Sam Pitroda is a technocrat, entrepreneur and policymaker who had begun the telecom revolution in India during the Rajiv Gandhi era. Born in Titlagarh Odisha to a Gujarati family, Pitroda’s early life was spent in Odisha.
On the occasion of the release of his autobiography, Manoranjan Mishra, Editor, Kanak News interviewed this innovator, who spoke on Odisha’s economy, poverty and his dream for a better Odisha.
Some excerpts from the discussion:
Develop Knowledge Centres in Odisha
If given a choice, I’d like to work and build knowledge institutions in Odisha. Ravenshaw college and Utkal university are just universities. We create knowledge there, but we do not create the implied wealth there. So next to knowledge centers, you build knowledge cities where you invite companies to research, innovate, like MIT and Standford University in Silicon Valley. So we build knowledge infrastructure around these universities and thus generate employment, new products, and services. As a result, you will also create wealth. I had given this proposal to the government 7-8 years ago; I had met Naveen Patnaik, and worked the Education Minister. It did not go too far. If today, the Odisha government shows interest to build such a knowledge city, I’d definitely devote time.
I met the governor today and reiterated my earlier proposal of establishing these knowledge centres in Utkal University and Ravenshaw. Odisha needs that. We will get foreign investment. But we need to propose a plan, make a blue print. It will be good for Odisha, the entrepreneurs here, for employment generation and the youth.
“Ravenshaw and Utkal University have to be more than education centres. They need knowledge centres. I am prepared to draw up a plan for it. But, without a local champion here, I can’t do much.”
Odisha is connected
A major change in Odisha today is connectivity. It is very well connected. But we need to use this connectivity to improve education, agriculture, health services, and financial condition, as connectivity is a big asset.
Everybody who has been focusing on eradication of poverty has resorted to the traditional approach. However, technological tools such as communication are at our disposal. For instance, broadband is being promoted worldwide by the UN to eradicate poverty. It can be used to educate oneself, provide health services (telemedicine) to poor people in villages and learn more about agricultural markets.
Secondly, we have hungry people in Kalahandi, even though food is in surplus. We need a database as to find out who are the ones going hungry in Kalahandi and in what time frame can we provide them with food. Therefore, we need the government be more transparent, accessible and accountable. All this needs communication.
Agriculture is Odisha’s Biggest Strength
Create new jobs that will in turn improve productivity and efficiency. Agriculture is Odisha’s biggest strength. To create new jobs, Odisha has to be creative in the agricultural sector in terms of food storage, processing, distribution and also gauge the market. Odisha also has a rich cultural heritage. It depends on how we create a market for the artists. Technology will aid in marketing, distribution, delivery and promotion. With technology, you can go global.
Strengthening Odisha’s Economy
The government has to decide on the creation of a new developmental model. They can continue with the old model or create a new one with the focus on technology and connectivity. For example in USA, there are schools without teachers; they are completely technology driven. Comparatively, they are not expensive either. It is a change in the mindset. Can we make sure that every village has access to a doctor through technology? One might argue that doctors are apprehensive of being posted in remote areas like Kalahandi. So why not diagnose via telephone? That’s the idea behind telemedicine.
Gujarat vs. Odisha
Odias have been explorers in 13-14th century. They had trade and commerce relations with Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Sri Lanka, Malaya, Vietnam and China. But Guajaratis, recently went to Africa, Europe, America and Middle East. They persisted in their efforts to strengthen their trade relations. They focused on trade and Gujarat ended up with 2-3 huge ports, capitalized on port industry and eventually moved on to large scale petrochemical industry. So Gujarat’s growth is basically in some industries: chemicals (Baroda), diamonds (Surat), pharmaceutical (Ahmedabad), ports in Kandla and refinery (Jamnagar).
Gujarat model of development is nothing new. It has been around for 50 years now. It was prosperous from Jivraj Mehta’s (first CM of Gujarat) time. Like Maharashtra, it has been on the forefront of growth.
I do not want to blame anybody—neither the government nor the people. I believe Odisha can grow at 10 per cent. For that we need to make a plan, work on it and sell it to the world. We need to focus on agriculture, fisheries, mining, ship building, etc.
“To promote trade and business, the government and the people have to be equally involved. You need the support of the government and local entrepreneurs and they, in turn need to work hand in hand.”
If the Odisha government asks for my help, I will be happy to work and advise. It is my homeland and birthplace. I don’t need anything in lieu of that help.
The Corruption Malaise
I am unable to comment on corruption here in Odisha, as I have never worked here. But believe me, it is a problem everywhere in the world.
Dreaming big for Odisha
I would like Odisha to grow at 10 per cent and be on the forefront of states in India. “Odisha has everything possible. We just need a new blueprint, a new plan, a document. It can be done. I am willing to do it.” But after that it has to be everybody’s blueprint. Journalists will comment, people will debate and discuss and finally we decide that this is what we want Odisha to be in the next 10 years.
On his autobiography, ‘Dreaming Big: My Journey To Connect India’
My book consists of three parts. First part is about my family, Titlagarh, Odisha, my fundamentals, education, Gujarat and my foundation, culture, character, Gandhian values, going to America, getting married and starting a business. Second part focuses on dreams, democracy and development. Third part is about reflection, Rajiv Gandhi’s death, my heart attack and the move back to America and finally my role in the National Knowledge Commission. My book is for the college students, young entrepreneurs, and business students, professionals in banking industry and for anybody who wants to be a good leader or manager and take risks. It talks about creating jobs and taking charge of your life, not blaming everybody. Stop looking for somebody to help you. It is easy to blame the world for your failures. Help yourself. Take charge of your life.