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August 11, 1997


N Vittal

The HAM-handed miracle

India's on the brink of a revolution in telecommunications. I am sorry for using the cliché yet one more time. But that is because the full significance of the development has not yet sunk into India's collective consciousness. How will we run this technical revolution if we do not have the manpower? We need to inculcate a scientific temper in our youth so that they man the telecom-centric India of the next century. One way to do it would be to encourage amateur radio as a hobby.

Ask an average Indian what a HAM is and you will most likely be told about a Western dish, taboo to many Indians. You may also be told about being inexperienced as in 'ham-handed'. It will be rare to find somebody who talks about amateur radio buffs as in HAM operators.

These HAM operators are radio communication hobbyists and have known to be of immense help the world over in times of disaster when more conventional communication technology like telephones fail.

Though called amateur radio operators or HAMs, they are anything but ham-handed. Their expertise is legendary and has often led to breakthroughs in telecom technologies. The HAM acronym is often explained as the initials of three scientists who made significant contributions in the study of radio waves and telecommunication. They are Hertz, Armstrong and Marconi.

Many eminent people have been HAM enthusiasts. Former prime minister late Rajiv Gandhi was a HAM. Lord Mountbatten was another. The present king of Jordan is one more celebrity HAM.

I see a great potential in encouraging HAM activity as a means to seed India's telecom revolution. There are about 3.2 million HAM operators in the world. Of this nearly a million are in Japan. In India there are hardly 10,000. If we start HAM clubs in all the 75,000 high schools in India we will plant the seeds for a telecom revolution in the country.

This is because we will be creating a whole generation of scientific and technology minded youngsters who will play a significant role in the communication revolution of the next century.

You may ask that if after so many years India has only about 10,000 HAMs, how can we make the great leap forward of starting clubs in 75,000 schools?

The answer is that we are not just capable of making such advances but have done so in other fields. For instance, after 24 years of introducing television in the country, only 24 per cent of India was covered by broadcast. In 1984, with the help of low power transmitters and the government's decision to commission one low power transmitter per day we covered 78 per cent of the nation in less than a year.

The speed and the efficiency with which the Asiad infrastructure was set up in New Delhi is another example to demonstrate how, when a determined effort is made, positive results can be achieved.

India must not be left out of the telecom revolution which is sweeping the world. But there is a corollary to this compulsion: The building of a technology-minded manpower. And what can be a better way to achieve this if not the introduction of youths to HAM clubs.

To this end I have a strategy:

The first is to bring all HAMs under an umbrella organisation. Dr Kurien, who is credited with bringing about the country's milk revolution was asked when he went to Kerala, why he could not spark a similar revolution in his home state. Kurien's reply was laconic. "The problem in Kerala," he said, "is that there are too many Malayalis!" Perhaps the problem in India with so many intelligent people is that we have too many Indians!

On the HAM scene there is the National Institute of Amateur Radio in Hyderabad. It has managed to build assets worth Rs 100 million after receiving funds from the central and state governments. It has a building and the requisite infrastructure. We have other such clubs in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and elsewhere.

NIAR is also fortunate to have Member of Parliament Shrikant Jichkar as a member. Perhaps NIAR could take the initiative to set up a umbrella organisation to catch all HAMs in the country.

The next step should be to popularise the idea. It can be done by asking the Department of Telecommunications to simplify legal formalities and procedures relating to licensing HAMs. The department advises the government on issues of wireless communication.

If an umbrella organisation of HAMS is formed, the government could even consider entrusting it the responsibility of issuing licences as has been done in countries like Japan.

In India anyone above 12 years of age can become a HAM by acquiring a licence issued by Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of the ministry of communications. This licence is issued after the applicant passes a simple examination to test the practical knowledge of Morse code and the basic principles of radio communications.

Proficiency in amateur radio activity can be acquired by qualifying in various grades of examination to become HAM operators. The application for an 'amateur station operator' examination for various grades along with the required examination fee needs to be submitted to the nearest officer in charge of 'monitoring stations', Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing. The syllabus for the examination covers knowledge of Morse code, radio regulations and radio theory. A written test is conducted on these subjects. Practical knowledge of Morse transmission and reception is tested at a speed of five words per minute for grade II and 12 words per minute per minute for grade I licences. The authority for conducting the examination is the 'officer-in-charge', wireless monitoring station. In New Delhi, the examination is conducted by the engineer-in-charge, Monitoring Organisation, Pushpa Bhawan, New Delhi-110 062.

The fee for grade I and II examinations is Rs 20 and Rs 10 respectively.

Yet the most important thing to do is to spread the message of HAM and begin club activity in 75,000 high schools across the country. This will call for resources both financial and physical.

On the financial side, the government has already approved under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme, a plan for starting HAM clubs in schools.

Shrikant Jichkar has started one in his erstwhile constituency of Nagpur. If every MP were to accept this idea, the problem of finance would be overcome.

Initially, every school or college would need to set up high-frequency HAM equipment at two locations, more than 30 km apart. An HF Single Side Band Transreceiver of 15/100 Watts power output with voice communication can be installed at these places for possible communication during emergencies among HAM operators.

More advanced HAM equipment in 'very high frequency', 'ultra high frequency' and 'satellite frequency' bands can also be introduced in a progressive manner.

Specifications of HF Transreceiver in 500 KHz-30 MHz band can be used for equipment procurement. To set up facilities for a HAM club, the schools or colleges would need a dust free room to accommodate equipment and operators. The room does not require air-conditioning. However, it should have an adequate 220 V AC power supply and furniture for training the students on Morse codes and radio procedure.

The clubs would also need the presence of a grade I licensed amateur radio operator who could officiate as the secretary. Provisions will also have to be made to take care of the recurring expenses for the maintenance and operation of the HAM equipment for one year after installation.

A pair of HAM stations can be installed by a suitable qualified agency or the manufacturer of the equipment. This involves installation of suitable power supply, feeder and antenna. Maintenance and repair must be planned. Advice of the manufacturer must be taken in this regard.

A qualified agency or person can provide services for getting licence for setting up of an amateur radio club on behalf of the school or college.

Here is an estimate of the expenses involved in the first phase of the project HF Transreceiver 15/100 Watt all mode 2 nos would be Rs 80,000; DC power supply 0-50 volts, 5 amps Rs 20,000; battery 70 AMPH 2 nos Rs 10,000; HF antenna yagi or log periodic 2 nos Rs 40,000; accessories like cable, connectors etc. 2 nos Rs 20,000. The technical specifications can be called for from manufacturers. Miscellaneous fixed assets like chairs and tables may cost Rs 30,000; installation Rs 20,000; training for two teachers Rs 100,000; contingency Rs 30,000 and recurring expenditure for two years Rs 50,000.

The total cost of the project should sum up to Rs 4 million.

Alternatively, HAM sets could be assembled from transreceiver kits available with several agencies like the NIAR, National Council for Science and Technology and the Department of Science and Technology.

The government also allows HAM equipment to be imported. HAM operators and clubs are eligible to import HAM equipment and accessories up to Rs 50,000 with concessions in duty. Some equipment can be bought from certain Japanese companies like Yaesu, ICOM and Kenwood.

The Department of Electronics can make arrangement for procurement of imported HF HAM radio equipment through the Software Technology Parks of India, Electronics Niketan, 6 CGO Complex, New Delhi. The STPI is an autonomous registered society under the Department of Electronics.

Equipment maintenance may be taken up by the authorised dealers of the area. In case no authorised dealer is available, the work can be given to the Electronic Test and Development Centre, Electronics Research and Development Centre or any other organisation of the Department of Electronics in that area.

In addition, as HAMs are crucial in disaster management, the ministry of agriculture and the state revenue departments could earmark funds for promoting HAM clubs in schools and colleges of at least those regions which are prone to natural calamities.

The government can also offer incentives to ensure that the corporate sector makes a contribution towards HAM clubs. I suggest certain tax concessions:

Expenditure incurred in starting HAM clubs and then sustaining them can be made tax deductible and the investments made in the equipment needed for HAM clubs may be made eligible for 100 per cent depreciation in the first year itself. This would give rise to more leasing of HAM equipment.

That brings me to the next important input needed for launching a HAM revolution in the country, namely, the ready availability of HAM equipment.

This is one opportunity for the corporate sector to get into the business of manufacturing the equipment. With the tax incentives and the resource mobilisation methods I have suggested, the market would be created automatically.

If we are able to launch a nationwide programme to promote HAMs in this golden year of our Independence we will be able to create in this country an infrastructure by which at least a group of intelligent youngsters from every school will become prepared to cope with tomorrow. We would have laid the foundations for a telecom revolution.

Previous columns: Critical mass | T.R.a.I | Santa Clause 11(2) | The Broadcasting Bill | The death of distance | S.O.S, getting the message out of the bottle | Force 7 from FICCI | Of railroads and info highways | Techno Politics | Cheating death: Ways to resurrect ITI

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