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.
BANGALORE, India— A fab amidst chaos... that's what India is planning, and delaying as usual. The deadline given by the Empowered Committee to give an answer was June 30, but a deafening silence continues to come from the red-carpeted corridors of power.
There have been rumors and reports that Tower Semiconductor Ltd. of Migdal Haemek, Israel, has won a long-term contract to run a wafer fab under a protracted two-year selection process, but no confirmation as yet. And without governmental approval, nothing will move. India has been here before and failed to execute.
Just to step back a little; India has no clean power.
Almost every middle-class house installs something called an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) unit to seamlessly cross over to private power when the electricity goes off without any warning.
Almost every house installs something called a water purifier to ensure that we get safe drinking water -- forget about those cities and towns like Vellore (a town in south India) were you get water once a week, or another town in Bhilwara (a town in north India) where you have to trudge miles to draw water.
Almost every commuter on Indian roads has to visit an orthopedist sometime in life to get some relief for spine or other extremity ailments since our roads are filled with potholes. In other words, the infrastructure is the pits.
But this doesn't deter the government from wanting to encourage the building of one or two billion-dollar fabs.
The original goal was two fabs and after the latest chip initiative was formed two years ago, it managed to finally shortlist two consortia to set up chip fabrication units in the country. The first consortium is led by the Jaypee Group, supported by Tower Semiconductor and IBM, while the other is led by an entity called Hindustan Semiconductor Manufacturing (HSMC), supported by STMicroelectronics and Siltera.
Interestingly, there was yet another consortium a long time ago, in 2006, which was led by Vinod Agarwal, an Indian-American businessman, who headed the SemIndia fab initiative. But that project died a slow death.
Now, there is renewed interest in the idea of a wafer fab -- and that ubiquitous delay again.
But with a veteran like M.J. Zarabi heading the Empowered Committee responsible for the feasibility study for the setting up of a fab, things might just go right this time. But his hands, too, are tied -- he cannot do a thing about the delay coming from the government side.
I spoke to Zarabi recently, and, like everyone else, he is waiting for the Cabinet to give their approval for the fabs though the deadline of June 30, which has been overshot as usual.