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Lanka should address fears on ETCA urgently: Minister Rao

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A visiting Indian Minister who was one of the key speakers of Sri Lanka’s Human Capital Summit held on 11-12 August told Daily FT in an interview that Sri Lanka should seek to address any concerns or fears its citizens may have on the envisaged Indo-Sri Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperation Framework Agreement (ETCA), because secrecy, fear and caution will prevent Lankan citizens exploring the full potential out of the partnership. 

DFT-15Minister Shri K. T. Rama Rao – Pic by Sameera Wijesinghe

Shri K. T. Rama Rao, Minister of IT, Municipal Administration and Urban Development, Industries and Commerce, Public Enterprise, Sugar, Mines and Geology, Non Resident Indian (NRI) Affairs of the Government of Telangana in the capital of Hyderabad called for a transparent approach within Sri Lanka on the ETCA agreement so that it could be used, with the collaboration and support of the Lankan people for the Sri Lankan Government’s goal of building a future-ready workforce.

Minister Rama Rao said that Sri Lanka which has had entrepreneurial giants such as Damro competing very successfully in India should look at empowering its individuals to strategise the reaping of best dividends of industrial and business corporation with India.

“I strongly believe that any fears that Sri Lankans have of ETCA should be addressed as a matter of priority. ETCA is meant for both Sri Lankans and Indians and one cannot override apprehension by one section of the people – in this case Sri Lankans – about the agreement and these should be comprehensively addressed,” he said.  The Minister maintained that if ETCA is used to its full advantage by Sri Lanka, the country could benefit from areas such as opportunities in the Information Technology industry where India is strong and capitalise in areas of exports to India such as in apparels and furniture. He denied that Information Technology related opportunities envisaged to be enabled for India and Sri Lanka through ETCA would hinder Lankan opportunities for the sector.

“Sri Lanka has talent in this sector and India is a leading entity in this area globally. Therefore both countries could look at aspects such as provision of employment and human capacity development in the IT sector where the future employment potential is for youth,” Minister Rao, said emphasising on local in-country policy making that would enable the development and improvement of human capacity development to create vibrant employment creators rather than passive employment seekers.

Following are excerpts of the interview:


By Frances Bulathsinghala

Q: In your address at the Human Capital Summit you spoke of the importance of the education system recognising the need to breed entrepreneurs to be creators of the future workforce. How is this quest approached in your State of Telangana and how is it contributing to Hyderabad, its capital?

A: Yes, I emphasised on the importance of governments creating avenues for entrepreneurship so that young people could be drivers of job creation. The Information Technology start up sector is one area which is attractive for young people and holds great opportunities in unleashing their creativity. But their ability and talent alone is not sufficient to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Many talents can get lost if not supported by active and visionary based policies. We in the State of Telangana focus emphatically on the IT sector and on supporting young people in their start-ups. Our goal is for Telangana to consistently be India’s largest hub for startups, assisting in the process of Hyderabad’s Information Technology (IT) and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) sector playing a vital role in putting India on the global map in the IT scene. 

To assist in the Telangana Government’s drive towards the above goal, where we focus on setting up export-oriented units, software technology parks and special economic zones to facilitate IT organisations, we have initiated a policy of taking care of all the basic requirements such as funding for start-up ideas that are interesting. We know that in this sector of Information Technology, there could be a rough 90% failure rate where tech startups are concerned. But we should not forget the power of the success of that 10% which has the power of IT job creation to compensate for many of the possible failures in the start-up industry.

Even a 1% of absolute success such as seen in the initiatives of Google and Facebook has such enormous power and it is these kind of startups that we need to be seeing our countries do. Keeping this in mind, we in the Government of Telangana have initiated our IT policy to provide all fiscal incentives and other concessions for youth who present outstanding IT innovation ideas. We actively search for investors for these startups and we also consider as vitally important that we ensure complete transparency in policies and procedures to ensure an investor-friendly platform and maintain among youth of Telangana the confidence in us that we can support them pursue their goals of IT entrepreneurship. 

We base our State’s policy within the overall policy framework of the Government of India to promote Information Technology investment regions in the country and the Government of Telangana has taken a lead initiative to identify and develop an area of about 202 Sq.Kms. in and around Hyderabad for the promotion of the IT industry. 

Q: Could you speak of specific IT entrepreneurship promotion initiatives in Telangana that engaged the private sector and the education sector?

A: The T-Hub initiative by the Government of Telangana has been one of the most successful initiatives that we introduced to set the background for the birth of the next wave of technology companies to go the full cycle of growth from seed stage to maturity.T Hub is India’s largest incubator for startups where we aggressively inculcate an atmosphere for start-up creation where youth of Telangana do not have to worry about the lack of money for investing in their venture and where other details of technical assistance are taken care of by us in a carefully structured out process. 

How we go about it is through a technology incubation centre, located at IIIT-Hyderabad campus in Gachibowli, Hyderabad. Here the T-Hub provides a central location for members of the local start-up community and investors to meet, network, learn, communicate, share and make business deals. We expect this initiative to draw more and more youngsters into it as T-Hub envisions the building of a stimulating entrepreneurial ecosystem for the future. We believe that educational institutes and the private sector are key stakeholders in the goal of IT entrepreneurship build up and that governments should find active and innovative ways of engaging with them. Therefore through the T Hub initiative we actively include key private sector leaders in our goal of creating the future leaders of IT industry while also bringing entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and mentors onto a single platform to enable better accessibility for young IT leaders. Overall, this initiative by the T Hub is geared at creating the best start-ups and entrepreneur organisations and IT related job creation of Hyderabad.We also established the Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge as an initiative by the Government of Telangana along with the private sector, to enable a platform between Government, academia and industry to enhance employability of youth. The academy functions as a non-profit organisation, setting the base for forging partnerships with colleges and corporates to create the environment needed for growth through faculty development, research and helps education institutes assimilate IT in education.  Also importantly, the academy which focuses on youth training on IT and related skills helps corporates gain access to trained youth for rewarding roles in the IT sector for it to develop dynamically. 

We believe in providing affordable IT training and IT development opportunities for youth so that we provide IT education for all irrespective of financial background of students, so keeping in line with this policy, the fees at the college are highly subsidised.

Q: In general how do you see the future for bilateral partnerships within South Asia?

A: There is a world of opportunity for active bilateral relationships within South Asia that is not just confined to paper. Between India and Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasises on the 500 billion dollar opportunity through partnership between Sri Lanka and South Indian States. We should approach these opportunities in absolute positivity while working to establish policies within our countries that will help South Asian nations to take best advantages of bilateral trade and other related agreements for better understanding and goodwill between SAARC.  Hyderabad in particular wants to use to its maximum its land locked advantage to be a logistical hub that engages other South Asian nations. India would welcome IT youth leaders and diverse industrialists and entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka to explore available opportunities and as we go forth to make our ties stronger. South Asia should look at establishing more dynamic mutual trade opportunities for better economic stability within the region.

Q. What is your opinion on the Indo-Sri Lanka Economic  and Technology Cooperation Agreement  - ETCA ?

A.   I believe that it will be beneficial to both India and Sri Lanka if there are attempts at complete transparency about it within the two countries it is meant for.  I understand there are apprehension among Sri Lankans regarding the agreement. In this case there should be attempts to provide Sri Lankans more clarity regarding the envisaged agreement and how it will be beneficial for the country. One cannot override the fears people may have and these fears could be detrimental to reaping the full dividends and potential of the agreement.

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