The much talked about second cabinet reshuffle and expansion of the Narendra Modi government is over. And it has thrown some very curious talking points.
One of them is about the introduction of an interesting innovation – a separate Ministry of Communications.
The routine practice so far has been about clubbing together these two elements of the communication ecology – telecommunication and information-technology – in a single ministry. Manmohan Singh had his Communications & Information-Technology minister in the government that was followed by Narendra Modi who appointed Ravi Shankar Prasad as the Communications & Information Technology minister when he formed the government in May 2014.
That is not the case anymore.
Manoj Sinha who was a junior Railways Minister so far has been promoted as the Minister of State (Independent Charge), Communications in addition to his old portfolio, ie., MoS (Railways).
Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was the Communications & Information Technology minister so far, is now Electronics & Information Technology minister along with the additional charge of the Ministry of Law & Justice.
And before the July 5 reshuffle, the economically vital sectors of any country in the modern times – telecommunication and information-technology – fell under his purview.
Now that there is a separate Ministry of Communications – the pressing question is – what this ministry would look after?
As telecommunication has been removed from the ambit of the Electronics & Information Technology ministry and put under the Communications ministry, we come across some pertinent questions.
A Google search on the definition of Communications says – “means of sending or receiving information, such as telephone lines or computers”.
Furthermore, the Wikipedia writes about the Information & Communications Technologies (ICT) as – “Information and communications technology (ICT) is an extended term for information technology (IT) which stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals), computers as well as necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audio-visual systems, which enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information”.
It means the Communications ministry should cover the telecommunication sector as well as the computing technologies, i.e., internet (means of sending or receiving information). At least that should be the case – going by the available definitions in the related literature.
But then what Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad would do with his Electronics & Information Technology ministry?
Google search about the term information technology returns with the following definition – “the study or use of systems (especially computers and telecommunications) for storing, retrieving, and sending information.”
While it defines ‘electronics’ as – “the branch of physics and technology concerned with the design of circuits using transistors and microchips, and with the behaviour and movement of electrons in a semiconductor, conductor, vacuum, or gas”.
In simple terms, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology also concerns with the telecommunication sector and the computing technologies. It would create problems if the roles are not properly demarcated and defined then.
Also, the Government of India web directory page on the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology shows that the Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY), Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Department of Posts together form the Ministry.
So, there is a clear case of overlapping in the functional areas of the now separated Communications ministry and the Information Technology ministry. And this functional overlapping has been the reason, so far, behind clubbing all the communication technologies together in a ministry.
In a communications ecology increasingly dominated by smartphones along with the growing penetration of information technology in everyday life – something that is again driven by telecom revolution in India – DeitY and DoT must coordinate and act together to ensure an efficient monitoring environment. Also, we need to keep in mind here that almost all the major telecom firms are also big internet service providers.
How would they feel if they are regulated by two separate ministries now – as DoT is now under the Ministry of Communications while DeitY remains under the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology?
In other words, there would be two ministries to approach now – one ministry for the telecommunication related practices – and the other ministry for data issues – and the related baggage of dealing with two functional heads and the trail of manpower that follows them. It can simply turn out to be a too difficult to handle.
And where would the Department of Post would go?
A separate Ministry of Communications sounds good but the government needs to answer these questions first. Obviously, the government would have thought on this line. Let’s see the blueprint it comes out with.