India has the world's most number of domestic TV news channels (over 200), which shouldn't come as much of a surprise given that the quarterly report
(for Jan-Mar) from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
(TRAI) has revealed, that there are now 503 channels broadcasting in the country. This includes 147 pay channels distributed by 24 broadcasters. 18 new channels alone were added during the first three months of the year. Now contrast this picture with that of exactly twenty years ago. There was only one state-owned broadcaster for the entire country, the Indian equivalent of the Beeb, and therein ended the similarity. Doordarshan
or DD for short (and lit. Faraway Vision
) still exists and has vastly improved, but it has been largely overshadowed by its private rivals. Yet with only 21.3 million dwellings connected to DTH
services, DD continues to perform an important public service to the 100+ million dwellings with access to TV.
India is also home to the world's second-most mobile phone users
with latest figures
(pdf) from TRAI revealing 636 million subscriptions (upto June). That still leaves out half the country, but consider that in June alone nearly 18 million new subscriptions were added. That's 600,000 a day! Twenty years ago mobile phones were unheard of in India. That's understandable. But you may find it hard to believe that there were only 5 million landline connections, with a further 20 million on waiting lists! As former UN stalwart, Shashi Tharoor MP
"The government's indifferent attitude to the need to improve India's communications infrastructure was epitomized by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's communications minister, C.M. Stephen. In response to questions in Parliament decrying the rampant telephone breakdowns in the country he declared that telephones were a luxury, not a right, and that any Indian who was not satisfied with his telephone service could return his phone — since there was an eight-year waiting list of people..." (Excerpt from Jan 2007)
Unfortunately, Mr Stephen is no longer with us to witness the wireless revolution that has engulfed the nation. The growth has been staggering. Consider that even 10 years ago there were less than 10 million mobile subscribers, 160 million in September 2006 when Tharoor wrote his article, and 300 million exactly two years ago. Since then it has more than doubled and by some projections India will break the billion barrier by 2013. Tharoor describes how India's monthly growth of seven million in Sep 2006 had just overtaken China's for the first time. That was less than four years ago. It seems to be only a matter of time before India adds the equivalent of an Australia every month.
Both these changes happened because of the post-1991 economic liberalisation policies, that was itself a response to India's balance of payments crisis. The Finance Minister responsible for implementing the changes was a certain Manmohan Singh
, who is of course now our Prime Minister. He is an unlikely politician and some like yours truly would argue that he is only in power because of Sonia Gandhi
, the leader of the Congress Party
that they belong to. But I will admit that unlike other unlikely candidates propped up
elsewhere in India, Mr Singh has been anything but a puppet. Moreover, his reputation precedes him. As a bureaucrat he has achieved just about everything an Indian economist can aspire to: an Oxford education, Governor of the central bank, Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, Economic Advisor to the PM, Finance Minister and now the PM itself. Not bad for someone who has never been popularly elected to public office! :)