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'Public AI infrastructure we create would help startups'

By Surajeet Das Gupta and Dhruvaksh Saha
January 09, 2024 09:52 IST
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'Similar to the case of the digital payment system where the government created a public platform and others joined in, we are exploring a similar structure to create a PPP platform where the compute required for AI could be accessed by the small player.'

IMAGE: Kindly note the image has been posted only for representational purposes. Photograph: Kind courtesy Gerd Altmann/

The government is in a discussion with industry for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the artificial intelligence (AI) space.

Similar to the digital payment system, where the government created a platform and others joined in, the plan is to build a system where the compute required for AI can be accessed by all, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw tells Surajeet Das Gupta and Dhruvaksh Saha/Business Standard in an interview in New Delhi.

For the first time, the recently passed Telecom Bill clarifies spectrum assignment. What was the thinking behind this?

The 2G judgment was a seminal one for our social and political life. Now we have built that principle in the law to make auctioning the preferred method for spectrum allocation.

Certain areas like defence, aviation (public safety), police, forest and maritime have been expressly defined as those where spectrum cannot be auctioned. And there are some other areas where it is technically not possible to auction.

For example, point-to-point back haul between mobile towers uses frequency that can be reused, so it would not be technically or economically possible to design an auction.

The case of satellites is the same the pencil beam can be reused everywhere. The new Act clearly defines what can be auctioned and what cannot, so that there is no legal ambiguity.

You have also made a reference on this issue to the Supreme Court

The judiciary is very well respected. We went to the Supreme Court simultaneously with a miscellaneous application so that all institutions are in harmony.

What are the key issues that the new legislation will address?

The first important issue would be licence reforms.

Earlier, there were more than 100 licences, each with multiple rules; these left room for disputes.

We decided to globally benchmark our regulation, threw out the old regime of licences and exclusive privileges, and instead brought a simple authorisation mechanism that is digital by design and will lead to significant ease of doing business in how stakeholders interact with the department of telecommunications (DoT).

The second is user protection. We have made it very tough to obtain a SIM through fraudulent means by providing for fines and imprisonment.

The use of SIM sand boxes and spoofing of mobile number have also been made illegal. And, biometric know your customer (KYC) has been made mandatory.

Third, we have ensured judicious, time-bound, legally defined, right-of-way provisions.

And fourth, we have built a quick dispute-resolution system which will handle disputes between service providers and the government.

We expect 99 per cent of the disputes to be resolved quickly through the various mechanisms: The online system for consumers will resolve disputes with a clear timeline; for disputes between the government and service providers, we have the voluntary undertaking by service providers; there will be the adjudicating officer for interpretation issues or mathematical mistakes; and then we also have designated appeals committees.

Only one per cent of such cases should go to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), where we expect most of those to be resolved; some 0.01 per cent might perhaps be appealed in courts.

With AI rapidly gaining currency globally, we might need a plan in India to regulate and promote it in areas where we have an edge. How does the government view this?

There are multiple aspects to this. The first is using AI to develop new solutions for our society and economy.

Many players are already working on this, and we are in a discussion with industry to create public-private partnerships.

Similar to the case of the digital payment system where the government created a public platform and others joined in we are exploring a similar structure to create a PPP platform where the compute required for AI could be accessed by the small player.

Companies, academics, researchers and the government should all be able to benefit.

Creating a huge compute infrastructure is expensive, and there is a wide time gap between when one makes the order and when they get these.

The public AI infrastructure we create would help startups too.

The second aspect is that of deepfakes and manipulation of social media. We have had two rounds of discussion with social media companies, and they have come up with what they would do.

We will issue an advisory on the basis of these inputs and industry will cooperate.

We are also discussing an overall regulatory structure. We are in discussions with industry about the guardrails and will come up with proper rules accordingly.

While we understand the potential of the development, we are also cognisant of how it could harm democracy. Things will evolve as we work on them.

The government aims to increase the electronics production value to $300 billion by 2026-2027 from over $100 billion at present. Do you think it is achievable, given that only a few products like mobile devices are doing very well?

Electronics manufacturing has many dimensions; it is not limited to one or two products.

For instance, production of telecom products currently has already reached production of Rs 18,000 crore to Rs 19,000 crore (Rs 180 billion to Rs 190 billion), and exports have hit Rs 8,000 crore (Rs 80 billion).

Defence electronics exports are picking up, power electronics for vehicles, trains and industrials have also picked up in a big way. So, I think the $300 billion target is easily attainable.

Also, large component companies want to set up their bases in India. We have already moved away from the debate on domestic value addition and whether we are only assembling.

Will the near closure of Chinese component manufacturers in the country impact localisation?

That will have no impact. Industry is moving towards sustainable growth and that has multiple elements, such as design, geopolitical risk, market, and demand estimation.

Industry has already started thinking like that. Many manufacturers are becoming global hubs scaling up has already happened in the past 5-6 years.

We can easily clock a 20 per cent CAGR in electronics from here. Industry everywhere starts at some point like we are starting our semiconductor industry. We have to begin somewhere.

China has asked for its companies operating in India to be treated fairly, especially after the arrest of the personnel of these firms. What is the government response?

The Indian government will act according to the law.

How is the semiconductor plan progressing in terms of proposals? How is the Micron project doing?

We should see two more good proposals for semiconductors in four-five months.

The construction of the Micron unit is going on very well, people are being trained, and ecosystem partners like substrate manufacturers, and chemical and gas suppliers have already started scouting for land and setting up facilities.

The government is putting upfront 50 per cent of the cost of the semiconductor plant, and then there is 20 per cent subsidy from states. Is there a need to be cautious here?

We have just started our journey in semiconductors, so we have to take some hard decisions.

China, South Korea, Europe and the US are all putting in large public investments in this space.

This is an industry which will define the forthcoming balance of economic transactions; it will be a matter of geopolitical balance. So, we have to develop this industry at any rate.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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Surajeet Das Gupta and Dhruvaksh Saha
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