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In Conversation With Pradeep Gupta

Ranjani Saigal

Pradeep Gupta is Managing Director of CyberMedia. He has over 27 years of experience in the IT industry. Well networked in the IT and media industry in India, he has provided strategic consultancy to the Indian Government to formulate India's software export strategy.

Pradeep Gupta is also General Partner of Infinity Venture Fund and on the Investment Management Committee of Punjab Ventures. He is Ex-Chairman of eGurucool.com And a founder member of the Association of Indian Magazines, a Charter Member, TiE and Co-Chair Pan IIT Executive Committee.

He is a graduate in Electrical Engineering from I.I.T. Delhi and a PGDIM from I.I.M. Calcutta and recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award of IIT Delhi, 2001.

He talked to Lokvani about his work at CyberMedia, PANIIT and his view on the reservations issue in India.

Can you tell us a little about CyberMedia? What motivated you to start a media company?

Cyber Media a specialty media house, with eleven publications in infotech, telecom, consumer electronics and biotech areas.The group's Media business includes the print titles Dataquest, PCQuest, Voice&Data, BioSpectrum, Global Services, Living Digital, DQ Channels India and DQ Week. Cyber India On-Line India's largest technology website, and includes online editions of all CyberMedia titles. CyberMedia Events, the region's largest organizer of IT events, conducts over 100 events every year. CyberMedia TV develops knowledge-oriented general interest programs on mass channels.

After completing my engineering at IIT and my PGDIM at IIM Calcutta, I joined HCL way back in 1977.  The IT business was then at its nascent stage. and there were great opportunities for entrepreneurs.. After three years at HCL, I branched out on my own and started a small infotech company, which is known as SQL Star these days.

In the late '70s and early '80s,  while there was a mad rush to get into the infotech space the industry suffered from a total lack of information. As a player myself, I was acutely aware of this reality. Around the same time, a couple of friends at Delhi's Defence Colony, were planning to bring out a newsletter, titled 'Livestock Times'. For me, it was an eye-opener. I was struck by the idea of bringing out a newsletter for the information technology industry. The newsletter turned to be a magazine, and that's how our first offering Dataquest was launched.

You are the Chairman of PAN IIT India. Could you tell us about the organization and what it has accomplished in India?

PanIIT-India is the umbrella Indian Institute of Technology Alumni organization which has representatives from among the alumni of all seven IIT’s. PanIIT-India has currently its headquarters in Delhi.  We organize Global IIT Alumni conferences.  The first one was held in 2004 in Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, We have one that is coming up in December in Mumbai.  IIT Alumni have accomplished a great deal in their careers and they hope to use this organization as a vehicle to help propel development in India.

Different bodies of the government often engage with us for advice on technology related issues.  We have a “Future of Computing Initiative” that describes the right architecture for a developing country. We have worked with the knowledge commission. We have group looking into rural transformation. The group will present concrete proposals in approximately 6-8 months.

The new reservation proposal seems to have created a lot of nervousness amongst students attending institutions of excellence like the IITs. Could you give us the background for this bill?

Under the 1950 Constitution of India, 15% of educational and civil service seats were reserved for "scheduled castes" and 7.5% for "scheduled tribes." Later there were other backward class commissions set up to examine the issue and there were recommendation that made the reservations almost 60%.   In 1963, the Supreme Court of India ruled that total reservations could not exceed 50%.

In 1980, the Mandal  commission's report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of lower castes (known as Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Scheduled Castes and Tribes were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them by 27% to 49.5. This number was suggested so as stay within the 50% limit imposed by the Supreme Court. The recent bill proposes implementation of the 27%  reservation for OBC in the IITs and other institutions of excellence.  

Could you give us PAN IIT’s view on this issue?

The PanIIT alumni organizations, are strongly supportive of affirmative action and creating equal opportunity for all. We admire the Government’s allocation of resources and appointment of an advisory panel for examining these issues, and urge the government to include members of the PanIIT Alumni Association on the panel. However, we do not believe a system of reservations is the correct approach to achieve educational reform, and we oppose the creation of reservation quotas for OBC. For five reasons, we urge the government to adopt alternative approaches to delivering change:

1) Meritocracy, not discrimination, should be our guiding principle for educational reform. Reservations and quotas along the lines of caste, creed, ethnicity etc. have only served to divide people. Such measures are regressive and counter-productive to the fundamental goals of social change. Reform should be achieved through fundamental changes in the methods in which opportunities are created for all people – regardless of caste, creed, religion, sex or social orientation.

2) The current system of quotas is ineffective: The quotas are not working today: There is evidence that the IITs are unable to fulfill the existing quota for candidates from SC/ST, and there is a significant drop-out rate among students admitted to the IITs through this system.

3) As Institutes of National Importance, IITs should be focused on excellence based on merit: THE INSTITUTES OF TECHNOLOGY ACT, 1961 declared the IITs to be institutions of national importance and provided the legal framework for their administration and functioning. From the beginning, the vision that guided the IITs was that these should be institutions of excellence in technology, education and research, educating a group of Indians to be globally competitive. As such, they were designed to teach those students who demonstrate the greatest academic merit in the JEE exam, irrespective of background. Instead of applying quotas to the IITs, reforms should focus on delivering quality mass education at primary level to all Indians.

4)  Reservations would compromise the national interest: Through the great vision with which the IITs were created under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and the nurturing of subsequent administrations, IITs have gained worldwide brand recognition for excellence. This hard-won reputation has played a key role in the rising international esteem for India and Indians in recent years. The current and future leaders of India should preserve and enhance this great brand by steadfastly pursuing the highest standards of education. Anything else would be against our national interest.

5)  IITs need to enhance their standards: The Review Committee, appointed by the Government of India, under the chairmanship of Prof Rama Rao, assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the IITs, and proposed a new vision to guide them in the coming decades. Although it pointed out that the reputation of the IITs is based, among other things, on the achievements of its alumni, this would not be sufficient for future success. To be an important part of the knowledge economy, India would need the IITs to become institutions of knowledge creation and cutting-edge research. To achieve this goal, it is essential that the IITs remain meritocratic in the JEE exam selection process, as well as addressing the acute shortage of faculty and inadequate infrastructure such as hostel rooms, student facilities and research labs.

The PanIIT Alumni association is united in its commitment to the need to work with underprivileged groups. We will bring the resources of our association to work with the government to help implement programs that achieve the goals of social reform.

Thanks for your time

Thank you.


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