New Delhi: India's top industrialists including Cyrus Mistry, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla and Sunil Bharti Mittal applauded the government's Rs 1.13-lakh-crore Digital India programme, saying it had the potential to bridge the digital divide and benefit billions of people through digital solutions in education, healthcare and irrigation sectors.
At the unveiling of the Digital India Week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India's top billionaires pledged around Rs 4.5 lakh crore to projects related to Digital India, which could generate employments for some 18 lakh people. "Digital India will help India to create a knowledgeable society and will provide government services within a short time," said Cyrus Mistry, chairman of Tata Sons.
He said Tata Consultancy Services, which is majority owned by the Tata Group, has been an active contributor to e-governance programmes and the company will hire 60,000 IT professionals this year.
Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani said his company would invest Rs 2.5 lakh crore across different Digital India heads, which have the potential to create employment for over five lakh people. "Normally, industry moves faster than government but with Digital India it is different. I have no hesitation in saying that government has moved faster," he said. He also announced setting up of the 'Jio Digital India Start Up Fund' to encourage young entrepreneurs who are setting up businesses focused around the Digital India initiative.
The Rs 1.13-lakh-crore Digital India project is aimed at broadening digital access for all Indians and making sure that government functions and services are available online to citizens.
"I dream of Digital India where 1.2 billion connected Indians drive the nation," said the Prime Minister at the launch of the Digital India Week, which will take technology to the villages and block levels over the course of the next week.
Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, which owns telecom company Idea Cellular, said it would leverage its network of 165 million subscribers across 350,000 towns and villages in India to provide mobile-based healthcare and education services as well as weather forecasting advisories and 'mandi' prices to over one million farmers.
The company will also launch a mobile wallet and payment bank as well as invest over $2 billion in the next five years in areas such as electronic manufacturing, energy storage, Internet of Things and development of smart cities.
"We are launching a new initiative to partner with and mentor entrepreneurs to commercialise their digitally-enabled product or service. This will provide an opportunity over the next five years to more than 10,000 entrepreneurs, potentially creating over a million new jobs," said Birla.
Appreciating the PM's vision for a digitally empowered economy, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, said Modi "understands the power of technology and how it can transform the nation". Mittal said his company would build on India's existing extensive telecom network and spend over Rs 1 lakh crore in the next five years. Bharti group company Bharti Airtel is India's largest mobile phone operator.
Reliance Group Chairman Anil Ambani, who helms Airtel's rival telco Reliance Communications, pledged to invest Rs 10,000 crore to fund transformational initiatives across the cloud, digital and telecom space.
"The Great India Story has been powered by three long-term drivers: democracy, demographics and demand. A little over a year ago, we added a fourth 'D', which is perhaps even more important: decisiveness," he said, adding that 'Digital India' would add the fifth dimension.
He also exhorted the Reliance Group and the larger Reliance family to enroll with the Digital Locker service, which lets citizens self-certify electronic documents through an Aadhaar-linked digital signature, and was formally launched on Wednesday.
Vedanta Resources Chairman Anil Agarwal, whose speech in Hindi was met with rapturous applause, said the group company Sterlite Technologies is working in Jammu & Kashmir to connect it through a fibre network. But Agarwal spoke of a nobler cause. "We want to provide education through digital medium, or e-Shikhsha. We have set up a prototype near Delhi where children will be provided e-Shikhsha and women will be taught skill development.
If this can be expanded to entire India through the Digital India programme, it will empower women and improve health and education of children," he said. He also announced an investment of Rs 40,000 crore to set up an LCD fab which could potentially employ 50,000 people. The fab is aimed at reducing the electronics import by 20 per cent, in line with Prime Minister Modi's vision to reduce dependence on electronics imports.
Digital India will democratise access to information and there is a need to ensure that citizens have access to information transparently and it is the "first step towards empowering every single citizen", said Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro Ltd. He said Wipro, the third-largest Indian IT outsourcing company, has invested significantly in digital research and development. Also seen at the event were Isha and Akash Ambani, the children of Mukesh Ambani.
Isha, daughter of Mukesh, described the PM's speech as "super energizing, especially for youngsters like me". Brother Akash nodded in agreement, adding that teams at Reliance Jio Infocomm were working very hard for launching the company's much awaited 4G services, which would go a long way in bridging the digital divide through affordable services and handsets.
When asked if Jio's commercial launch will coincide with his grandfather Dhirubhai Ambani's birthday on December 28, he said, "All I can say is I hope so."
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