Telangana's plans to get internet to 36 mn people and other initiatives have many lessons for other states

For a state that is less than three years old, these are a lot of initiatives using technology as a backbone. Things should only get better from here. In Telangana's ambitious drive, lie lessons for many states, to push the envelope of technologically-backed development initiatives.

Telangana, a state that was formed in 2014 after secceding from Andhra Pradesh, is leading from the front when it comes to embracing technology. It's optical fibre project for instance is expected to bring internet to 36mn people. The Telangana Fibre Grid, a project similar to the one carried out in Andhra Pradesh, has so far covered 2,500km. This is just one of the many initiatives by the newly formed state.

Piggy backing on infrastructure projects

The Telangana government had launched its Digital Telangana program within six months of the state's formation. Since then, there has been no looking back on this front. One of the initiative taken up by Telangana chief minister KC Rao was to lay down pipelines to ensure that clean water reached every part of Telangana. This is the Mission Bhageeratha program.

Telangana's IT minister KT Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR, suggested that these same ducts, in which the water pipeline was to be laid, could also be used for laying down the fibre optic cables to take internet to all corners of Telangana. Mission Bhageeratha plans to have 1.25 lakh km of water grid pipeline, which is a big initiative. While the project of laying down the water pipeline and optic fiber cable was to begin simultaneously, there was a miscommunication between departments.

In July 2016 when Rao took a review meeting regarding the project, he was shocked to learn that around 3500km of water pipeline had been laid, without fibre grid ducts. That error has been rectified and things are on track now.

Focussed IT Minister

Telanganas plans to get internet to 36 mn people and other initiatives have many lessons for other states

Image: @MinIT_Telangana (twitter)

Hyderabad has been a top IT destination in the country. A lot of the credit for that has to go to N Chandrababu Naidu, who was the chief minister of the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh. From 1995 to 2004, Naidu brought in a lot of reform and focussed on the use of IT. He continues to do that in his current stint as Andhra Pradesh chief minister as well. His initiatives are in a large part responsible for the thriving IT hub that Hyderabad has come to be known as now.

Since the formation of Telangana, Hyderabad still remains the capital. The new state's IT minister, Rao is surely carrying forward the legacy of an IT focussed Hyderabad and applying it to the whole of Telangana state.

"To leverage the Information Technology not only for effective and efficient governance, but also for sustainable economic development and inclusive social development," says the vision on the official page of Rao. The inclusive social development aspect is quite evident through the Telangana Fibre Grid project which will bring internet connectivity to the last mile. The Telangana Fibre Grid project is expected to reach 22,000 villages.

Speaking to WiredRao said, "There will be a paradigm shift in the way you could communicate both on the account of health and education, because these two are really what burden the rural households."

The cost of around $800mn is expected to be paid in part by private companies. To that extent this project is a public-private initiative. According to Sujai Karampuri, who is overlooking the project, the state hopes to recover costs by leasing the network to private telecoms.

This makes a lot of sense in terms of the cost saved. Recently, the government of Maharashtra also piggybacked on an infrastructure project to kick off its city wide Wi-Fi operations in Mumbai. The optic fibre cables were already being laid out along with the cabled that were being laid out for Mumbai's CCTV project. This not only saved a lot of time, but also money.

Clearly piggy backing on existing infrastructure projects and planning in advance to achieve a scale is a lesson that should be emulated in more states. Specially with the push towards Smart Cities, such innovations and planning will have to become a norm.

Getting investments from top tech players

Image: Reuters

Image: Reuters

Rao has been instrumental in bringing a lot of investments in Telangana. Here are some of the more prominent players he has got on board:

  • US chipmaker AMD has agreed to partner with VLSI Academy, proposed to be set up by the government of Telangana. As AMD plans to focus on graphics, virtual reality, gaming and manufacturing, the IT minister briefed the officials about the state’s initiatives in these sectors. He invited the company to partner with IMAGE, the gaming and animating city being developed by the state government here and explained why Hyderabad is an ideal destination for gaming and animation.
  • Telangana has signed an MoU with Microsoft, to improve citizen services. Microsoft India will work with the state government to support the development of cloud and mobile-based solutions and support the use of machine learning and advanced visualization to help solve challenges in the fields of education, agriculture and healthcare.
  • Under Rao's leadership, Hyderabad is now home to the largest start-up incubator in the country – T-Hub. A 70,000 square feet facility constructed with an investment of Rs 40 crore in the first phase, the T-Hub can house up to 300 start-ups and provide a futuristic workspace for up to 800 people at once.

Apart from this Rao has also handles state ministries such as municipal administration and urban development, industry and commerce, mining and NRI affairs. He is expected to be touring Japan and South Korea from 18 January to seek investments in the areas of electronics and automotive engineering. There are plans to have Hyderabad city covered with 3000 Wi-Fi  hotspots by end of next month.

Local initiatives

An app launched by Rao's government called m-Wallet does away with the need for motorists to carry their physical vehicle registration certificates and documents while driving. It also enables papers of multiple vehicles owned by the same person to be stored digitally in one place. This app developed by a startup, Radikal Tribe, and popularised by the Telangana government, has impressed the central government enough to want to implement it at a national level.

It is pertinent for government bodies to identify local startup talent and provide mentorship, either in the form of monetary help, or by giving them a platform to try out their app or service across the state level. This gives a lot of insights not just to the developers but also the government as to where the areas for improvements are.

Another brainchild of KTR, the Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge (TASK) has enabled around 40,000 out of the 75,000 engineering graduates turn readily employable for industry during 2015-16. According to KTR, TASK should be mandated to create a workforce of 100,000 by the year 2022 creating a sustainable ecosystem of job creation.

For a state that is less than three years old, these are a lot of initiatives using technology as a backbone. Things should only get better from here. In Telangana's ambitious drive, lie lessons for many states, to push the envelope of technologically-backed development initiatives.

Odisha is already modelling its startup hub on the lines of T-Hub in Hyderabad, which is a validation of the good work being done in Telangana.

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