Billionaire Mukesh Ambani on Monday pressed for bridging the digital divide “both among nations and within nations”, saying connectivity and communications have become the fundamental rights of every person. Also, there is a need to bring back the economies around the globe.
Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum, he said it is difficult to imagine what India would have been without the 4G telecom network during the pandemic.
“The digital divide must be bridged, both among nations and within nations. This is because connectivity and communications have become the basic needs, and also fundamental rights of every human being on the planet (just) as basic as food, clothing, and shelter,” he said.
Ambani, who heads India’s youngest but the largest telecom operator, said the day was saved because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Digital India’ much before the pandemic broke out.
Launched in September 2016, Reliance Jio revolutionised the telecom industry in the country by offering free voice calls and dirt-cheap data. Competitors matched its offering, making India home to 1.18 billion mobile phones and 775 million internet users fed on the cheapest data in the world.
“Our Prime Minister (had) given a call for Digital India and I was privileged (that) our digital services company called Jio rolled out a 4G network across the length and breadth of the country by 2018,” Ambani said. “We have always wondered what would we have done without a 4G network across India in facing the corona crisis.”
And this digital infrastructure has helped in the rollout of the world’s largest vaccination programme, helping children learn from home and let people work from anywhere.
“I think that this string of digital and physical (healthcare infrastructure) will be the new normal,” he said. “To my mind, it is an absolute must for all economies to integrate, and enhance this digital infrastructure which has been so very useful in the corona crisis.”
Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd — India’s most valuable company, said COVID-19 is a once-in-a-century humanitarian crisis and the world was not prepared for it.
“The crisis tested the resilience of mankind. The world has suffered, but ultimately what will triumph… is not the virus, but the human spirit,” he said, adding there has been unprecedented global solidarity in the production of vaccines as well as the inoculation drive.
The global collaboration was not restricted to just vaccines. Countries came out to help the ones that were facing a crisis.
“We in India will never forget Qatar’s friendship during this crisis when it moved much beyond commerce and even used all their passenger aircraft to get medicine and supplies to India” during the second wave of COVID-19 infections, he said.
The second wave of coronavirus infections strained the already stretched healthcare system, with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen supplies.
“What this has shown is that Qatar will be a small nation in sight but it has a very big heart,” he said. “Because I think that trade along with purpose, and compassion is the way forward.”
Ambani said the second challenge is to make sure that economies that did not have the benefit of stimulus support, are nursed back and they grow.
This so that the whole world grows in a sustainable way and not just the developed economies, he said.
To a question, he said there is no option but for businesses to adopt a sustainable business model by embracing clean energy.
“We at Reliance have adopted this wholeheartedly and transforming each one of our business lines to be sustainable, recyclable and fully transparent environment, social, and governance standards. And I think that’s a prerequisite for every business to survive, as we go forward,” he said.
On his connection with the Middle East, Ambani said he was born in Yemen where his father Dhirubhai had gone to work.
And “he (Dhirubhai) always said I have Arabic blood”, he said, adding Reliance values its relationships with all the Arabic countries.
Reliance operates the world’s largest oil refining complex at Jamnagar in Gujarat, which uses oil sourced from the Middle East and elsewhere to produce fuel such as petrol and diesel.
Also, sovereign wealth funds of the Gulf countries have invested in Reliance’s digital and retail business. PTI