The Union Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tells NewsX’s Managing Editor on how telecom networks have held despite many people staying at home.
Q. Why is it important to download the Aarogya Setu App?
A. We must understand Digital India is an important program of Government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is himself tech savvy and understands the power of technology. India has a population of 130 crore plus and home to nearly 120 crore mobile phones. Aarogya Setu is an app you download which gives you a system whereby you know you are okay if it is green, if you come in contact with some person who is likely to be impacted, the colour will change. If you come in contact with someone afflicted, it will turn red. Therefore, you can digitally map your Covid-19 condition. How it works is that if a person is detected positive usually later on, this process alerts everyone he has met or come in contact. They will be told that you have come in contact with a person who has tested positive, be on guard, undertake isolation and take appropriate measures. Let me clarify, the privacy issue has been taken good care of. You have to give your consent before installing it on your mobile phone. Therefore, the world bodies and WHO are appreciating this development by my department in IT, NIC
Q. How we can mobilise AI and technology and use it for national service? How will this benefit people? We were also discussing how difficult is to do contact tracing with share labour involved with this app. How would that become easier?
A. This is an innovative product which is homegrown, no foreign element and developed by Indian innovators with Indian administrators and an Indian system. The alert system will be completely sensitized. Suppose one person goes to Patna or Lucknow and returns, and is found to be positive. Then the system will alert them on the movement part because they will be also captured in this. This works on smartphones and for feature phones, we have got Aarogya IVRS that also is an automatic system. If you give a missed call, it alerts you, guides you and counsels you. It is available in all languages and started with Tamil Nadu Government and the rest are following it. The third thing which I wanted you to know is that working from home is a new norm. We have facilitated by relaxing rules and I am happy to tell you that as per Nasscom projection nearly 85 to 90% work of India›s IT services is now being done from home. I have asked my department in the IT to come with robust architecture whereby working from home becomes new norm. And lastly one thing, more video conferencing must be an innovation of India. Therefore, I approve the scheme where we are launching a competition where start-up entrepreneurs can join. We will pick 10, give them a grant of Rs 5 lakh, of which we will pick up 3 and give them a grant of Rs 20 lakh and the best would be selected. They will be given a further Rs 1 crore incentive so that video conferencing can become a new norm.
Q. Despite the increase in working from home, our telecom networks and our ISPs have not failed since the lockdown started. How has this been managed and what needs to be done to replicate this?
A. Tough monitoring and incentivizing them right through the occasion. Since people are at home, they are using internet more now and there was a lot of load on video. We sensitized all players to relax high definition a little so that it takes lesser load. I am happy to share that they incorporated this and the load on mobile data consumption has come down to nearly 50 to 60%.
Q. You made the announcement a few days ago and from our understanding, you are sensitizing postal workers so that medicine sent by post is prioritised. How will this work out?
A. It is already working out. Let me explain, I held a meeting by video conferencing with the chief post master general and chief general manager of BSNL and also the other postal departments. I told the postal department that please ensure the delivery of food to the needy and poor of the country and I want to place on record my deep appreciation to postal operators from postmasters to postmen, all of them worked enormously. Whenever they got a complaint that people are hungry, they reached the areas because postal department has the reach. Then I found that they are already delivering medicines and other equipment through cargo planes. They are doing a good job and I found that life-saving drugs are becoming a big problem because normal drugs are available. For instance, a man was sending a life-saving drug to his retired army major father in the hills of Uttarakhand. Now he approached me and asked how will I send this life-saving drug to my father, who has kidney ailments. I asked my postal department to work it out and later it was delivered. Similarly in Madhya Pradesh, a cancer patient was not getting his drugs from Mumbai. I ensured that the medicine should be delivered, thereafter I asked postal secretary to have a suitable mechanism where if someone wants to transfer or send life-saving drugs to an area where it is needed, and where the lockdown prevents its sending, to use speed post or other system and deliver.
Q. How does one avail this facility, should we mark on the envelope that these are life-saving drugs or essential medicines? How will post offices know that this is important and are on high priority, how should we inform them?
A. First of all, it is for emergency drugs. Suppose it›s a cancer drug or any particular person is delivering drugs to them. We take the drugs from the person when the people who wants the drugs approach this system and at a legitimate cost, a minimum cost, this system delivers the drugs. We are doing it like this because postal operation is exempt from lockdown.
Q. Apart from Aarogya Setu app, what more can we do?
A. In fact, I would like to tell you that we have got MyGov platform, which is open for all Indians in which we are offering the people of this country to come up with innovative ideas. You have seen the Prime Minister appealing to young scientists and young professional innovators to come up with ideas and medicines to combat this virus. During these tough times, you must create hope. We shall overcome and the leadership of the Prime Minister and the entire country. We must put on record that it›s a rare moment in the history of India that Team India is working as one. Prime Minister and Chief Ministers regardless of the political divide. Other people also, including the civil society, and you have seen how lockdown is causing inconvenience. But the people of India have themselves accepted that if the lockdown needs to be extended for their life, they must continue to generate hope. I am sure the inherent talent and sense of enterprise of Indians will surely overcome the danger posed by coronavirus.