Dr. C N Ashwathnarayan, is a medical doctor by profession, and Karnataka's deputy chief minister handling a range of portfolios, prominent among them being Information Technology and Biotechnology (ITBT). Interacting with IANS, he spoke about the state's experiences with COVID-19, and the likely way forward.
What has been the most challenging aspect of COVID-19?
The movement and migration of people was the biggest challenge that emerged out of the COVID-19 lockdown for us. What has helped immensely was, the Centre took a very strong stand and it took lots of decisions, stringent guidelines were given. Otherwise, left to each state, it would have been difficult, because we'll be under a lot of pressure. Each person comes with their opinions, his solutions, then it becomes difficult in execution in a democratic setup. Handling in a centralised way made a huge difference. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult. Each state would have found it difficult to handle in their own way.
How did the COVID-19 lockdown affect the state's Information Technology and Biotechnology (ITBT) sectors?
During lockdown, all our sectors were actively working. None of our sectors suffered and they have in fact performed better. They were able to provide all their global client services. Even locally also, for handling, leveraging, enabling, throughout the COVID lockdown, it was handled excellently by the IT sector. Except for some startups who suffered a little setback, and we hope they'll be able to recoup their losses once normalcy sets in. The BT sector was also active throughout the lockdown and in fact together, the ITBT sector in Karnataka delivered around 30 products amid the COVID-19 challenge.
Will the work from home (WFH) concept affect Bengaluru's position as one of the IT sector's prime locations?
I agree with you to some extent, but an ecosystem that creates the connect chemistry should also be there. Connectivity of different culture, of mix and match. Everything matters. Ultimately, everything cannot be done from home. Preferably, IT professionals can do most of their work from homes, but there will still be substantial amount of work that needs an office ecosystem. We hope growth will double, in this way. The government of Karnataka has already begun moves to attract investors keen on moving out of China. Shortly, I'm also going to initiate contact with foreign investors through their embassies and consulates.
According to you, what is the time required for things to return to pre-lockdown status in Karnataka?
Once things start rolling, getting money or generating revenues is not a big issue. Our system is strong and sufficiently structured to withstand any reasonable kind of shocks. So, we can pull on and bounce back. It's only a matter of time. Once normalcy is restored, transport resumed, without quarantine, if all these restrictions are not there, I think gradually people will return. It should take no more than 6 months for us to get back to normal. But more than finance and money, I think it is the current rapid rate of reforms that will bring positive transformation. Earlier, reforms used to take more than five years to happen. Now, reforms process is fast.
But how will Karnataka cope with the migrant exodus?
Whatever available resources are there, we'll be able to manage with that. We'll keep utilising our existing workforce. And whoever has gone, will come back. Some sectors, there might be challenges, such as construction. But even construction technology has changed for the better. For every change, there will be a solution. Everything will change.
As a doctor, do you see COVID-19 as a temporary issue or more of a permanent challenge?
We have to live with it. Definitely, a spike or increase in cases will be there, and we were in an unorganised condition. Due to the lockdown, we were able to organise ourselves, put systems in place. Along with the technology and monitoring systems in place, now people can avail treatment from their homes. Now with a system in position, we'll be able to cater to anyone, in any place. If you had asked me this question two months ago, I would have said it's definitely not possible.