Bangalore-based journalist Sufia Tippu reports on India's off-again, on-again aspiration to build the nation's own foundry. The Cabinet missed the deadline for giving approvals to fabs -- once again.
Incidentally, Zarabi was the managing director of Semiconductor Complex Ltd (SCL) in north India, which was set up in 1983 to promote R&D in the field of semiconductor technology. But somehow, it didn't morph into what could have been another Taiwan-like ecosystem, simply because the government didn't think that the semiconductor was a big thing.
Today, it is a similar story with a different set of players.
And, it just might work, simply because of the preferential access policy which states that whoever comes in to set up a fab would gain access to supply chips for the Aadhaar, a unique identification project set up by the Indian government to provide a 12-digit unique number to over 1 billion residents in India.
Other areas of market access are in the changing of manual electricity/energy meters to smart cards, voting IDs for all the citizens, and driving licenses -- all of which run into hundreds of millions cards. If smart cards are to be issued, they would all have to have chips embedded in them, and the fab units would get preferential access to supply all the chips to these government agencies. Not to mention telecom chips, which are being dominated by Chinese companies. Added to this is the market from the private sector, where the list is unending, starting with loyalty cards, parking, etc.
So, when the market is just ripe for the picking, why is there such a long delay from the government?
"We have put forward our recommendations and we hope that the Cabinet will give its approval soon. I cannot give a date as to when it would be approved, but we are all waiting," Zarabi said.
But will the local parties and the multinationals lose interest in the project because of this delay? Already there is talk that Jaypee, the Indian partner with Tower Semi, is not too happy with the delay, though no one can confirm it. Even if I were to contact them, there would be a curt "No comment."
Nobody wants to mess with the government when there is so much at stake.
Another industry expert well networked with the government said the reason for the delay could be the accumulated fear of all the scams that had rocked the country -- the 2G scam involving illegal undercharging by government officials to various telecom companies during the allocation of 2G licenses, or the helicopter bribery scandal (Choppergate) involving AgustaWestland, or the coal mining scam (Coalgate) which gave undue benefits to companies, or the Commonwealth Games scam, which involved corrupt deals overstating contracts
Now, nobody wants to sign off on the fabs. And the delay is steadily chipping away the interest and eating into time, most of which has ticked away.