen goes to a government office and waits for service. If private firms can do it, why not the government deliver it? It is my pet project. Access to state schemes should be known through e-Seva. The state family database under preparation will be a big thing. If a person enters his/her name and feeds the Aadhaar or any data in the database, the system will tell what service/scheme they are eligible for and what they have availed so far.
Can the same portal be used to apply for services of any department?
We will try. Citizen’s portal and e-Seva, everything will be available on one portal. We will explore technical possibilities and consider how far it is feasible. The scheme for taking internet connectivity to villages should be over in 10 months. All departments put together, it would work out to 600 services. Our intention is to ensure that we bring all the 600 services within the e-Seva bracket before the end of the tenure.
All departments put together, it would work out to 600 services. Our intention is to ensure that we bring all the 600 services within the e-Seva bracket before the end of the tenure