Working to create 3 lakh jobs in AP: Lokesh
Nara Lokesh, 34, is the go-getting Minister for Information Technology and Panchayat Raj in the Andhra Pradesh government. Though his detractors say Mr. Lokesh got the job because he is the son of Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu, other, more dispassionate observers, contend that Mr. Lokesh projects a youthful face of the Telugu Desam Party.
Mr. Lokesh was elected a Member of the Legislative Council of Andhra Pradesh in March this year, on the ruling party’s ticket. But he has been involved in the TDP for some time, formally inducted into the party in May 2013. He was also appointed as the leader of the TDP’s youth wing.
Apart from being the youthful face of the party, Mr. Lokesh is probably the only minister with the highest educational qualification in the Cabinet. He completed his Bachelors of Science in Management Information Systems from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the United States. He then went on to complete his MBA from Stanford University, an Ivy League university.
Mr. Lokesh married Brahmani Nandamuri, the daughter of Nandamuri Balakrishna, his uncle, in 2007. The couple have a son, Devansh.
Excerpts of an exclusive interview with Editor Mr. A.K. Sabharwal:
Mr Lokesh, congratulations on taking over as a Cabinet Minister.
Thank you Mr Sabharwal. I need your blessings.
With such an endearing personality like your grandfather, the late N.T. Rama Rao, how come you never entered the world of cinema?
Thank you for the compliment. My grandfather, N.T. Rama Rao, is considered a legend, even today – 21 years after his death in 1996. Such illustrious personalities are born once in a few centuries. In my view, no one is even a patch on him.
My passion and inclination from the very beginning has been on various facets of public service. I want to contribute to positive leadership in a clean and transparent way in turn leading to good governance of our state. I consider myself lucky to be born in a political family and wish to serve my state and my People.
At Stanford they teach you as to what matters to you the most and why? I illustrated in a one-and-a-half-page article as to why I wanted to serve in the public service, thus expressing my deep passion and commitment to this conscious choice.
It’s been 6 months since you took over the reins in the government with an interesting mix of portfolios. How have the initial 6 months been?
Yes. I have four portfolios: IT and electronics, Rural Development, Panchayat Raj. We have taken major initiatives such as 100% street lighting; underground drainage and digitization just to name a few which will in turn create a transformation of the Panchayat Raj Department.
Compared to my other portfolio’s I must admit that IT has been the toughest cookie to crack (Smiles). We have signed an MOU with HCL which I must say Shiv Nadar (Founder and Chairman of HCL) has reciprocated very well. With his firm commitment to our state, we are leaving no stone unturned to clear any roadblocks and get the project up and running. HCL alone will create 10,000 jobs along with Conduent which will create another 5000 jobs. Furthermore, ANSR will also generate another 5000 high-end jobs.
For IT, I am proactively bringing Investors to Vizag to see this beautiful city as many investors are seemingly unaware about the cities potential but often after visiting are thoroughly impressed and inclined to set up their businesses. We want to highlight and showcase Visakhapatnam to the world.
But the general Impression is that Government of AP wants to take all projects to Amaravati only, though many foreign Investors are interested to set up base in Vizag.
That is not true. Please understand that our objective is to create balanced growth throughout the state as our youth and skilled workers are based all over Andhra Pradesh. We anticipate 60% jobs to be created in Vizag, 20% in Amaravati and another 20% in Tirupathi and Anantpur combined. Companies in Chennai and Bengaluru are looking for tier 2 cities and as such are attracted to Tirupathi and Anantpur, so we are accordingly setting up infrastructure across the State.
Every City has its basic attraction. For instance, Vizag has a shipyard, ports, a pharma SEZ, and another APSEZ so naturally the investors in these sectors will be attracted to “The City of Destiny”.
The IT industry in AP has always been one of the most coveted portfolios with a lot of hype surrounding it. The industry has been quite bullish since you have taken over the reins. However there are concerns on job growth, skill development and investments in the state.
Yes I am very positive on growth in IT and electronics. I aim to create 300,000 jobs — one lakh in IT and 2 lakhs in electronics. I am very sure of achieving this target with my team of experts and my business plan.
I am amazed Mr Lokesh you have an ambitious target of creating 3 lakh jobs both in the IT sector and electronics. At a time when there is gloom about automation and AI (artificial intelligence) making people jobless, how do you plan on achieving these numbers?
No problem at all. We are focused and we will deliver. Until you have a vision, passion and commitment to ambitious & inclusive growth nothing works. Do recall when Mr Chandrababu Naidu talked of making Hyderabad an IT hub and a global city everyone opposed and did not resonate with the idea as there was no infrastructure, no international flights, no IT talent and most MNCs were in Bengaluru and Chennai. But you see the vision and planning of our Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu made Hyderabad a global city and I am certain today that our state under his leadership will again do it. I believe what matters the most is the commitment to make it happen with a competent team.
We have planned Vizag to be the Number One Tier 1 city in the country, with its mass potential of the entire eco system rolling. Vizag has immense potential on tourism, namely, water sports, Heli-tourism just to name a few and the city also has the H.Q. of Eastern Naval Command, Vizag- Chennai Corridor for industrial growth as well as several other key Heavy Industries. Importantly, the people of Vizag are very friendly, cosmopolitan and possess an entrepreneurial spirit, thereby making the city an ideal growth engine not only for the state but for the country as a whole.
Any other plans for Vizag?
We are in the process of setting up the infrastructure for attracting major companies which will find Vizag has everything for their employees and their families to enjoy so they don’t miss out on the fun of bigger metropolitan cities.
(Smiles) Essentially Mr. Sabharwal, my job is to look at it as an end-to-end solution. I need the small fish, the big fish, goldfish and sharks and whales so they can all create an ecosystem for growth. I cannot expect Infosys to come and not have the whole infrastructure in place. I am attracting companies from across the spectrum.
In the combined state of AP IT exports used to be one of the biggest revenue generators for the state with primarily one city, Hyderabad, contributing the bulk of those revenues. Now, in the sunrise state that number has dramatically declined.
What are your plans in making IT as one of the top revenue generators in the state?
Yes I admit that as on today annual exports of IT products and services from AP is approximately Rs .3,000 crores whereas from Hyderabad alone it is over Rs1 Lakh crores, but don’t worry. Under the leadership and guidance of our beloved Chandrababu Naidu we will achieve galloping success. As I said earlier, perfect planning and execution is happening as we speak.
AP has always had the edge of being technologically advanced. Project such as e-seva, Mee Seva have been some of the government’s flagship e-government initiatives. Could you give us a sense on how e-pragati is doing?
Yes. Before I became a minister there were many road blocks on e-pragati. But those glitches have been ironed out, and soon tenders will be invited. We have always encouraged new technology and now are boosting Block chain given that it is a horizontal technology and I am certain that it will not only thrive but attract global companies in this field to AP. We are also focusing on extensive digitization in rural areas so that there is convenience to one and all.
One of the hindrances for any new industry to come up is the issue of acquiring land/ rentals. People say that land prices in the state make it unfeasible for new industry to set up shop and even more unrealistic for entrepreneurs to set sail. Is the government doing anything in easing these concerns?
That’s a Great question Mr Sabharwal.
We are not interested to sell the land for real estate purposes. We are desperate to create jobs for our youth—both skilled workers and semiskilled workers. Land is an important ingredient to set up an industry.
Even today we are ready to offer the land on lease, say even at Rs1/- per acre provided there is a sizeable investment and potential for huge job creation but we are simply not interested to offer land if the investors have other designs and plans in mind. We are always open to discuss land prices to attract genuine investment that will create jobs for our people. Today my single biggest challenge is job creation.
In AP’s electronic policy it states to attract an investment of Rs.40,000 crore in the Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) by the year 2020. Keeping in mind we have about 2 years to that goal, where do we stand currently?
Of course, we will do it. When our State was bifurcated there was not a single cell phone manufacturer in our State but today we have two out of the 10 manufacturers in India. We are in the process of attracting at-least five players in our State and to have this done we need Rs.25,000 crore of Investments. We are aware of our commitment and have formulated an organized approach to be implemented in this regard.
Prominently, we already have Brandix as the largest employer of women—18,000—in Visakhapatnam. Foxconn will eventually employ 15,000 women and we are persuading them to double their workforce. Most of the companies are very happy in our State with its excellent bureaucracy, logistical support and no law and order problems.
Many times I have personally received the investors at the airport, shown them available land parcels, hosted them at luncheons and then seen them off at the airport (in Gannavaram) as a gesture to express our combined gratitude and willingness to welcome them. Our chief minister is very keen to create jobs for the people and to usher in prosperity for all.
Please print in bold letters in Vizag Industrial Scan that any mega investments will receive not only the red carpet but gold carpet treatment from our chief minister and his entire team.
Additionally, we are looking at creating the facility in house from design of the phone to the safe disposal of e-waste so the complete solution is available under one roof and this is possible with proper planning, execution and sizeable investment above all our commitment.
One of the main thrust areas of the government has been to make Andhra becoming a startup destination for people around the country. Though still early in your role could you please elaborate on some of the achievements you have been able to garner in this space?
Good question. The Chief Minister has announced a seed capital of Rs. 100 crore and we have involved four more venture capitalists to invest similar amounts so approximately Rs. 500 crore is available for the startup industry. Now SBI Cap has also agreed to help start-ups. Overall, we are getting a very good response. Our chief minister is very clear: if you are a genuine investor we are ready to solve all your legitimate issues.
Where do you see Vizag in the Big Picture? As a major port hub, IT hub, startup hub?
Without any hesitation I can say Vizag will be the major economic driver of not only AP but for the whole country in the near future. The lead in this regard will be spearheaded by IT and IT enabled services along with pharma acting as a catalyst to the growth engine.
Tirupathi and Rayalaseema will be the manufacturing hub with major players namely Foxconn, Amaron, Karbon, Cellkon and Kia Motors. This will ensure equitable growth of all the regions of the State.
What is the status on the millennium tower being constructed at Rushikonda?
I am very happy to announce that Millennium Tower-1 will be inaugurated on November 1st this year by chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. We are in the process of calling for tenders for one more tower, namely, Millenium-2 which will be announced shortly. We are also considering a very tall Tower similar to Macau Tower under the PPP mode.
You recently inaugurated the Cyber tower in the city. How has the response to that been?
It is fantastic. The entire area has been booked with 2000 seats. You will be surprised that we have no place left to rent. In-fact I have read an article in your Vizag Industrial Scan about our DTP Policy of being an innovative & cutting edge idea to create more space for new units.
Your message to our readers
We are a government which means business. Being the youngest state in the country, we are faced with several challenges but are overcoming them swiftly with visionary leadership and our clear cut intention on job creation. Ultimately, what gets monitored gets done and as such we focus on supervising all projects very intently to ensure speedy implementation along with timely removal of bottlenecks if any.
When do we see you as the chief minister of AP?
Mr Sabharwal Don’t you agree that we already have the best chief minister in the country, in Mr Naidu?