With the demand for electronics intensifying and semiconductors being at the core of electronics, India is moving fast to catch up with global players, said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology. He said India has missed the bus repeatedly on semiconductors, but things are finally taking shape, with the country setting a goal to reach $300 billion in electronics business by 2025-26; and of that, about $100-110 billion in semiconductors by 2028-29. In an interview with businessline, Chandrasekhar said events like Semicon India (being held on July 28-30) are part of India’s push to make such events a fixture in the calendar of almost every global semiconductor company. Excerpts:


How confident is the government in its semiconductor push at the global level?

We have been building the electronics ecosystem since 2014. We were almost nothing till 2014 in electronics, but today we are a country with exports worth ₹1-lakh crore and have crossed almost ₹8-lakh crore worth of production. We have a big presence in the global value chain of suppliers in electronics. Our goal is to reach $300 billion in electronics by 2025-26 and of that about a $100-110 billion in semiconductors by 2028-29. India has missed the bus repeatedly on electronics and semiconductors, and in particular semiconductors... we missed the opportunity because of lack of political and strategic vision and, of course, incompetence as well.

Fairchild Semiconductor, which was a precursor to Intel, came to India in 1957 and considered building a fab (packaging unit), but bureaucratic lethargy chased them away to Malaysia. That packaging unit went on to become the centre of packaging hubs in the world. We set up a fab for silicon to make germanium transistors, but couldn’t compete with cheaper ICs from China, Taiwan, and South Korea, leading to multiple unit shutdowns. There was no semiconductor policy when Intel wanted to explore a fab in 2007. It was the slow response, or the almost inadequate response of the previous government, that caused them to shift that fab plan out of India.

So, there is a long history of political leaders/ governments that did not understand, who missed the bus and did not fathom the criticality of semiconductors and electronics. The government invited an Expression of Interest (EoI) for a semiconductor fabrication plant 2011, but it resulted in a failed attempt as the then government did not take further action on it. In 2013, the World Semiconductor Council (WSC) urged the then Prime Minister to make India a driver of high-tech exports and manufacturing, including semiconductors. However, no action was taken. Again, in 2013, the Fab City, which was launched with a lot of fanfare, remained a pipe dream


What is government’s strategy now?

The strategy is to work hard...the policies are there. The broad strategy since 2014 was to rebuild the entire electronics ecosystem and make India a leading player in electronics, which the nation has been successfully doing today after eight years of hard work. Since electronics demand is going up and semiconductors are controlled by electronics, demand for semiconductor is going up. It [the growth of electronics] creates a good enabling environment for a semiconductor ecosystem. In December 2021, the Prime Minister set aside ₹76,000 crore specifically for semiconductor policy framework that addresses the entire ecosystem — from design to research to assembly, testing, marking, and packaging (ATMP) to fabs. And, that comprehensive ecosystem approach towards semiconductor is what we did in the last 15 months with the first edition of Semicon India, whose seeing the results of it.


So, how will events like Semicon India help in building an ecosystem in the country?

Semicon India, a global event, has now become a fixture in the calendar of almost every global semiconductor company or professional or academic or researcher, just as Semicon USA — called Semicon West or Semicon Europe (in Europe). This is becoming a must-attend event. Over 200 companies are participating, global and domestic semiconductor and electronics, including almost 50 start-ups (Indians as well as global). The participation this time is two-three times bigger than the first edition in Bengaluru last year. There are around 30 countries from the West that are participating at the event.


Are Chinese players participating?

There are no Chinese [companies] participants...China does not have a very great semiconductor ecosystem. They have not succeeded in building a semiconductor hub. They tried, spent a lot of money, but did not succeed.


When do we see the progress at the earliest?

We see the semiconductor industry and the ecosystem as a medium- to long-term segment of our economy that is representing an absolutely exciting opportunity for the medium-term future. I will not put any dates...we are certainly not building a semiconductor ecosystem to match an election cycle. We are building a semiconductor ecosystem with the overall vision to become the third-largest economy in the world, and to become very clustered and significant player in the semiconductor supply chains of the world. So, that will not happen in one/ two months or one year. It is a steady thing...just as electronics took five years of steady policy making, steady governance, we must assume that semiconductor entirely will take three, four, five years to roll out.

But many things in the short term, such as design. Many things in the short-term like in three years, 85,000 highly competent, highly skilled, globally capable engineers to undergraduate degrees will be created. The India Semiconductor Research Centre that we have built, modernisation of SCL...all these will happen in the short span of next 2-3 years. And, there is more slightly medium-term thing — becoming a larger player in the semiconductor supply chain in the short-term.


Do we see any major announcements from the event?

Five to seven start-ups will be approved by the government and number of MoUs between companies and government...announcements by the companies are also expected during the next two days in Semicon India.