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Indian origin diplomat Australia’s new high commissioner to India

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Canberra/New Delhi:  A senior career diplomat of Indian origin, Harinder Sindhu, was on Thursday named Australia’s new high commissioner to India.

She will replace Patrick Suckling in New Delhi and will have non-resident accreditation to Bhutan as well.

She is the third Indian-origin envoy in India, after the US and Canadian envoys and the second Indian-origin Australian high commissioner in India.

“India is one of Australia’s closest and most significant partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop stated while making the announcement.

“It is our 10th largest trading partner and our two-way investment is worth over $20 billion,” she stated.
Bishop said that Australia would continue to push for the conclusion of a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement with India, designed to take the economic relationship between the two countries to a new level.
“Australia also has strong strategic and defence ties with India, conducting our first bilateral maritime exercises in 2015. There are also over 450,000 people of Indian descent currently residing in Australia driving our strong education, cultural and tourism links,” Bishop said.

Sidhu is a senior career officer with the Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, most recently serving as first assistant secretary of the Multilateral Policy Division.

She has previously served overseas in Moscow and Damascus. Sidhu’s previous roles included first assistant secretary in the Department of Climate Change, assistant director-general in the Office of National Assessments and senior advisor in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

She holds a bachelor of laws and a bachelor of economics degree from the University of Sydney.

In a separate statement, the Australian High Commission in New Delhi said that it would welcome Sidhu to India as the Australian high commissioner-designate next week .

It quoted Sidhu as saying that she was looking forward to her new role in a dynamic country.

“India is one of the most exciting places for a diplomat to be at the moment. India’s economic prospects are bright and it is becoming a more influential and active international player,” she was quoted as saying.

“The Australia-India relationship has grown substantially over the past few years and I will dedicate myself to building that relationship further,” she said.

“At a personal level, I have always been fascinated by the country of my heritage and am keen to learn more about India – its language, culture and history – while I am there.”

Both of Sidhu’s parents are from Punjab and her father was born in India.

Sidhu was born in Singapore and settled in Australia with her family as a child.

She speaks a little Punjabi and Hindi but is looking forward to the opportunity to become more fluent, according to the high commission statement.

One of Sidhu’s first tasks in the job is likely to be hosting the Australian men’s and women’s cricket teams in India for the T20 cricket World Cup next month, it added.(IANS)

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

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Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)