Feroz Ahmad Khan, Minister of State (Independent Charge) Information Technology, Science & Technology; Additional charge of School Education, Medical Education, Youth Services and Sports, Government of Jammu & Kashmir
We want to develop IT industry in the state not only for creation of propere Governance framework, but also for creation of new jobs for the local youth, says Feroz Ahmad Khan. In conversation with Anoop Verma, ENN
Along with your studies, you were active in many extracurricular activities during your school and college life. Tell us about the period of your life when you were a student.
While I was a student, I never thought of joining government service or politics. Even after completing my graduation, politics had not been my ambition. However, from the very beginning, I dreamed of working for social causes and providing help to the weaker sections of society, particularly to those who are residing in the Ladakh region, where I belong. I got involved in social activities while I was still in my teens. I was active in student union work and I made some contributions in battling orthodoxy and enriching the life of several individuals. During my college days I volunteered several times to provide assistance to people irrespective of their caste, creed, colour or religion. My college education had filled me with the idea that peaceful co-existence and communal harmony are most important. As spokesperson for the Student Association, I worked for strengthening the relationship between the utive body and student members. I coordinated and organised all kinds of fruitful activities for the students. I used to participate in the i n t e r- s t a t e debate competition. I was very much interested in cricket during my college days and several times I was nominated the man of the match. I was an active student, and I also developed an interest for swimming, yoga, volley ball, archery and trekking. I have won many tournaments in traditional archery. Drawing and painting were also of interest to me. I participated in several drawing and painting competitions during my school and college days.
How did you enter politics? Tell us about your political journey so far.
Before entering into active politics, I was working as Project Officer in an International NGO called Save the Children Fund, which was active in Kargil district. I worked here for more than Seven Years. I was also associated with few other NGOs that are working for improving the state of education, human rights, rural development and for helping downtrodden people in general. During the course of my work for NGOs, I had to enter into confrontation with many powerful people and departments. While working towords the safeguarding the human rights of the people, I often faced threats from powerful people, but I continued to do my work. I advocated the cause of the people by writing for various papers, journals, magazines and by organising seminars and conferences. In 2001, panchayat elections were held in the state and I was elected unopposed as the sarpanch of the village Silmo in Kargil district. This is how my political career started. I served as sarpanch for close to two years. In 2003, I was elected unopposed as the Councillor for Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. Then in 2008 I became affiliated with the National Conference and was once again elected nopposed for the same post. In October 2008, the assembly elections were declared, and the party high-command asked me to contest. So in December 2008, I filed for nomination from the Zanskar Constituency as a National Conference candidate and won the election. I was the MLA till 15th January 2013. After that I was inducted in the council of ministers and given the independent charge of Science and Technology, Information Technology Department, I was also given the independent charge of School Education, Medical Education, Youth Services and Sports.
In my opinion, the most burning issue for the state is unemployment
As an MLA and a Minister in the State Government, what are the main issues that you would like to focus on? In your opinion what are the main problems and challenges that the people of this state are facing?
In my opinion, the most burning issue for the state is unemployment. Once we are able to solve the problem of unemployment, the other problems will automatically get solved. The problem is that we have a very small private sector in the state. The youth are totally dependent on the government to get jobs. But there are only limited productive jobs that the government can provide. For tackling the unemployment problem, a large private sector is a must. The government has now started several programmes to help people who want to be self employed or start a small business. In our state, there is big scope in areas like animal husbandry, sheep husbandry and poultry farming. We are trying to promote such avenues for self-employment and small scale industries. IT industry can be a big source for jobs. But as of now we dont have any major private sector IT players in the state. Now the government is coming up with incentive schemes to encourage large IT companies to set up their development centres in the state. We are trying to encourage a closer interaction between the large IT companies of the country and the youth in the state, so that our young population becomes acquainted with the developments that are happening in the area of IT. In the times to come, the IT Department in the state will come up with a host of measures to encourage IT industry in the state. Tourism is already a well-developed industry in the state, but it needs to be promoted internationally for better outcomes.
Many states in the country have come up with IT Parks where large and small IT companies can set up their bases in a more convenient manner. Are you planning to develop IT Parks in the state?
We are already working for the development of few IT Parks in Srinagar and in other parts of the state. As of now we are not having enough response from the major IT companies, but we are sure that eventually everyone will realise the great potential for IT that Jammu & Kashmir has. The state is now working to develop its IT policy. Once IT Policy is in place, the private sector will find it easier to set up its development centres in the state. Recently I had held discussions with the Commissioner IT about taking the IT Parks to other districts in the state so that everyone is able to equally benefit from the development that takes place.
Being an MLA and a social activist, you get the chance to meet a lot of people in the state. What kind of feedback are you receiving from the people about IT in general? Are the people in the state enthusiastic about IT?
Nowadays most people realise the benefits that can be drawn from IT. The youth in the state has definitely warmed up to IT. However, the state is yet to develop its own IT policy and that is why the bigger IT companies are unable to set up their bases here. There are hardly any private sector jobs in IT, so the youth is studying other subjects, which they think will lead them to good government jobs. The scenario can change once the private sector in IT gets developed, as it will lead to the creation of many new non-governmental jobs.
Some states are now coming up with policies to distribute free laptops and tablets. Do you think that we should have similar initiatives in Jammu & Kashmir?
In my opinion, we should start distributing free laptops and tablets. But such a policy is yet to be drafted. We are also working for taking broadband to all corners of the state. In places like Kargil, which have a difficult terrain, we are trying to connect the schools with Block Headquarters. We have already provided broadband and computers to the schools from our (Constituency Development Fund) CDF. We will be providing free laptops to the students who cant afford it.
Is the IT Department in the state taking any initiative to ensure that the people in the state have easy access to the best possible trainings in IT?
We are keenly focussed on the aspect of training our people in IT. We are encouraging the development of public and private institutions for imparting training to students and other sections of the population. The IT Department is closely monitoring the training of the employees in various government departments. In Srinagar and Jammu we have our institute where recently more than 100 KAS officers got their training in Information Technology. Currently we have sent a proposal to the Planning Department for creation of institutions where students can get trained in IT.
What is the situation of e-Governance in the state? What are the ways by which there can be an expansion in the scope of e-Governance?
e-Governance will not be able to fully develop in the state until we make IT as a priority sector. We have to have in place a seamless system of connectivity between different government departments in all parts of the state. We will also have to make it easier for people to access the web based facilities from different government departments. For instance, sitting in Secretariat in Jammu or Srinagar, I should be able to interact with district or block level officials in Kargil and in other parts of the state. Once this kind of system has been developed, then we can proudly announce that we are now having e-Governance in Jammu & Kashmir. We need to develop lot of systems before a proper system of e- Governance can become a reality.
What is the situation of connectivity in Ladakh?
In Ladakh the connectivity is not good. In few areas there is connectivity through BSNLs network, but mostly Ladakh is not properly connected. Usually this area remains out of contact with the outer world. But we are hopeful that things will improve in near future.
Now the IT Department in the state has started working vigorously for implementation of lot of critical e-Governance systems. The State Data Centre (SDC) is ready. The implementation of the State Wide Area Network (SWAN) is underway. How do you see the developments in e-Governance happening in the times to come?
I think that the IT sector is growing at a fairly fast pace. It is a good thing that it is growing like this. We are here to ensure that the growth does not falter due to any reason. The change that will come due to developments in IT and due to e-Governance can lead to huge benefits for the people. The SDC and the SWAN projects will contribute towards bringing the government closer to the people. I see lot of good things happening in the state with e-Governance becoming a reality. With proper deployment of IT, the people in the state will finally be able to enjoy the fruits of peace and prosperity.