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India will be global benchmark in IT, data Bill likely next year, says Union minister Vaishnaw

Government had withdrawn Personal Data Protection Bill during Monsoon session this year.  Protecting users will be at core while drafting new legislation, he asserts.

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Ahmedabad: The Centre is hoping to bring a comprehensive personal data protection Bill in the Budget session of Parliament next year, Union minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said.

In an interview with ThePrint, Vaishnaw also spoke about how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aims to fend off anti-incumbency of 27 years in poll-bound Gujarat and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well as shared insights on 5G auction and modernisation of the Indian Railways.

On data security, Vaishnaw — who is the minister for Railways, Communications and Electronics & IT — said a consensus is emerging that safeguarding the privacy of internet users should be the utmost priority of governments around the globe.

Talking about his other portfolio, he said the Railway ministry is confident of launching the country’s first bullet train by 2026. Even the Japanese are amazed at the pace at which work on the project is underway, he added.

Also Read: World ready to be led by Modi, next 25 years crucial for India, says minister Jitendra Singh

Data Protection Bill, 5G auctions

“After the [2017] Supreme Court judgment, the fundamental rights of citizens are protected…. We hope we will bring a comprehensive bill on data security in the Budget session since it has become an issue of utmost importance,” Vaishnaw told ThePrint.

The Personal Data Protection Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 11 December, 2019 and referred to a Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) which presented its report on 16 December, 2021. However, the government withdrew the Bill during the Monsoon session this year, citing the need for a new Bill that “fits into the comprehensive legal framework” in accordance with the JCP’s 81 amendments and 12 recommendations.

“The entire world is concerned about its citizens’ data. There is a consensus on protecting data of online users. We should make as much use of technology as we can, but a mechanism should be in place to protect users,” he said. “We are framing rules, drafting legislation on the same principle — protecting our users.” 

The minister said that the outcome of the auction for the 5G spectrum held in August exceeded the government’s expectations. “We were expecting [bids of] Rs 80,000-85,000 crore from the auction but it came out to be upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh crore. It was far from our expectations, and [bidding was] done more transparently and rapidly, and its harmonisation [roll-out] was done very smoothly,” he said.

Reliance Jio emerged as the top bidder in the 5G auction, spending ₹88,078 crore to acquire nearly half of all the airwaves. Bharti Airtel came second with a winning bid of ₹43,084 crore.

5G “will change how we experience the fields of healthcare, education, agriculture and logistics”, Vaishnaw said.

“PM Modi has said that India should be a global leader in the telecom sector, and we are working in that direction. For 4G and 5G technology, we have made stacks [protocols working together to allow software or hardware to perform a function] end-to-end. Only five countries have end-to-end technology and India is one of them.”

The government, he reiterated, has sanctioned a Rs 1.64 lakh crore  revival package for Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), adding that BSNL is working to connect every single village in the country to the grid.

Institutional transparency was brought in within BSNL after initiating structural reforms in the state-owned telcom company, and the Centre is now working on changing the legal framework, he said. “Rules for procedural reform will be announced in 10-15 days.”

“The PM gave us a task to become a leader in technology and regulation. He said that India should set a global benchmark. Other countries should come here and learn from India, they should come here to copy our regulatory and technological framework — these aims are at the heart of our efforts in telecom and IT departments.”

Bullet train, redevelopment of train stations

Vaishnaw said his ministry plans to redevelop 200 railway stations across the country to make them a “hub of activity”.

PM Modi’s vision was to turn the station into a “city centre,” he said, adding that 18 railway stations are being redeveloped in Gujarat. “Work has already begun at Surat railway station, Udhna junction and four others, while tenders for the remaining have been issued.”

On the much-anticipated bullet train project, Vaishnaw told ThePrint: “The project is going on in line with the 2026 timeline. We have laid pillars, and the track will be laid very soon. Even the Japanese government was amazed at our pace since progress [on bullet train] in Taiwan has been much slower than us.”

Pillars have been erected along 92 km of the bullet train’s proposed route in Gujarat and tracks will be laid down along the route soon, he said.

The minister also underlined how the Vande Bharat service has transformed train travel in the country. “It was the vision of the PM that the average traveller should get world-class experience. It [Vande Bharat] was designed and made in India. A great example of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat.”

‘Seva, sushasan & garib kalyan’

Asked if the AAP could emerge as a poll challenger to the BJP in Gujarat, Vaishnaw said the “people have seen and trust Modi’s work”, which, he said, is not the case with the AAP.

“The PM has created a new dimension in politics: seva, sushasan and garib kalyan [service, good governance and welfare of the poor]. The BJP’s politics is that of antyodaya.”

Citing the Ujjwala Yojana, he said the idea behind the scheme is to ensure that no woman faces trouble while cooking. Similarly, he highlighted the government’s other pro-welfare measures such as the Har Ghar Nal Yojana.

Asked if the BJP is facing anti-incumbency in Gujarat, Vaishnaw told ThePrint: “The mood is pro-incumbency, and it can be observed on the ground when we visit the state and meet people.”

On his experience of working as deputy secretary in the office of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and now as a minister with Modi, he said, “Hum BJP karyakarta hain, samay ke saath sab dhal jataein hein [we are BJP workers; everyone adapts with time].”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Not just Modi, Gujarat BJP’s banking on CR Paatil’s ‘82-lakh army’ to micromanage state polls


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