eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

Archive for October, 2007

Free as in Freedom and Free Software

Posted by egovindia on October 29, 2007

Free as in Freedom

My thoughts about Freedom and Free Software.

 

 

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Story of Free Software in Kerala, India

This is the story of Free Software in the state of Kerala in India. I wrote this for a book entitled Knowledge Society and Development — Kerala Experience edited by Antony Palackal of Loyola College, Thiruvananthapuram, and Wesley Shrum of Louisiana State University. The article is published under a free licence, as mentioned at the end of the article. I am putting a slightly modified version here so that any interested person can make use of it.

Free Software in Kerala

V. Sasi Kumar

A friend, who had worked in Brazil for a couple of years, once told me, “Kerala is known in Latin America for Free Software.” This indicates the extent to which Kerala has dominated the Free Software scenario in India. It is not by chance that the headquarters of the Free Software Foundation of India happened to be situated at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The state is now poised to become the first in the country to introduce exclusively Free Software for IT education in high schools. We shall examine here how all this came about. But before that, we shall look at what the term Free Software1 means. Free Software is software that gives users freedom-four freedoms, to be precise. As the website of the Free Software Foundation (http://www.gnu. org) says:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free ice cream”. Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

• The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

• The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

• The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2).

• The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Free Software began to be developed when Richard M. Stallman, a programmer with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, resigned and started the GNU (recursive acronym for GNU is Not Unix) project in 1984. Later, he also started the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Today, there is a large volume of Free Software, and the most popular Free operating system is GNU/Linux (sometimes called simply Linux).

We capitalise the F and S in Free Software to distinguish it from proprietary software that is distributed free of cost, sometimes called freeware. We shall also use the shortened form, FS.

So, with that, we shall now take a look at the story of FS in Kerala. The story is bound to be biased by my experiences and limited by my knowledge. Individuals or organisations who have contributed to the Free Software movement in the state may have been left out from the narration, even though this is written after speaking to several people who were involved right from the beginning of the movement. I apologise for any such omissions and assure the readers that they are inadvertent and not deliberate.

The Beginning

The story apparently began with the introduction of TeX, the typesetting program that was designed in the 1970s by Donald Knuth, the author of The Art of Computer Programming, a four volume classic. TeX was introduced into Kerala by Prof. K.S.S. Namburipad of the Department of Mathematics in the University of Kerala. TeX could typeset mathematical equations very neatly, which no other software could do, especially in the 1980s when Prof. Namburipad brought TeX in fourteen floppy disks from the United States. He could bring the program and use it on a number of computers without any legal problem because it had no licences-it was in the public domain. It was, in a sense, the Grandmother of Free Software, as some people call it.

Prof. Namburipad encouraged his students to learn and use TeX, especially for preparing their theses. One of his students was E. Krishnan, now with the Mathematics Department of the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, a leading exponent of TeX and one of the auA thors of the very popular LaTeX primer2 published as an electronic book by the Indian TeX User Group. Dr. Krishnan also played an important role in establishing the Free Software Foundation of India. Another person inspired by Prof. Namburipad was one C.V. Radhakrishnan who used to run a small centre that prepared theses for the research students of the Kariavattom campus of the University of Kerala.

C.V. Radhakrishnan took serious interest in TeX. He found that there was business opportunity here and with virtually no competition. Eventually, he established a company in 1995, called River Valley Technologies, for doing typesetting of scientific papers and theses. He had his two brothers with him when he started the company. They used the DOS operating system running on Intel AT machines, along with Novell Netware for networking. Since Unix was rather expensive those days, they did not attempt to use it, though they were familiar with it. Around 1996, a computer vendor who supplied part of their systems suggested that they use Linux, which was very similar to Unix and was free. He also gave them a CD containing the Slackware distribution. It was around this period (March 1996) that the magazine PCQuest brought out CDs containing the Slackware distribution of GNU/Linux, the first commercial distribution of the Free operating system. It was probably a copy of this CD that Radhakrishnan got from the vendor. Though the operating system was primitive in some ways, and installing it on a computer was a tough job, it came in handy for the new company. As Radhakrishnan says, “It was very difficult to install Linux those days. It took us about one week to install it on one system. We could link it to Novell Netware since there was a tool for that. Later, we installed it on all machines and discarded Novell Netware.” River Valley Technologies thus took off as possibly the first Free Software based company in the state and almost certainly as the first TeX based company in the country. Since then, the company has been using GNU/Linux almost exclusively, except for one computer that still runs MS Windows mainly for opening MS Word files and for some editing of vector graphics for which Free alternatives are not sufficiently powerful now. Much of their work is automated so that human intervention is required only minimally.

Today, Radhakrishnan is one of the top TeX programmers in the world. His company has seventy employees and their clients include the Institute of Physics, UK, Macmillan (Nature) and Elsevier. The company uses Free Software and also sponsors India’s first portal to host Free Software projects3.

Meanwhile, Satish Babu, CEO of the South Indian Federation of Fishermen’s Societies (SIFFS), was using the new technology of the Internet to enhance the efficiency of his organisation. He learnt about the Internet when he went to the Hull International Fisheries Institute, UK, in 1993 for training in fisheries management, and he became highly interested in the technology. Though basically a management expert trained at the prestigious Institute of Rural Management, Anand, his interest in the technology prompted him to study computers and programming in depth and virtually made him a programmer. Today he is involved in running a software company4 in the Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram and is actively involved with bodies like the Computer Society of India and the Indian chapter of the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is the Executive Secretary of the Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment (SPACE), an NGO promoting Free Software, and is an active member of FSF India.

After his return from the UK, he started using computers to improve the efficiency of the organisation he was working for. He learnt that email was being implemented through the Ernet network which used VSAT technology at that time. Leo Fernandez of the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, with which Satish already had links, helped him to link to the Ernet node in Bangalore through a telephone dial-up connection. This was in 1994. Satish configured his computer to dial-up in the early morning hours when telephone call rates were lowest, and send and receive mails. Though this was slow by today’s standards, since an exchange of mails would take at least two days, it was enormously faster than using the postal service. Part of the software he used for this was actually Free Software, though he was not aware of it at that time. It was again Leo Fernandez who introduced him to Linux in 1995. Though not very confident about the new system, Satish and his friends soon grew to like it, especially since there were a lot of things one could do at the system level. As Satish says, “Once you learn to tinker around with the system, you really start enjoying it and it becomes a habit that is difficult to get over.” And GNU/Linux offered plenty of opportunities for such people. But Satish and friends were still not very much aware of the ideology of Free Software and its implications.

His first distribution of GNU/Linux, known as Slackware, was given to Satish by Leo Fernandez. Soon, SIFFS organised a training programme in GNU/Linux by Leo. In 1998, Radhakrishnan, Krishnan, Namburipad, Satish and others decided to set up a Linux User Group (LUG) in Thiruvananthapuram. Others associated with this included journalist K.G. Kumar, computer science student M. Arun, and P.M. Sasi, who was with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Thiruvananthapuram.

M. Arun was a student of Computer Science at the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, when his father bought a computer from Keltron (in fact, the first computer Keltron sold). This had an operating system developed by IBM known as OS2. As Arun says, “This was much better than Windows 95, which was popular at that time.” One of his friends had got a Packard-Bell computer with MS Windows from the US and wanted to install Linux in it. Arun had a copy of the PC Quest Slackware CD and undertook the job of installing it in the machine. It installed neatly without any problem. So he decided to try it on his computer. But the result was disappointing. He could not get the graphical interface running. One of his friends suggested that he try the Red Hat distribution, and Arun wrote to a company, GTL Enterprises in Bangalore, for a copy of the Red Hat CD. They replied asking him to contact the local Linux User Group, which C.V. Radhakrishnan and others had just started. Arun went to Radhakrishnan’s office with his friend Amit and not only obtained the CD but also joined the LUG. They started having weekly meetings.

Arun found that a few teachers in their college were interested in GNU/Linux. They got the college to purchase some manuals from FSF, Boston. Arun and a few of his friends had read about the ideology of Free Software and were attracted by it. In 1999, Wros Publishers organised a conference called Bang! Linux in Bangalore. Arun and a few other students went for the conference. Richard M. Stallman (known by his initials RMS), the founder of the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation, was there. This was his first meeting in India and his lecture impressed the students from Kerala. They came back thoroughly convinced about the ideology of Free Software. Today, Arun is the secretary of the Free Software Foundation of India and is also the co-ordinator of SPACE.

With the new millennium came the group known as Free Developers. This was started by one Tony Stanco, an advocate from the US, who proposed that they start a company that would do business using Free Software and eventually make it the leading software globally. He had corresponded with RMS about his ideas. Though RMS was sceptical about the feasibility of the project, Tony went ahead with it and managed to obtain support from a number of people, including C.V. Radhakrishnan, Arun and others in Kerala. This initiative helped in developing the dotGNU project, which was a free substitute for Microsoft’s .NET, since several people from India joined the project.

The discussions in the Thiruvananthapuram LUG soon led to the ideology of Free Software, which the members found attractive. They discussed the idea of establishing a Free Software Foundation of India, and a unit of Free Developers. FSF India, they hoped, would act to supervise the ethical aspects of Free Developers. Radhakrishnan got in touch with Richard Stallman and got his approval for starting FSF India, and got him to agree to inaugurate FSF India. Satish Babu, who was then the Regional Vice-President of the Computer Society of India, took the initiative to organise the inaugural function. It was decided to inaugurate the Indian branch of Free Developers also at the same function.

Freedom First

The conference organised at Thiruvananthapuram in connection with the inauguration of Free Software Foundation of India was aptly called Freedom First. The name was suggested by the journalist K.G. Kumar and it must have immediately struck a chord with the others. Richard Stallman was the chief guest for the conference, and he was received as an honoured state guest by government officials to discuss the philosophy behind the movement.

The Organising Committee formed to conduct the conference included Radhakrishnan, Satish Babu, Arun, Krishnan, Rajkumar (who runs a Free Software business), P.M. Sasi, K.G. Kumar, Dr. K.R. Srivathsan (Director, IIITMK5), and others. The function in the morning, in which FSF India was inaugurated by Stallman, was chaired by the Secretary to the Government, Information Technology Department. About 300 people from all over the state and even outside were present, filling the auditorium beyond its capacity. “Computer users in India, as elsewhere, deserve the freedom to share and change software, the way cooks share and change recipes. So I am pleased to inaugurate the Free Software Foundation of India, which will promote the use and the development of free software in this country”, Stallman told the gathering. Later, he met the Minister for Information Technology and held discussions on promoting Free Software in the state. The afternoon session was devoted to the inauguration of Free Developers India and some technical presentations.

There were a couple of interesting moments during Stallman’s visit. At the airport, a number of people were curious to see a figure with long hair and long beard and wanted to know who he was. When he understood what they were asking, he introduced himself, “I am Saint IGNUcious of the church of Emacs.”6 Possibly, some people took that seriously! There was a poignant moment when Stallman was going to a hotel for lunch along with a few other people. One of them told Stallman that Nelson Mandela had signed a Freedom Declaration that had been put up at the Free Developers website. “RMS just couldn’t believe that and he almost cried. He said Mandela had always been his hero.” wrote Ramakrishnan (one of the others in the vehicle) later. When someone tried to compare Stallman with Mandela, RMS retorted that whatever he has done could never be compared with the 25 years in prison that Mandela had suffered.

It was an achievement of FS enthusiasts in the state that the government agreed to support the event and treat RMS as a state guest. As a report in Linux Today7 said:

Government officials and other Free Software supporters in the state of Kerala believe that Free Software meshes particularly well with Kerala’s long tradition of democracy, equity and public action. Just as Kerala is often held up as a model of equitable social and human development in the region, Free Software supporters there believe they can leverage the inherent freedoms of Free Software to evolve an equitable Knowledge Society based on software independence and self- reliance.

The conference was a great success in many ways. It attracted a lot of media attention and made ‘Free Software’ and Richard Stallman’ popular among the public.

Advocacy

There have been a few instances where the Free Software community was able to influence decision makers to choose Free Software over proprietary. In some cases, the decisive breakthrough was achieved by individual effort, while in some cases, it was a community effort. We shall look into two cases here, that of the implementation of a network by the Public Works Department and that of the introduction of IT education in schools.

PWD Network

One of the first successful campaigns for Free Software was in the Public Works Department of the state. InApp Technologies, the company started by Satish Babu, Amarnath Raja and others, was asked to make a proposal for a PWD project by one of the Secretaries of the PWD. InApp made it clear that while they do work with all technologies, they would quote only for a Free platform, as they considered it as most appropriate for any e-governance project.

The consultant to the Kerala Transportation Project, under which the application was being planned, felt that he did not know sufficiently about Free Software, and obtained quotes from Microsoft and Oracle. However, the Secretary concerned knew about InApp and suggested to the Principal Secretary that InApp’s proposal should be considered seriously. A debate was therefore organised to (a) explain what Free Software was, and (b) what its advantages were over proprietary platforms. This debate was conducted by the then PWD Principal Secretary and was attended by two other Secretaries, the consultant to the Transportation Project, some Chief Engineers and senior people from the PWD.

Two people from Microsoft, one from Oracle, Amarnath Raja and Satish formed the participants. Satish was armed with a survey conducted among Technopark companies about their perceptions on Free Software in December 2002 (http://gtechindia. org/jsp/survey. pdf), which was conducted by Satish who was the GTech Treasurer. The study had clearly shown the features of Free Software that made it attractive especially for e-governance projects. Microsoft came prepared with their “sponsored research” findings. Since Satish and Amarnath were prepared for it, they were easily able to refute their findings. Microsoft possibly did not expect this, and perhaps had thought that this would be a walkover. The person from Oracle was unaware of the local politics and looked surprised by the ferocity of the debate. He started off pro-Microsoft, but shifted to the Free Software camp half-way through. The Secretaries were convinced about the need to go Free, and InApp got the order. The application was delivered and is running well.

IT@School Project

Another successful campaign, which was driven by a large number of FS enthusiasts and received much more publicity, was that for the inclusion of Free Software in IT education in schools. The Department of Education, Government of Kerala, started a project called IT@School for bringing IT enabled education to the high schools in the state. The project constituted a committee headed by Prof. U.R. Rao, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, to make recommendations on the direction the project should take. After studying the status of education in the state and elaborate discussions, the Committee recommended that the project should aim to bring IT to high schools in the state to empower teachers and to use the technology for improving curriculum transaction in the classes. However, the project found that most of the teachers and the students possessed little IT skills. They, therefore, decided to start IT education at the high school level initially. IT was thus introduced in the eighth standard in the year 2002 after conducting training in IT for a large number of teachers. The teacher training was organised using help from the Intel Teach to the Future programme, and their course material, which was wholly based on Microsoft software, was used for the training.

Struggle for Free Software

The textbook for IT prepared by the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) was based purely on Microsoft Windows and other Microsoft applications like MS Office. The Free Software community in the state found this very offensive, since it ignored the existence of Free Software and promoted the products of one company ignoring even other proprietary software. The community responded by talking to people, sending letters, writing in the media and so on. The Free Software User Group in Kochi prepared a memorandum and sent it to several people involved in the matter, including the Directors of the IT@School project and SCERT, the Director of Public Instruction, the Principal Secretary, Education Department, and the Secretary, IT Department. They pointed out that:

• IT@School was promoting the software of one company at the cost of software produced by everyone else;

• the government would have to pay an enormous amount for licencing the software for the schools;

• even if the company gives the software for the schools free of cost, it is only a marketing ploy in order to reap benefits of having a pool of people who are familiar with their software packages and thus form an assured customer base, either as users themselves or as potential skilled employees;

• the Government’s approach would result in compelling not only schools, but also the general public to purchase software from this particular vendor in the future. This would create a monopoly in favour of that corporation and expose the public, the State and the nation to the mercy of a single company;

• the corporation, whose brands and products are prescribed in the syllabus, does not publish the standards used in their software. This practice compels other people who have to interact with users of the products of this corporation (like the government and schools, in this case) to purchase software from this particular vendor only-a situation known as ‘vendor lock-in’;

• the government is promoting illegal copying and installation of software in the computers in the schools by not providing for software costs;

• handling licencing issues is not simple and there has been at least one instance in which a school in the US had to pay $ 300,000 as fine-even screenshots used in textbooks may have to be licenced;

• several software packages, both applications as well as operating systems, which conform to industry-wide standards, adopted and maintained by independent vendors, and with less restrictive licences, are available.

The Kerala School Teachers Association decided to throw its weight behind the demand from Free Software enthusiasts. The government and the IT@School project were still not willing to change. However, due to pressure from several directions, SCERT decided to incorporate Free Software also in the textbook and rewrote the textbook for the eighth standard for the academic year 2003-04. Sri N.K. Satyapalan, who was the person in charge of IT education at the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) played an important role in pushing Free Software into the textbook. Some schools, especially in northern Kerala, where there were teachers who knew how to install and use GNU/Linux, installed it and started IT classes using it. In order to ensure that all schools did buy sufficient computers and taught IT, it was also decided to include IT as an additional subject and conduct examinations, though with less marks than other subjects.

Computerised Examination

An important phase started when the IT@School project decided to conduct part of the IT examination using a software. They developed a software called Softexam for conducting the examination. This was designed primarily for the MS Windows platform and some of the schools using GNU/Linux had to install MS Windows to enable the software. There was immediate protest from the Teachers Association and the Project was forced to develop Softexam for GNU/Linux also. However, this is now being virtually discontinued, with the software being confined to presenting previously prepared questions randomly and saving the responses for later evaluation by teachers.

One problem with using GNU/Linux was that there were several distributions of the OS, each slightly different from the others, and schools had installed different distributions. Even preparing the textbook became difficult, since the screenshots, and sometimes even the procedures for using the software, could be different for different distributions. To solve this problem, the Free Software Foundation of India suggested developing a custom distribution for IT@School, and eventually created the distribution with funding from the Kerala State IT Mission.

Another problem that the IT@School project faced was that of providing support to the schools where GNU/Linux was being used. They called for private agencies who were willing to provide support to register with them. A number of agencies, including Free Software User Groups, responded and about twenty of them were short listed. A final solution to the problem came when SPACE (mentioned earlier) decided to offer support to IT@School, both in terms of updating the distribution used in schools and in providing support to the teacher community. The website of SPACE now has provided for teachers to post questions there, to which experts will respond, and also a page listing the Frequently Asked Questions and the answers to them. The IT@School project arranged for teachers to be trained in GNU/Linux and a majority of teachers have already been trained. A Resource Centre has been established in Kochi for conducting teacher training with technical assistance from SPACE.

In 2005, the government announced that the schools in Kerala will completely switch to Free Software in stages. Supplements to the textbooks were created to enable students to study using GNU/Linux, which also introduced some software that a child new to computers could use to learn the skills needed to use a mouse and a keyboard. Tuxpaint, a simple painting software, which a child could use even if (s)he was unfamiliar with the intricacies of saving or retrieving a file, and Gcompris, a set of games that helped the child to learn how to use the mouse and keyboard, became very popular with children. The textbooks for all the three classes in high school are now being revised to contain Free Software exclusively. Kerala is poised to become the first state in the country to use exclusively Free Software in its schools. It is also poised to become possible the first state to introduce IT enabled education in high schools in a big way.

Visits by Stallman

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project and FSF, has visited India several times and given lectures in several states. But the state he has visited most often is Kerala, probably because of the large support in this state for his ideology.

The first time Stallman visited Kerala was for the Freedom First conference in 2001. His next visit was in connection with the EMS Memorial Lecture constituted by Kerala University. Stallman spoke about the danger of software patents at the University Senate Hall on January 24, 2004. The same day he spoke about copyright law and freedom in science at Centre for Earth Science Studies. Both lectures were well attended and there were a number of questions from the audience at both venues. On Independence Day, he interacted with the students of the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management Kerala (IIITMK). During this visit, Stallman also met the then leader of the Opposition (present Chief Minister) V.S. Achuthanandan, who has been a strong supporter of the Free Software movement, and held discussions on how the government can support and benefit from Free Software.

Richard Stallman’s latest visit to Kerala has been in August this year (2006). SPACE in association with Kerala State IT Mission conducted a seminar on Free Software for Kerala Development on the 23rd of August. Stallman gave the keynote address in this seminar. The seminar was inaugurated by the Chief Minister, who had a long discussion with Stallman. A report on Free Software Projects in Public Enterprises in Kerala, prepared by SPACE, was released at the function. Stallman was in India to participate in the GPL v3 conference at Bangalore on August 25 and 26.

Development

A certain amount of Free Software development was done in the state even in the initial days. This includes localisation of the GNOME8 Desktop (that is, making the desktop available in the local language, Malayalam), a project monitoring application for the government and a portal for enhancing transparency in everyday activities of the government.

The localisation work was started by Arun and his friends Gopal, Sreekrishna and others soon after the establishment of FSF India. The Managing Director of Keltron, an undertaking of the Government of Kerala, offered to help them in their effort. The idea was that the government and other users could be provided a platform in Malayalam for their uses. They managed to get support from Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP), an initiative developed and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for the work. “Specifically, the project aims to create Free Font for Malayalam, create toolkit (toolkits are basic building blocks in creating Graphical User Interface based applications) with Malayalam support, and create a localised desktop and office productivity applications and documentation in Malayalam.”, says the project abstract9 . The work was undertaken by the Kerala Bureau for Industrial Promotion (KBIP) in association with FSF India. All menu and other text, like messages, were translated into Malayalam so that a person who knows only Malayalam could comfortably use a computer with the customised GNOME desktop. Unfortunately, the work was never released to the public because of official apathy.

Another Free Software based development was in connection with the Modernising Government Programme (MGP). MGP was drawn up as part of the strategy of the Government to overhaul and improve its services to the people of the State. One of the components of MGP was monitoring projects funded by the government. The Program Performance monitoring system (PPMS) was developed by Keltron (Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation) for tracking the performance of various departments as part of MGP. PPMS contain 4 major projects. The first project, PPMS1, is a performance monitoring system for 17 government departments. It covers a total of 93 initiatives of these departments, 50 of them in the first phase. The system uses result base management methods to measure performance based on impacts, outputs, outcomes & activities. PPMS2 is a set of service delivery projects. It addresses performance monitoring of 2584 institutions statewide like schools and community health centres and mainly deals with fund flow management, administrative payment orders etc. The Third project is a human resource module named e-bandham. It monitors attendance, leave, travel allowances etc of the program support executives. The fourth project is Sevanamudra, Quality Improvement Program & Performance Certification Mechanism for government institutions.

Another project done using Free Software is Sutharya Keralam, or Transparent Kerala. This is a Right to Information initiative of the Government of Kerala to ensure transparency and efficiency in everyday functions of the government. “The major objectives of the project are the automation of Chief Minister’s Grievance Redressal Cell and convergence of all the available forms of Communication so as to guarantee People’s Right to Information. “, says its website10. The project was developed completely on Free Software technologies by the Centre for Development of Imaging Technologies (CDIT), an institute under the Government of Kerala.

Other Free Software projects in the state include computerisation of the offices of milk producers unions in the state that come under the Kerala State Milk Marketing Federation (Milma), a Management Information System for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) developed by CDAC, a District Collectorate Suite developed by the National Informatics Centre and a computerisation project of Calicut University done inhouse. A study on Free Software projects in public enterprises in Kerala has been done by SPACE and is available online11.

SPACE

The Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment, or SPACE, is a society promoted by Kerala State IT Mission with the objective of promoting alternative computing, that is, Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). It has a government nominee in its Board of Directors and has support from professional societies (such as IEEE and the Computer Society of India) and the academia. It had as its first Chairman the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala, Dr. B. Ekbal, and members included Satish Babu, Amarnath Raja, P.M. Sasi and C.V. Radhakrishnan. Though it came into existence in 2003, it could not undertake much activity due to lack of funds. This problem was solved when SPACE entered into a tie-up with SOMA for working on joint projects. SPACE became active with the setting up of an office and recruiting a few people. Activities started in areas like promoting Virtual Micro Enterprises (VMEs) based on Free Software, advocating FS in colleges and setting up Free Software Cells where feasible, helping in training school teachers in FS, and so on.

Some of the achievements of SPACE did attract considerable media attention. One example is the development of a distribution of GNU/Linux specifically for electronics laboratories in engineering colleges. This was made available on one CD, and was named Free Electron. The distribution was created by the FS Cell in an engineering college in Thiruvananthapuram with help from SPACE. There were a number of requests from colleges inside and outside the state, and even one from abroad. Another distribution that SPACE created for system recovery purposes was distributed by a local IT magazine. A workshop SPACE conducted, in collaboration with another NGO (Mediact) involved in media education, at a village library for creating and publishing a village newsletter in Malayalam also attracted much interest. Another programme that became popularly known was the initiative for setting up a radio station for fisherfolk. Started on the initiative of a few young people from the fishing community in Thiruvananthapuram, Radio Alakal, as it was called, could not start regular broadcast due to some licencing issues, but started narrowcasting (using loud speakers at specific locations). All the work for Radio Alakal was done using Free Software. SPACE also helped the IT@School project to set up a teacher training centre in Kochi.Free SoFree Software in Businessftware in Business

Free Software in Business

There are several companies in the state doing business using Free Software. We mentioned River Valley Technologies of Radhakrishnan. Another enterprise in Kochi, Beta Computers, also does business using TeX.

An organisation worth mentioning is the Open Source Solutions in Kochi. It is a cooperative effort which consists of some young programmers who were involved with the Ernakulam Industrial Infrastructure Development Project. The project started work for computerising the Panchayats (local self-government institution) in the district. They used only Free Software and computerised a few Panchayats. However, the state-wide programme called Information Kerala Mission for the same purpose, which used only proprietary software, superseded their efforts. The youth involved in the project started a co-operative society and started doing business with Free Software. They developed a software for co-operative banks, called Sanghamitra, which has been installed in a number of branches. This is also licenced under the GNU General Public Licence. They have been developing software for other purposes also, and are doing reasonably well.

Rajkumar (whose name has been mentioned earlier) runs a business called Linuxense at Thiruvananthapuram. “We are a GNU/Linux-based Enterprise providing software solutions of exceptional quality using cutting-edge technologies; creating a GNU/Linux ambiance for our distinguished clients in their demanding work environments. ” says their website12 . They provide support for Asianet, a major ISP in the state, and their website proudly exhibits an appreciation by an Asianet official on the effectiveness of the antivirus support they have given. Linuxense ran a server break-in challenge during March 9-13, and won. No one was able to break into the server they had set up for the purpose.

Swatantra Software Solutions and Services (abbreviated to S2S2) is a small business in Kannur that has been involved in selling Free Software CDs and systems with GNU/Linux, and providing assistance to schools for installing computers and networks using GNU/Linux. Sujeevan, who runs the company, actively promotes Free Software and has participated in training sessions for teachers organised by the Teachers’ Association and by FSFI. He has also helped in installing the customised GNU/Linux distribution for schools in existing networked computer labs in some schools. There are several companies that do business using Free Software along with other platforms -InApp Technologies, for instance. But I have not been able to identify one that does software development/ support exclusively using Free Software.

Free Software Free Society

Free Software Free Society is the name of a collection of articles written by Richard Stallman. It was very appropriate that this name was chosen for a conference organised in Thiruvananthapuram by SPACE, FSF India, and others, because this conference, as the press release by the organisers stated, “explores the possibilities of applying the Free Software model in addressing broader questions such as Governance, Digital Inclusion, Development and Culture.” The conference was supported by Hipatia(a European NGO), Kerala State IT Mission, Free Software Foundation of India, and the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala (IIITM-K), Thiruvananthapuram.

The conference had its origins at the World Social Forum held in Mumbai during Jan 16-21, 2004. Arun met some people from Hipatia, which also worked for promoting Free Software and its philosophy, at the venue. They agreed that there was a need for people from countries that are geographically far apart, such as India and Latin America, to come together and share their ideas about Free Software so that something fruitful could evolve. This idea evoked a lot of interest in countries as varied as Brazil, Venezuela, Italy and India, and the Government of Kerala agreed to extend support for such a conference.

The website of the conference explained the vision of the conference:

Located at the intersection of Free Software, Development and Society, the FSFS Conference will examine the application of the Free Software model for equitable sharing models for intellectual artifacts, and ultimately for human development. The conference will also address, inter alia, issues such as technology access and the digital divide; legal issues; and experiences of using the Free Software model in fields such as music and literature.

The conference was held in the beautiful campus of the Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram during May 28-31, 2004. Felipe Perez-Marti, eminent economist and ex-Minister of Venezuela delivered the keynote address. Another important participant was Senator Fiorello Cortiana from Italy. At the end of the conference, it adopted a declaration, now known as the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration. It called upon the “social and political institutions to eliminate systems that hinder the development of the gnowledge society (see www.gnowledge. org).”13

Conclusion

We saw how Free Software has come to stay in Kerala. The natural question this raises is, “Why Kerala?” There is no other state in the country where Free Software has made an impact that is anywhere near that in Kerala. This itself could be the subject for an entire thesis, and this is certainly not the place to enter into a serious analysis of the question. However, an article like this cannot totally ignore the question either. Therefore, an attempt, however feeble, is made here to answer that question.

When one talks of the state of Kerala, what comes to one’s mind is the special place that it occupies in the country and the very different development path that the state has followed. Kerala is different from India as a whole in many ways: literacy rate in Kerala is about 90%, while the average for India is about 52%; life expectancy at birth in Kerala is 73 years compare to 61 years in India; Kerala’s birth rate is 14 per 1000 females, while India’s rate is 25. Kerala has one of the lowest ratios of disabled persons to service units-5,000, compared to the highest values of 17,000 in some states. Women outnumber men, live longer, are as educated as men and they dominate some occupations like school teachers. In spite of the small population of the state, it has produced some of the outstanding writers, cinematographers, cartoonists and journalists in the country. The Physical Quality of Life Index for the state is comparable to that in developed countries. At the same time, alcoholism, suicide rate, and drug abuse are close to the highest in the country. Wages are much higher than in the neighbouring states. Almost every other family has someone working abroad or in the IT industry in one of the major metropolises. “It is, in other words, weird-like one of those places where the starship Enterprise might land that superficially resembles Earth but is slightly off.” wrote Bill McKibben14.

Kerala has a history of several social reform movements. One of the most prominent is that led by Sri Narayana Guru for the upliftment of the Ezhava community. Members of the community were barred from entering Hindu temples and even studying Sanskrit and the scriptures. He led a successful struggle against these and even established a temple himself. Ayyan Kali led a struggle against oppression of lower castes by upper caste people and the State. Mannath Padmanabhan led a movement by the middle level Nair community and established the Nair Service Society. The Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad promoted scientific thinking among children and adults and also spearheaded the total literacy movement. The Communist Party helped to liberate workers from virtual slavery and to bring about universal education. The Christian missionaries that have been active in the state for several decades also helped to take basic education to even the most down-trodden. While this is the background, it is difficult to understand why such things happened in Kerala but not in other states.

The unique history of this land has helped create a unique sense of democracy, equity and social justice among the people in the state. This is evidenced by the sometimes violent reactions to events that are perceived as violation of basic rights. Police action against tribals who had occupied government land in protest against the government’s inaction in providing them land as promised, and suicide of a student who could not continue her education due to inability to pay the fees, are two examples of events that led to major protests. Freedom is a concept close to their hearts and the sense of personal dignity is high. People thus find it easy to perceive Free Software as a fight against exploitation by large software companies. Moreover, the penetration of communication networks (telephone, mobile, Internet) is one of the highest in the country, and two of the highest circulated newspapers in the country are in the local language. Thus people are aware of happenings in other parts of the world.

It is interesting that, in the 1970s, an eccentric film maker, John Abraham, considered by many as possibly the only genius in Malayalam cinema, produced a film Amma Ariyaan (which can be literally translated as For the knowledge of the mother), by collecting small donations and exhibited it everywhere free of charge. Like Knuth’s TEX, this could be considered as a forerunner of Free Software, considering that the ideology of Free Software is being extended to creativity in other areas through movements like Creative Commons. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that the Free Software movement flourished in Kerala.

———— ——
Footnotes:

1 Those who would like to know more about Free Software can find plenty of material at the FSF website.

2 A LaTeX is a set of macros for TeX that is now commonly used for typesetting, instead of plain TeX.

3 (http://sarovar. org)

4 InApp Technologies ( http://www.inapp. com)

5 Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala

6 Emacs is the editor developed by Stallman that is very popular among users of Unix-like systems including GNU/Linux.

7 (http://www.linuxtod ay.com/news story.php3?ltsn= 2001-07-19- 010-20-PR- CY)

8 GNOME is one of the various desktops available in GNU/Linux.

9 http://www.apdip. net/projects/ malayalam/

10 http://www.sutharya .kerala.gov. in/

11 http://www.space- kerala.org/ downloads/ foss.pdf

12 www.linuxense. com

13 The full text of the declaration is available at fsfs.hipatia. net/wiki/ index.php/ Main Page.

14 http://www.ashanet. org/library/ articles/ kerala.199803. html

____________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ ________

This document may be copied, distributed or republished in any media subject to the condition that this note is also included. The document may be modified and republished under the same conditions provided a reference is given to the original source.

6 comments:

productman said…
Hello,
I really enjoyed your post on free software in India..Keep us Updated.
John McCall
http://www.net- ebooks.com
http://www.ebooks- downloads. com

3:40 PM  
आशीष शुक्ल “Wah Java !!” said…
Thanks for the history of Free Software in Kerala 🙂 .

11:50 PM  
beta3 said…
Linux and other GNU programs are gaining momentum with the general users in Kerala now. But look at the government. Of all the parties, the Left guys are refusing to use GNU products. All govt establishment PCs are running on Windows XP (most of them are pirated ones too!). However its heartening to see Central govts response. They seems to be supporting the FSF by providing Linux in new PCs/ Laptops provided to the police judges etc…

6:42 PM  
Anonymous said…
A very nice read indeed!

6:15 PM  
Anonymous said…
Great write-up! Thanks a lot for taking the effort to chronicle the history of Free Software in Kerala.

10:09 AM  
fredericknoronha said…
Very nice read. It helped me to understand the wider picture, and the various links. It would have been nice if there were more clickable links on your page. I’ll forward your post to BytesForAll.

10:20 AM  

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V. Sasi Kumar
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Working at the Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala State. My research field is the physics of clouds and rainfall. My interests include Free Software and music.

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Microsoft Says Windows May Soon Be On XO Laptop

Posted by egovindia on October 29, 2007

Microsoft Says Windows May Soon Be On XO Laptop

http://www.informat ionweek.com/ news/showArticle .jhtml?articleID =202601773

The low-cost laptop computer for poor children currently runs on rival
Linux software.

By Reuters
InformationWeek
October 25, 2007 07:00 PM

BOSTON – Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has made progress in getting its
Windows software to work on a low-cost laptop computer for poor
children that currently runs on rival Linux software, an executive
said Thursday.

The world’s largest software company is now working to adapt a basic
version of Windows XP so it is compatible with the non-profit One
Laptop per Child Foundation’s small green- and-white XO laptop.

“We’re spending a non-trivial amount of money on it,” Microsoft
Corporate VP Will Poole said in an interview Thursday. “We’re working
hard. But we’re still at least a few months away.”

The One Laptop per Child Foundation, a spin-off from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
, plans to start producing the $188 machines in
China next month and eventually manufacture millions a year for
elementary school children in developing countries in Asia, Africa and
Latin America.

The foundation is also selling the machines in the United States and
Canada for $400 apiece through a fundraising campaign.

The laptops were designed specifically to run Linux programs. If the
machines run only Linux, Microsoft will lose an opportunity to expose
tens of millions of children worldwide to its Windows system.

“We’ve made progress,” Poole said.

If the foundation is able to meet its goal of producing millions of
laptops for school children around the world and they are all loaded
with Linux software, then they would end up being more comfortable
with those programs than with Windows, said Wayan Vota, who publishes
a blog that monitors the project. (http://olpcnews. com/).

“People will realize there is an alternative to Windows and they might
like it better,” Vota said.”

Originally dubbed the $100 laptop, which is the group’s target price
for the machine, the XO features a string pulley to charge its
battery, a keyboard that switches between languages, a digital video
camera
and wireless connectivity.

The laptop’s designer, Mary Lou Jepsen, said in an interview earlier
this month she expects the price to drop in the first quarter of next
year because prices of memory tend to fall dramatically during that
period.

The computer requires just 2 watts of power compared with the typical
laptop’s 30 to 40 watts and does away with hard drives, relying
instead on flash memory and four USB ports to add memory devices.

The XO laptop’s component makers include Advanced Micro Devices Inc
and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. Software maker Red Hat Inc helped
develop the device. Quanta Computer Incwill manufacture it.

The foundation will start taking orders for its Give 1 Get 1 campaign
on Nov. 12 at http://www.laptopgi ving.org.

By: Jim Finkle

Posted in MNC's eGovernance in INDIA | Leave a Comment »

TCS, DGSD…the list grows : how to deprieve India in the name of technology?Re: [eGovINDIA] EGov-eBusiness Strategies For Government

Posted by egovindia on October 28, 2007

TCS, DGSD … the list grows : how to deprieve India in the name of technology? Re: [eGovINDIA] EGov – eBusiness Strategies For Government

This write up is purely in the interest of the nation and it speaks about technology. The intention is not to cricitcise Government but to tell them that they should look at the technology which is cost effective. They should also learn to look through the cost pushing design of the IT companies/PPP Partners

Government of India’s MCA (Ministry of Company Affairs) e-governance system which is  implemented by  TCS at a huge cost has built in digital signature tool which does  not work on Mozilla Firefox or linux.
TCS is unable to provide linux/Mozilla firefox support for the past 6 months.
As Director of 2-3 companies, I am unable to use the digital signature supplied by NIC (service provided by TCS) for the past 6 months.
ELCOT, as a matter of policy does not use any hardware that does not support linux.
The next thing is to issue notice to TCS under MRTP.
This is one side of the story.

The other side is the VSNL (TCS owned) supported REGINET software of Tamil Nadu which had a similar electronic signature provision. They wanted me to approve for extension of  79 such electonic signatures for the next one year. When I looked at the software design, it was meant to be used only by the intranet users and it had nothing to do with external users. But this system had been imposed by the vendors to sell over 500 such e-signatures at a cost of Rs.900 per e-sign every year. I was under pressure to approve the expenditure as the services came down after the expiry date.

I put a team to study the system design. Within two hours we got over the issue. The same e-signature dongles work for a different design. No need to pay TCS or anyone else. The beauty is that it can work forever, without payment to anyone.

Just because some American company wanted to sell its product we are blindly looking at e-signature for everything and thus end up pushing up the cost. Companies such as TCS look for pushing up the cost of e-governnace which is patriotic to the least.

TCS does not have any knowledge about platform independent technology, more so OSS technology and thus its costing is on the high side. Unfortunately the States as well as the central government do not have people who have hands on experience and hence e-gov solutions end up providing just revenues to the software companies without any tangible benefits to the citizens.

In the case of DCA, the users can simply do with user id and password. But they were forced to buy the digital signature from TCS. To use the digital signaturethe the companies have to buy Windows OS! After all these, the user is not able to get any great service from them. Every year, the companies have to shell out user charges to TCS for the digital signature. For every director on the Board the amount is collected. With over 400000 registered companies in India employing roughly 4 million directors, TCS is happily collecting Rs.10000 for one time charge and Rs.6000 per director every year! As the money does not go from the exchequer, there is no question from the CAG/AG/Audit teams. But this is a leakage of citizens money which is to be prevented.

A similar deprievation is on through VISA card system when India could have its own payment gateway for credit card / debit card payments. Everytime a VISA card is used a minimum of 1.6% of the collection goes to USA!
Japan has prevented it by not allowing credit cards in its shopping operations. But India, as usual has been sleeping by allowing the rampant use of VISA cards. It should go for its own credit card gateway or encourage cash purchase following the Japan pattern.

I am told that now DGSD is adopting a similar stand by allowing C1 India to collect annual subscription charges from bidders for using their e-procurement portal which has not been decided through open tender.
DGSD has to be asked to explain how it chose its partner and how it allows C1 India to collect at the rate of Rs.6000-9000 per bidder every year for being a bidder for DGSD?

Umashankar

C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert.
& Managing Director, Electronics Corporation of TamilNadu Limited(ELCOT)
(A Government of TamilNadu Undertaking)Co-Moderator:
http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/eGovINDIA
Mankind deserves open standards and open source software. Only the chosen ones get its taste. Others just hear the taste.

Chennai:
Ph: 91-44-42054443

—– Original Message —-
From: abhijit kale <abhe_k@yahoo. com>
To: eGovINDIA@yahoogrou ps.com
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2007 2:29:23 PM
Subject: Re: [eGovINDIA] EGov – eBusiness Strategies For Government

Hi,

This was a really informative message dhirendra. Govt of india has taken the positive steps towards implementing e-Gov, by enabling e-filing of the returns using digital signatures. I feel that this is good start.

ABhijit Kale
www.elock.com

Compliance and Security

for Online Transactions

ra Krishna <dhirendrakrishna@ yahoo.co. uk> wrote:

Friends,

Aforesaid book by Douglas Holmes (Nicholas Brealey Publishing London
2001) is a “MUST” for eGovernance professionals. Following eGov
Headlines indicates overall global scenario and these facts anf
figures may have improved over the years.

# 75 percent of Australian file their income tax return online.

# Singapore provides 150 public services from one portal.

# US Federal Government makes four million online purchases for goods
and services, worth $17 billion.

# Administrative costs in US Department of Agriculture dropped from$77
per transaction to #17 per transaction, after introduction of
eProcurement System.

# It takes 25 seconds in Scandinavia to transmit fingerprint image to
another force.

# One billion health insurance claims in France are submitted
electronically every year.

# Residents in Sweden can access their medical records on line over a
WAP phone.

# University students in Germany register for exams and serch library
books, using wireless device.

# Multimedia mobile units drive around CostaRica, providing internet
access, email facility and computer training to rural citizens.

Basic objective of eGovernance projects is to (i) Cut
administrative costs and improve efficiency, (ii)Meet citizen’s
expectation and improve citizen relationship and (iii)Facilitate
economic development. There are any number of practical examples
available all over the world. Systems already developed can be
modified to meet our requirements, to reduce the time and cost of
similar eGovernment initiatives in India.

Dhirendra Krishna IA&AS (Retired)

Posted in eGovernance issues | Leave a Comment »

One year of OSS implementation in ELCOT-the score card- ELCOT’s success story on OSS migration

Posted by egovindia on October 28, 2007

One year of OSS implementation in ELCOT – the score card

Dear friends,

On the 26th May 2007, ELCOT completed one year of OSS implementation in its day to day activities.
Currently the migration to OSS is close to 126 out of 130 desktop machines (97%) and 25 out of 26 rack servers (96%).
Barring four desktops which use a popular windows based accounting software, the entire ELCOT’s head office moved into Suse linux. A lone user has been using Fedora core.
We have asked for the linux version of the accounting software from the vendor. He had agreed. ELCOT is also in the process of migrating to an open source based ERP shortly and so the four desktops also would be migrated to Suse linux shortly.

ELCOT had also rolled out a powerful application software for administering family cards. Currently the contractors who do the data entry for the family cards have been using it. Government have given approval for decentralising the family card printing operations at the district level, thanks to the web based software developed by ELCOT using OSS.
The family card software has a powerful local language interface which is  built on Java script technology. It is absolutely platform independent and the user need not install any fonts.

So far so good.
ELCOT has been show casing its success in the migration to OSS to all Government departments. A few of them were thoroughly impressed and have decided to fully migrate to OSS. It is still too early.
Yet, the way in which the people accept OSS after a hands on experience in ELCOT gives room for optimism. ELCOT’s staff generously share their experience when Government users visit ELCOT’s office. They also get to see the linux ATM and also ELCOT’s 28 seater software development centre which uses only OSS.

ELCOT has an 80 licence anti virus software which had become redundant. The officer in charge of the licence had asked my permission to sell it outside!  Concurrence given.
Anti virus software has no role in ELCOT.

The latest success is the use of crossover and wine software to run application software that had already been developed in Microsoft client – server environment. ELCOT’s team is shortly descending on Salem to provide on site support to a large co-operative bank (150 desktops) to migrate to Suse linux without any migration of the existing Ms application software (using Wine/Cross over)

Regards.

Umashankar
_____________________________

ELCOT’s success story on OSS migration on

www.youtube.com/mdelcot

 

After a year of experimentation and implementation, ELCOT made a corporate video on how it migrated to linux, notably suse linux which had stolen the hearts of all ELCOT’s officials.


The video can be viewed at www.youtube. com/mdelcot

There is one error in the video about FSF that is being corrected.

IAS officers have been given a two your orientation on suse linux on 5th July 07. Senior officers were very happy that they were exposed to an advanced technology.

 

C.Umashankar

C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert.
& Managing Director, Electronics Corporation of TamilNadu Limited(ELCOT)
(A Government of TamilNadu Undertaking)Co-Moderator:
http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/eGovINDIA
Mankind deserves open standards and open source software. Only the chosen ones get its taste. Others just hear the taste.

Chennai:
Ph: 91-44-42054443

Posted in eGovernance Intiatives of Govt. | Leave a Comment »

eGovernance Icons are determined by their work and planning not by mere LETTER.

Posted by egovindia on October 28, 2007

Now the implementing agency and TCS agreed that OSS is the best option not only in terms of cost but also in terms of security and overall TCO. [eGovINDIA] Open source news: Technical opinion from ELCOT to TN Medical department on Health System Project

[eGovINDIA] Open source news: Technical opinion from ELCOT to TN Medical department on Health System Project

Dear members,
Health department of Govt. of Tamil Nadu has been implementing a huge World Bank aided e-governance project covering almost all the hospitals of Tamil Nadu.
The MD, ELCOT was on the Technical/tender committee for selection of the vendor. After an elaborate process, TCS was chosen as the best qualified partner. But TCS lacks OSS experience. Those who had OSS experience did not qualify to become the best bidder.

Now the implementing agency and TCS agreed that OSS is the best option not only in terms of cost but also in terms of security and overall TCO.

ELCOT gave its technical opinion on various issues on the 8th September 2007. I am attaching the same for your information.

Apologies for the lengthy write up.

Regards

Umashankar

D.O. Letter No. ELCOT/MD/668/ 2007-08 Dated 08th September 2007

Dear Thiru Davidar,

Sub: Technological options for Hospital Management System – Our remarks furnished – Regarding.

Ref: Your D.O. Letter No. 3481/A3/HMIS/ HSP/2007 dated 31.08.2007

——-

We have carefully gone through the two technological options proposed by you and we have carefully noted your apprehensions with regard to the use of Open Source Technology in mission critical application. In the following write up we have made an attempt to provide answers to your queries and apprehensions. Apologies for using a few typical IT technical terms in the write up.

In both the options you have mentioned about Windows 2003 server alone as the server platform. The deployment of servers world over is in the order of 85% under Linux / Unix / Solaris Technology and only 15% under Windows platform. No one deploys Windows operating system for a mission critical or enterprise wide application. For the Health system, we are talking about an enterprise wide application if not a mission critical application. In the entire IT industry, people trust the Unix, Solaris and Linux Systems for mission critical and enterprise wide applications. The 15% server coverage in the world is largely deployed for use of the SMEs and definitely they are not deployed to run mission critical applications. Windows 2003 itself is meant for SMEs and not for enterprise applications. Hence choice of Windows 2003 server for the deployment is to be totally ruled out.

I am enclosing herewith the press clipping (Deccan Chronicle 06.09.2007) showing that the UK Government websites are being routinely hacked by Chinese groups in an organised manner . Such hacking is not possible if the servers are run using Linux/Unix/Solaris/ Mainframe environment. ELCOT’s website and all its application servers (totally 25) are running under Linux environment with just a PIV Linux box acting as firewall. ELCOT’s mini data centre had been certified as hacker proof after carrying out hacker testing. ELCOT is willing to demonstrate how a Linux server is more secure as compared to any other server, without using any external firewall box, third party software etc. The security system in Linux/Unix comes as a default. That means, the user need not necessarily possess any technical knowhow or deploy a person of technical knowhow to configure the security system. The cost saving could run into crores of rupees under such a safe environment. In the circumstances, the best possibility of protecting the Government’s interests is to adopt only the Linux /Unix/Solaris or the Zee operating system of the IBM main frame server.

With regard to the database, you have raised a question whether PostgresSQL or mysql can handle the load. (20-30 lakh transactions per day). Our recommendation for database is PostgreSQL under Linux / Main Frame Server environment. PostgreSQL is an enterprise wide database which can handle database of 15 Terra bytes and above. PostgreSQL is equated to Oracle enterprise database. Hence it can suit an application such as the HMI. Its performance is far superior as compared to MS SQL server. PostgreSQL provides not only enterprise wide database support but also provides PGADMIN III front end software free of cost. Pgadmin III is a browser based database administration tool that provides a web based front end to administer PostgreSQL database. The hassles associated with client installation of the database does not arise in the case of PostgreSQL whereas it is mandatory for client software installation in the case of Oracle, Ms-SQL database etc. PostgreSQL database as well as its future upgrades are available absolutely free. The undersigned had evaluated the PostgreSQL database versus MS SQL database and found out that the PostgreSQL database accepts binary data without any limitation. A test case was undertaken to load a 100 MB binary file (such as video, executable file etc) into the database. PostgreSQL accepted the binary file in one shot without seeking extra coding work. The same task was undertaken in MS SQL also. MS-SQL server was handicapped in accepting such a large binary file. The developer had to do an R & D before understanding the drawback associated with MS-SQL database with regard to the binary database intake. The developer had to get over this issue by doing a trial and error coding. First he split the 100 MB binary file into 50 units and then fed into the MS SQL database. The database accepted this. But before doing this, he tried to split the file into 10 units and then 5 units but the database refused to accept the 5 and 10 MB parts due to the binary limitation. Only when he split it into 2 MB pieces, the database accepted. Apparently such a backward technology database has overheads to the system as it requires first splitting of a binary file and then while reading the file, the system has to assemble the split files into one. This would retard the performance of the application software as well as the server. HMI has lot of binary records in the form of medical digital X rays, scan videos, pictures, etc. Hence Ms-sql server is definitely not suitable for HMI use for the above reason and a host of other reasons, including cost.

When it comes to costing, an equivalent enterprise MS SQL server database costs between Rs. 7-10 lakhs on each processor. That means for every two processor server one has to spend Rs.14-20 lakhs. An equivalent Oracle database costs Rs.24 lakhs per dual processor server. One of the overriding factors in implementation is the cost factor. PostgreSQL comes absolutely free. For a 300 server network, PostgreSQL saves as much as Rs.42 crores. Instead of spending such a huge sum on second level database, the department can invest in a high end server such as the IBM main frame server and run the Mainframe server under Linux/PostgreSQL environment. The cost of two high end enterprise class Mainframe servers is estimated at Rs.6 crores only, including 5 year maintenance cost. In this backdrop, the department needs to make an objective evaluation as to whether it should go for such a high cost database when a better database is available absolutely free. ELCOT is in the process of procuring two enterprise class main frame servers for which ELCOT has identified Suse Linux Operating System running on Mozilla Firefox coupled with PostgreSQL as the database. So, the department would have a pilot implementation to bank upon before making the final decision.

A question may be raised on the support available for PostgreSQL database. It it is the experience of this author that MS-SQL or Oracle does not provide any support unless annual support agreement at a cost of 20-40% of the cost of the database / per year is entered into. With such annual support cost, one can achieve ten times of technical support under PostgreSQL. It is noteworthy to mention that anyone who has experience in administering Oracle/MS-SQL server/DB2 can handle the PostgreSQL database. The undersigned has been watching and monitoring the activities of over 36 technical professionals in ELCOT who have been handling PostgreSQL database in the process of developing e-governance software for ELCOT. ELCOT’s non technical officials also have been using the database through PGADMINIII for viewing the database alone. Moreover, paid annual maintenance support can be obtained from the authors of PostgreSQL by registering with postgresql.org. In a nutshell, there is plenty of support available for PostgreSQL database including large technical manpower availability in Chennai/TamilNadu itself and also online support from the authors of the database. The costing for such maintenance is less than a tenth of the cost one has to pay for supporting other proprietary databases.

Technically speaking, the database of the HMI need not be hosted on a single server because each district hospital is an independent unit. Except the master databases and control tables, all other transaction and application software components can be separated and hosted on individual servers either centrally or at different locations. ELCOT already had implemented such a technology for the online family card administration system. In such a scenario, the PostgreSQL database itself would be considered a heavy weight database. It would be sufficient to deploy mysql database itself under such environments. Deploying Ms-sqlserver or Oracle would be an overkill at a very high cost factor.

Your question that whether mission critical application can run on Open Source Technology, it can be understood by making a visit to ELCOT. ELCOT had already hosted its Family Card Application online. The application is currently being accessed from anywhere in the State using TN State Wide Area Network backbone. As of now, the system has not gone down even by a minute. The Government employees as well as the contractors access the database using the web based application software all over the State. ELCOT is producing an average of 10,300 family cards per day using the system and each family card application passes through the online workflow process before reaching the final printing stage. ELCOT has no difficulty in running the system. It is noteworthy that the database consists of text and binary content (photos) measuring over 1 Terra byte. Hence, running a mission critical application using an open source database such as PostgreSQL is easy and organised. ELCOT has the necessary technical manpower and experience to provide a complete range of support starting from configuring the system, application software development, deployment and support.

You have questioned the performance related issues in the deployment of Open Source Technology. The Linux Operating System as well as the Open Source databases that run on Linux Operating System have no performance issues at all. For the envisaged magnitude of the hospital management system, open source software offers a one-to-one performance matching system. There is no question of lack of performance or poor performance from the Open Source System. In fact, the open source systems are free from viruses and security issues and hence the performance degradation due to anti virus software and security management software packages is not suffered by the OSS based systems.

Suitable Software development and deployment platform: The Technology proposed by TCS is Dot Net and Ms-sqlserver. This is like locking the Department to a single vendor as both these packages make it impossible to migrate to any other platform in future. Neither Dot Net nor Ms-sql server runs on other platforms. So, the Government would be forced to remain within the bind of the supplier, viz., Microsoft. Dot Net technology is not only proprietary but also a recent one. It comes with its own overheads and bugs, whereas the tested technology that offers enterprise level computing support world over is the Java Technology. Dot Net has been in the field only for the past four years, whereas Java Technology has been in the field of Information Technology for the past thirty years. J2EE/JAVA technology offers fool-proof security and absolute scalability. Large enterprises trust ONLY Java technology. Java Technology is an open technology. Dot Net is liable for security threats and vulnerability which are the inherent drawbacks of the Windows Operating system. Java Technology is recently advanced itself to new heights by the introduction of AJAX technology (http://www.adaptive path.com/ publications/ essays/archives/ 000385.php). AJAX technology offers a client-server like ability to the browser based application software. In a typical browser based application, the queries go back and forth the remote server for every move/call, thus reloading the web page for every move of the user. But AJAX had revolutionized the web field by doing away with the page reloading (which is time consuming and some times irritating) drawback. Things happen as and when the user moves to the next area of operation on the web page with the user never realising that he/she has been using a browser based application where the server is located probably thousands of miles away. This is precisely the advantage of a client server application which usually has a local server. With the advantage of the look and feel of the client-server system, the AJAX has in fact high jacked the entire application software field. Even proprietary software vendors had to run for integration of AJAX in their respective systems. Java comes with AJAX by default. It is AJAX today. Tomorrow some other technology would be introduced and the same would be available for free download from Java developers. No proprietary software vendor such as Microsoft would offer such a future technology free like this. That means the Government would struck with an outdated and non dynamic technology at any point of time.

It is noteworthy that TCS which has never implemented an application software under Java Technology has been attempting to impose a highly proprietary and backward technology on Government by suggesting Dot Net technology. In our opinion, Dot Net technology should not be used for the above mentioned reasons and also for the reasons of higher cost on each server in addition to the loose security systems which are built into the MS-Windows environment itself.

Hence we recommend the use of Java/J2EE technology with Struts framework for the software development environment. For deployment of the software, the department may consider an open source alternative such as JBOSS.

Currently, the entire open source community has been concentrating on Jboss server deployment software. The second alternative could be Apache Tomcat. World’s 85% of the servers run on Apache Tomcat or JBOSS server environment. These are available free which includes free upgrades.
Support issues Vs. Open Source software (OSS) technology: Immediate and online support is available for all the Open Source software products. The knowledge repository for any software under OSS is mind boggling. Within minutes one can find a solution to a technical issue, absolutely online. Such a powerful support system is not available for any proprietary technology as the proprietary technology holders have been keeping the knowledge sharing at bay in order to maximise their profits. As OSS is owned by the community, the knowledge sharing on technology, including bugs and the bug fixes is absolute. ELCOT has already implemented OSS in the Family Card Printing process, anywhere Registration software, Commercial Tax Dealer Registration and Return Filing software, Old Age Pension Scheme Administration software, Online Farmers Card issue software, Online Identity Card for Government employees and so on. OSS technology is a simple yet professional technology. Every student who graduates from Engineering colleges under computer science/IT/ECE learns this technology. Hence, the question of non-availability of technical manpower to drive and use the Java Technology does not arise.

Hence, our recommendation is that Hospital Management System should be built only on Java Technology alone.

Jasper Report: Jasper Report is a powerful open source report building software available for free download and use. Jasper Report is the best report writing software available internationally and it is available free of cost. Jasper Report is not only free for downloading but its upgrades are also available free. In a nutshell, Jasper Report enables the user to develop reports using an highly attractive Graphical User Interface (GUI). It almost resembles the popular Crystal Report Software but has more advanced features than the Crystal Report Software. Crystal Report allows preparation of reports only using the client server environment. That means, the user has to install necessary software executable on the client system to run the report, whereas, the Jasper Report does not require any such installation on the client system. It runs across the web and the user gets the report right on his/her desktop irrespective of the size of the document and the operating system in use. The report is rendered in Adobe pdf format which is cross platform format. The user can save such document on his/her desktop system. Apparently, TCS is unaware of this powerful open source tool and has not provided appropriate technical advice to the department in this regard. Our technical advise in this regard is that the Hospital Management System should be built on Java technology supported by Jasper Report for writing of reports offering fixed page width reports. In a typical hospital administration system, one requires to generate and print day to day billing, out patient slips, prescription slips, hospital case sheet and so on. This requires fixed page width printing facility. The page width should not over flow. Jasper Report offers the fixed page width format as default and hence our recommendation is that the Hospital Management System should be built with Jasper Report for Linux as the default report building system.

To sum up, our recommendations are as follows:

  1. Hospital Management System should be built on J2EE architecture with Struts framework which offers N-Tier architecture. This technology allows the user to set up any number of application servers, database servers and security servers and the user will never know the number of systems driving the software. This also enables to deploy heterogeneous operating system servers across the State. J2EE technology is a cross platform technology, meaning that the application software developed under J2EE can be deployed from one operating system to another. According to latest assessment report from Gartner, a leading international consultant that over 80% of the new application software that are being build by the year 2009 would be only on platform independent technology (read – J2EE/Php) and by the year 2017, the world would be free from proprietary (read – Microsoft) technology in the area of operating system. (Copy of the ppt slide enclosed). When the world at large is moving towards cross platform and more open technologies, Tamil Nadu should not opt for a backward looking, costed and proprietary technology such as Dot Net.

     

  2. Already the Government have approved 100% open source technology for a typical mission critical application such as Co-operative Banking operations. This application software has been entrusted to Onward software Services Limited (finalised through open tender) at a cost of Rs.1.6 crores. Once developed, this application software would be implemented from a data centre having a high end server such as Mainframe server or a series of centralised servers, connected to TNSWAN, offering absolutely mission critical services such as banking and commonly shared ATM services.

     

  3. J2EE also enables deployment of low end servers with high end performance as the total load would be shared by a series of servers and not one single server. This is only optional but the same makes the technology attractive for Government.

     

  4. The database should be PostgreSQL for Linux (latest build).

  5. Jasper Report running on linux OS should be the report writing software for building all types of reports.

     

  6. The system should be run on Linux/UNIX/Solaris or the Mainframe OS (Zee OS)

  7. If linux OS is chosen, then one of the two popular linux server versions viz., Redhat or Suse can be deployed.

     

  8. Main frame OS is an option if Mainframe servers are deployed.

  9. Default browser should be Mozilla FireFox. The system should also be capable of running on Internet Explorer and all standard browsers.

     

ELCOT has already developed, deployed and tested high end application software in all the above technology (except Mainframe technology). ELCOT is willing to showcase the entire technology to the Medical department and/or TCS. ELCOT is willing to provide necessary technical guidance in this regard.

Kindly feel free to call us for any assistance in this regard. We suggest that a meeting may be convened to finalise the technology and any decision on the technology should be not just based on the convenience of TCS or their existing software code but based on security, scalability, interoperability, high availability and cost factor in the short run or in the long run.

Yours Sincerely,

 

(C. UMASHANKAR)

Encl: As above.

To

Thiru P.W.C. Davidar, I.A.S.,

Special Secretary to Government,

Department of Health & Family Welfare &

Project Director, Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project,

7th Floor, DMS Building,

Chennai – 600 006.

Copy to :

Thiru A. Mohan,

Deputy Director General,

National Informatics Centre (NIC),

Rajaji Bhavan, Besant Nagar,

Chennai – 600 090

 

 ______
C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert.
& Managing Director, Electronics Corporation of TamilNadu Limited(ELCOT)
(A Government of TamilNadu Undertaking)Co-Moderator:
http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/eGovINDIA
Mankind deserves open standards and open source software. Only the chosen ones get its taste. Others just hear the taste.

Chennai:
Ph: 91-44-42054443

Posted in eGovernance Projects around Country | Leave a Comment »

Who are Icons of eGovernance in INDIA ??

Posted by egovindia on October 28, 2007

Publication in Dataquest on e-gov corruption – The E-governance Muddle

The E-governance Muddle – Dataquest article Sept 02, 2005

https://egovindia.wordpress.com/category/egov-muddle/

WHO provided the information to Srivatsa Krishna, IAS is currently with the World Bank in Washington, DC. ?

Counter Point to E-Governance Muddle by Srivatsa Krishna, IAS is currently with the World Bank in Washington, DC. These are his personal views and not of any organization he is associated with in any form or manner.

Counterpoint

India singularly lacks icons. Neither does India know as to how to celebrate its icons. Much of this is true except perhaps in the world of sports, software and movies, where we do cherish our icons. This is in response to “The Egovernance Muddle” by Shubendhu Parth dated September 2, 2005.

R Chandrashekhar and J Satyanarayana are not ordinary IAS officers — they are icons of the IAS, the creators of e-governance in India, and are responsible for creating from scratch, projects which have added tremendous value to the everyday life of the harried common man.

If they had been born in any other country, like the United States, they would have been held up as national treasures.

But, we, rather than applauding their feats, and recognizing how many minefields they had to go through professionally to make them happen, choose the easy path of sending an email or two, writing trash and innuendo hoping that it would substitute for solid analysis which ought to precede an investigative article.

Publication in Dataquest on e-gov corruption – The E-governance Muddle

________________________________

https://egovindia.wordpress.com/nkc/

Submission to National Knowledge Commission from eGovINDIA Yahoogroup, on relevance of e-governance in building a knowledge super power,

April 10 th 2006

Dear Chairman and Members of the National Knowledge Commission,

 

Greetings from eGovINDIA yahoo group members.

 

About the eGovINDIA group:

eGovINDIA-Yahoo group comprises of over 3000 members from all over the world. The members of the group have subscribed to process automation based true e-governance which has the capacity to empower the citizens of all walks of life such as the socially and economically downtrodden, women, minorities and people living in far flung areas.

One of the moderators of the group is an IAS officer (Mr.C.Umashankar) who had commissioned India’s first e-district at Tiruvarur, TamilNadu during 1999-2001 using process automation techniques. The first e-district was rated 20 years ahead of rest of India by Times of India during 2001. The e-champion was chosen the bureaucrat of the next millennium by the Week Magazine in its millennium edition during the year 2000. The e-district continues to transact business using the e-governance systems till date. Mr.Umashankar served as Member (Special Invitee) of the National e-governance Action Plan implementation committee for a while during 2005.

The other moderator Mr. V. M. Kumaraswamy is stationed at Los Angeles, CA, USA. He is a post graduate in Management and has been deeply committed to the creation of a transparent and self confident India.

The group considers it a great opportunity to build India a knowledge super power through the NKC. We would like to put forward our views on e-governance and relevance of e-governance in achieving the knowledge super power status.

 

Relevance of e-governance vis-a-vis building a knowledge super power.

Public administration in India is marred by corruption and red tappism which had resulted in an anomalous situation whereby the laws of the lands are being twisted according to the executive/bureaucracy’s whims and fancies. The underlying problem is the Tottenham system that has been in use all over India since independence. The Tottenham system believes in creating multiple manual records for a single transaction on the belief that if one record gets destroyed, the other original record would come handy. This had resulted in a situation where the bureaucracy in India works only to feed itself with more and more book keeping work, with hardly any concern for the citizen. The other result is rampant corruption and red tappism in public administration. Certain citizens have become more than equal in India due to these circumstances. This goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution.

Nearly 60 years into independence, India still witnesses a situation where a major portion of its population continues to remain marginalized. The well thought out schemes that were introduced for the betterment of the marginalized population had been thwarted by the vested interests using the Tottenham system which enables secrecy and corruption.

Naxalism which had been considered a bane has been gradually gaining legitimacy due to the all round failure of the systems.

Corruption and red tappism pose a serious threat to the effort to convert India into a Knowledge super power. Only a self confident nation can become a knowledge super power. The citizens of the nation have to feel empowered to interact with their own governments and its multiple agencies confidently before emanating the same level of confidence in building a knowledge super power.

e-governance has the magical power to bring about the much awaited change in public administration. All the ills of the Tottenham system can be got over using process automation based e-governance system. E-governance is the only viable route to a transparent governance system.

 

Having emphasised the need for e-governance to act as a foundation to build India a knowledge super power, we would like to focus on certain areas where India has to concentrate to steer clear of pitfalls in the e-governance implementation.

 

Definition of e-governance:

“Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that empowers the Government, its citizens including the Government employees, weaker sections, women, people living in far flung and difficult areas and the business houses to transact businesses with government and its agencies online 24/7 ”

This definition presupposes process automation at every level where e-governance is introduced. There is no scope for window dressing in such a professional set up. Utility bill collection system should not be confused with the process automation system that is being discussed here.

The litmus test for true e-governance is that the system should react at the same speed for a rich man as well as poor man. The same is the case when it comes to literate versus illiterate, men verses women and so on. The so called untouchables (Scheduled Castes) should feel themselves equal to the rest of the Indian citizens at least in their interaction with Government and its agencies online.

Agenda before the nation to achieve true e-governance

Having defined the concept, the egovINDIA group wishes to place its view points on how to achieve true e-governance.

Like any other advocacy groups, the egovINDIA feels strongly for and against certain policies and practices adopted at present by various governments in India, in the name of e-governance. The group considers strongly for any initiative in India that closely matches the above definition and it openly expresses its reservations when such policies are found to be in the interest of certain individuals or corporate only.

 

Requisites for a true take off in e-governance:

1. Clear Information Technology and e-governance policy frame work from Government of India and respective State Governments.

The first mandatory pronouncement is that any e-governance initiative has to be process automation based system. A process automation system converts the existing manual workflow into electronic workflow with or without process reengineering. Process reengineering usually takes place when the system gets converted to the electronic form.

The resolve expressed by the executive is the most important factor for the commencement and survival of any e-governance initiative. Such a resolve has to be expressed through policy pronouncements followed by concrete rules and regulations.

 

2. Expected outcome of e-governance initiative to be clearly spelt out before commencement.

3. A clear vision plan for the next 15-20 years with well defined and verifiable milestones is necessary.

4. Objective evaluation of implementation of e-governance based on pre defined parameters to do course correction, if any.

5. Legal framework to fund the e-governance movement.

6. Government employees to be the first major stake holders: Involvement of all stake holders in e-governance initiative is essential to make it a success. The prime stake holders are the Government employees who at present handle the public administration using mostly the manual processing method. E-governance has to enable these employees to carry out their day-to-day functions online. The system undoubtedly has to talk their language and it should provide them a complete solution. It had already been proved in the country’s first e-district that the Government employees are not monsters as depicted. The Government employees are ready to accept e-governance system as long as it satisfies their functional requirements with fool proof security and audit trail.

Enabling government employees to switch over to the e-governance system requires careful planning and execution. It is a case of prudent man management. There is a great role for e-champions in making this area a success.

7. Involvement of citizens and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in planning India’s e-governance policies.

8. Qualifications of a CSO to advice and aid Government: It is preferable that the Government should engage the services of the CSOs which had not received any funding from Government for projects.

9. Need for a Whistle Blowers’ protection Act: A strong e-governance system needs the backing of a supporting Act such as the Whistleblowers’ protection Act. WBA would complement the e-governance system and make life easier for the citizens and business houses.

10. Connectivity: Policy and funding for connecting all the 5 lakh villages of India. The Government owned BSNL had proved that it could provide digital connectivity to every nook and corner of the country. It had already achieved this feet by converting the entire analogue lines into digital lines even five years ago. The consumers had rated the BSNL as the most transparent billing company. BSNL’s broadband services (Data one) have been rated excellent by the consumers. Data One services have to be extended to the rural areas without any further loss of time. BSNL has its telephone exchanges touching Blocks and below the block level administrative set up. This is a huge strength on which BSNL can build India’s broadband revolution. All the Government installations, including schools, colleges, government / local body offices, hospitals, primary health centres and police stations have to be connected using Data one services. BSNL had already proved that the Tax payers’ money spent on its infrastructure is a useful investment in bringing about the telecom revolution. This time, the Government of India has to come forward to fund BSNL for building the internet infrastructure to connect all the villages. Suitable tax holidays and tax concessions have to be provided to encourage the users to opt for the broadband services at the village level. It may not be a bad idea if the Government of India could announce 2006, the year of connectivity. The entire rural India should be broadband enabled within a period of 12 months to enable a quantum leap in knowledge revolution. Unless the rural schools get broadband connectivity, the dream of building a knowledge super power would not materialise. So, the earlier the rural areas get affordable broadband connectivity the better it is for the momentum to build a knowledge super power.

11. Special treatment for difficult areas: Special provisions should be built for Bihar, North East, Hilly States such as Himachal and Uttranchal and Jammu & Kashmir to enable them to catch up with the rest of the States. For example, Bihar does not have electricity for major portion of its areas. There should be a special provision to provide power generators for the Government installations where e-governance is proposed in Bihar. Solar based power supply systems may also be considered. For these special efforts, suitable additional funding support has to be built into the plans. Similar is the case with North East and other difficult states.

12. Addressing power problem using notebook PCs: An innovative solution could be thought about by providing notebook computers to the power starved areas with solar power back up systems so that these areas need not bother about investing in high cost power back up systems. The present day notebook PCs match the desktop PCs in performance as well as reliability. The price of the notebook PCs has come down drastically in the recent past. With suitable policy support, the Government of India could make the notebook PCs the default systems for Government offices.

13. Policy framework for e-champions within the bureaucracy, at all levels: For the Indian system, the role of e-champions from within the Government is a pre requisite for leading the e-governance momentum. These e-champions have to be identified on voluntary basis, trained and put in charge of strategising and implementing e-governance solutions.

14. Need for change in civil service rules: Government employment should be thoroughly redefined. At present, the bureaucracy works on the principle of anonymity and secrecy. These principles go against e-governance based system which automatically seeks transparency in every sphere of activity. Anonymity of civil servants, though desirable, would be too difficult to achieve under a transparent system where everyone will be accountable for his/her commissions and omissions in a transparent manner. The rules the Central and State Civil Services need to be overhauled to suit the e-governance based system.

15. Women in e-governance: The country’s first e-district had proved that women employees far out numbered men in taking over the e-champion’s role. Similarly, the women beneficiaries outnumbered men in availing social security benefits through e-governance. Hence there is a need to have special focus on role for women in e-governance.

16. Native language support in e-governance.

17. Setting up of National and state level e-governance authority in the lines of Election Commission of India: In order to strategise, monitor and carry out course correction exercise, the Government may consider setting up of e-governance authorities in the lines of the RTI Commissioners. The authority should be vested with powers matching the Election Commission of India. At present, the e-governance initiative of the country is handled by a handful of IAS officers which is an aberration.

18. Adequate representation to SC/STs, minorities such as Muslims and Christians, women, people from rural areas in e-governance committees.

19. Transparency in all e-governance initiatives.

20. IT in school education. Role of CSOs such as Azim Premji foundation in providing multi media education for the poor: Schools should be provided with multi media based education material across the nation. This would provide a level playing field to all the students, notably the rural students. India can become a knowledge super power only if it empowers its rural students to come up on par with the urban students. In this connection, the NKC may consider recognising the role of Azim Premji foundation which has been supplying multi media based study materials to schools in different Indian languages free of cost. Azim premji foundation may be made the nodal agency for the entire nation to sphere head this movement.

21. Citizen feedback on e-governance activities: There is a need to enable the common man to contribute to the development of e-governance in public administration by keeping a window open for the citizens to send their opinions and suggestions.

 

 

Advocacy areas:

The following are a few areas which the egovINDIA group strongly feels about. The NKC may consider these views while formulating its recommendations to Government.

1. Focus on urban population or rural population? So far, the e-governance movement had focussed on urban citizens. The notable exceptions are the West Godawari (AP) and Akshya (Kerala) experiments. This is not the logical step to say the least. The population which is more affected by the Tottenham system is the rural poor because the poor do not have any bargaining capacity nor do they have the means to pay the illegal bribes. Today, the rural poor cannot get the Old Age Pension benefit unless they bribe the lower level officials. Nor they can get any government service unless they approach the government officials through touts, that too at a special cost. Good governance is a matter of livelihood for the rural population whereas it is a matter of luxury for the urban people. The convent English speaking corrupt bureaucracy would always prefer to serve the urban population because of various factors. Firstly, it provides them name and fame easily through the urban focussed print and other media. Secondly, it provides them illegal wealth or power or both. In the interest of the nation, the NKC may intervene and do the course correction. E-governance has to focus on providing services to the poor first, notably the poor in the rural areas before the same is taken up in urban areas.

2. Role of private sector partner in e-governance: Should the private sector run the Government services sans the Government or Government servants’ involvement? This question is being raised increasingly in the light of the replication of Andhra Pradesh’s e-seva in different states in different names. The case of Bangalore One in Karnataka is an example. The e-govINDIA group strongly feels that the private partner should be involved in software development, hand holding support and then maintenance of the software & database. Their role should not be extended to running the services on their own as it has many negative side effects. The first and foremost among the negative side effects is that instead of reducing corruption, such initiatives generate large scale e-corruption. Transparency is given a goby. None of the empowerment factors get enabled through such arrangements. Only the private partner gets empowered with more revenue. Madras University had shown the way for the rest of India by engaging a private partner to develop its e-governance software and then help the university with hand holding for nearly two years after the initial implementation. This is the right way to go. The NKC may study the Madras University pattern and take an appropriate view.

3. Role of women Self Help Groups (SHGs) as partners for providing Government services. There is a tendency to hand over the utility bill collection operations to a private partner and then call it a great e-governance initiative. Suggestions to hand over such routine yet lucrative revenue bearing tasks to women self help groups had been met with ridicule by IAS officers manning e-governance positions. The group considers it a gross misadventure to leave out the women self help groups. It is the considered opinion of this group that the Government services should be front ended by the women self help groups. In the absence of women self help groups alone, the Governments should look for private corporate partners.

4. Open source software should be the default software for e-governance operations: Open source software had come a long way to compete and even overtake proprietary software systems. The latest release of Novell Suse 10.0- open source version had been hailed to be a match, if not more than a match to the proprietary windows operation system. Open source movement offers a variety of rich and valuable software packages free. Open source office suite – openoffice.org, open source database system – Postgresql, open source report writing software – ireport, open source GIS software – OpenGIS , Netbeans for linux for software development, Apache Tomcat, Resin, Jboss etc., provide a great deal of flexibility to the users to configure the e-governance system. Developed countries themselves have started adopting the open source systems and open standards. India needs to spell out a policy towards use of open source systems and open standards in e-governance operations. (It is quite strange that a few State governments and NISG have struck a deal with Microsoft for using Microsoft’s proprietary technology at huge cost. This is not a logical step because Microsoft does not offer any of its software free. Then why such MoUs? There seems to be huge corruption here).

5. Setting up of open source support and research centres in every district: Open source software enables innovations. For a nation that aims at becoming a knowledge super power, it is extremely important that vital software packages that drive the computer systems should flow freely. Proprietary systems, by default cannot flow freely towards the needy. Only the open source software can be freely used by the research professionals and educational institutions. A GIS software or database software in the normal course costs a fortune. But the open source movement had provided these packages under GNU for free download. This freedom has to be encouraged through appropriate government assisted technical support centres at every district level. The District Informatics office under the control of NIC could be declared the open source support centre. The support centre’s services should be made available freely to the student community and all government offices.

6. Mission mode projects – is the bureaucracy capable of heading mission mode projects? The term “mission” pre supposes sacrifice and helping others. Currently, the bureaucrats who were utter failures in the field in providing proactive public service to the common man had taken over the leadership positions in e-governance. This is not a healthy trend for building a self confident nation. Bureaucrats, by definition are not fit to head any mission mode projects as they are not meant to be missionaries. The rare exceptions are the missionaries who had joined the bureaucracy. It is time the entire e-governance leadership is handed over to the national and state level e-governance authorities as proposed in the earlier part of this write up.

7. Indian e-governance effort should not result in a mere market for selling the ready made products of multi nationals: The trend at present has been to encourage development of ready made products and then purchase the same by various State Governments from the same companies. The case of e-seva/Bangalore one and e-procurement are the dangerous pointers. Governments have to acquire the source code and host the source code for free download by other Governments. The citizens also would be enabled to support the Government software packages by identifying and informing the lacuna found in the source code, if any.

8. Compulsory e-governance in higher education: Our students undergoing higher education should have a first hand experience in using e-governance system during their college days. This is one of the steps in making a self confident India, marching towards knowledge super power status.

9. Knowledge commission and higher education – The case for more Deemed Universities and autonomous technical institutions: If India were to supply the global demand for technical manpower, it needs to encourage more private players to commence Deemed Universities. Colleges which had shown a credible trend for 10 years should be given autonomous status through automatic route. The unfortunate trend is that many colleges which apply for autonomous status are forced to wait for years by the State Governments which simply sit over the proposals. The current move to curb the independence enjoyed by the deemed universities is a retrograde step. The Government must allow the market forces to determine the weightage of the Deemed universities. Regulatory agencies such as the Medical Council of India and AICTU had enhanced the cost of education through bureaucratic delays and huge corruption.

10. The role of NISG.

This paragraph had been withdrawn after detailed discussions. Copy provided at the bottom of the email.

11. NASSCOM in NISG – role to be defined to save its name.

12. Cheating in the name of e-governance. The case of n-logue

This paragraph had been withdrawn after detailed discussions. Copy provide at the bottom of the email.

13. An aberration called Village Knowledge Centre (VKC): The Village Knowledge Centre concept is being pushed without making any assessment. The five star culture driven CSOs have been ruling the roost. The kiosk experiments have failed wherever it had been started. No assessment had been done on these failed experiments. In the absence of e-governance content, the kiosks can at the best act as e-mail centres and at the worst phonographic content suppliers. The NKC may take an appropriate view on this.

14. Centralisation of e-governance planning by Government of India has to be given up in favour of States taking the lead: As on date, a handful of officials of Government of India have been acting the sole e-governance drivers. This is not a healthy trend for the nation. The National Institute of Smart Government has been formed with an aim to undercut the States. With NISG under their control, these Government of India officials are able to operate like private agencies, taking over the role of the State governments as well as the central Government. Ideally speaking, the States should be given their due. Funds meant for e-governance should be distributed to the States. Leadership building at State level should be taken up instead of driving the e-governance movement through NISG which has neither any expertise nor legitimacy. The NKC may take an appropriate view on this subject.

 

Dated the 10th April 2006 at Bangalore.

Signed

Moderator, egovINDIA- yahoo group.

 

Enclosure:

1. Mail sent to Mr.Sam Pitroda, Chairman, NKC dated 23rd December 2005.

2. Book on Tiruvarur e-governance titled “e-governance-the success story of Tiruvarur, the road covered and the road ahead” – 2001

3. CD-ROM containing video of e-governance camp held in Tiruvarur district.


C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert.
Moderator:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eGovINDIA
http://sugame.com/umashankar
Chennai:
Ph: 91-44-52054443

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These TWO sections are removed after discussing with Mr. Nandan M. Nilekani of NKC in Bangalore. This is for both of your file.

The role of NISG. Should a private limited company control the Indian e-governance movement? It is a peculiar happening in India that a private company registered under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act (National Institute of Smart Government) has been controlling the e-governance activities of not only the central government but also many state governments. The states stand in queue before this private company to receive funding assistance for their e-governance activities. This group is of the opinion that NISG had directly encouraged corruption and lack of transparency. It has been promoting certain chosen corporate for the detriment of a host of companies which believe in honesty and fair play. The NKC may take an appropriate view on this subject based on the huge volume of materials written on the egovINDIA group.

Cheating in the name of e-governance. The case of n-logue and Mr.Ashok Jhunjanwalla: In the name of providing connectivity and internet to the rural masses, the women self help groups of TamilNadu and elsewhere are being deprived of their livelihood by a clever business plan played by Prof.Ashok Jhunjanwalla of IIT, Madras. This scam is targeted at the subsidy money received by the women self help groups from Government of India. Though the said IIT Professor knows that a 32 kbps outdated wireless system is not good enough for video conferencing, he has been promoting falsehood only to gain income though business. Mr.Jhunjanwalla is a Director in the company which markets this outdated wireless product. It is to be noted that every district has a District Blindness Control society headed by the respective District Collectors which monitors and supports blindness control. The entire funding comes from international agencies. Thousands of poor people get 100% financial assistance every year through this exercise. Whereas Mr.Jhunjanwalla has been promoting falsehood by stating that his outdated wireless system could provide a solution to the blindness of the people through video conferencing (Tele medicine). What could never be accepted in urban India is being sold to the rural women self help groups using Government contacts/orders with no benefit accruing to the poor women. The NKC may look into this affair and stop the cheating that goes in the name of e-governance.

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Microsoft finally bows to EU antitrust measures

Posted by egovindia on October 22, 2007

Microsoft finally bows to EU antitrust measures

By David Lawsky 39 minutes ago

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp ended three years of resistance on Monday and finally agreed to comply with a landmark 2004 antitrust decision by the European Commission.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20071022/bs_nm/microsoft_eu_dc

The defeated software giant announced it would not appeal against a decisive European Union court ruling two months ago that backed the Commission.

“The repercussions of these changes will start now and will continue for years to come,” Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes told a news conference, adding that Microsoft‘s agreement will have “profound effects” on the software industry.

“It is a victory for the consumer,” she said.

Microsoft, which was fined nearly half a billion euros in 2004 and a further 280.5 million euros ($400.6 million) in 2006 for non-compliance, faced the prospect of steep new fines if it did not accommodate the Commission.

“As from today Microsoft has established compliance, no doubt about that,” Kroes said. “There is no reason to impose further penalties on Microsoft as of this day.”

But she left open the possibility it could yet face fines for its lack of compliance between 2006 and now.

Among other reversals, Microsoft will make available to so-called “open source” software developers information they need to make their programs work smoothly with Microsoft’s Windows operating system for personal computers.

Microsoft has also sliced high royalties for that interoperability information, the Commission said.

Microsoft suffered a major defeat in September when the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, the EU’s number two court, upheld the 2004 ruling that the world’s largest software maker abused its dominant market position to crush rivals.

It backed the Commission on all major points.

Among other things, the court upheld the Commission’s finding that Microsoft failed to give rivals enough information so their work group server software would work as smoothly with Microsoft’s desktop computers as Microsoft’s own software.

Work group server software is used in small office groups for signing on, file management and printing.

The Commission said Microsoft had made substantial changes to its royalty program in three ways.

First, open source software developers will be able to access and use the interoperability information. Microsoft will not assert patents against non-commercial open source software development projects.

Second, the royalties payable for this information will be reduced to a nominal one-off payment of 10,000 euros.

Third, the royalties for a worldwide license including patents will be reduced from 5.95 percent to 0.4 percent, far less than the 7 percent originally demanded by Microsoft.

Any disagreements will be settled in London’s High Court.

Beyond that, Kroes said the company must comply with the decision, including for new software.

Microsoft’s new stance was signaled earlier this month, when the company withdrew from an appeal against a South Korean antitrust ruling. It had appealed to the Seoul High Court.

Kroes personally negotiated with Microsoft President Steve Ballmer in a number of conversations including over a meal at a restaurant near her home town of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, she said.

“I paid for the dinner,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Emma Davis)

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