IT Policy of Kerala-- a wish list with unexceptionable goals

The Information Technology policy of Kerala Government, 2007, is a wish list with unexceptionable goals. What it lacks is the framework for the kind of development envisaged by the policy.

When the previous ministry announced its policy, the Chief Minister A. K. Antony announced that Kerala would be developed to be the leading State in the South in Information Technology. What happened was the opposite. Kerala could not keep pace with the development in the neighbouring States.

for rapid growth
The policy targets rapid growth through adoption of Information and Communication Technologies and envisages sharing of the benefits by all sections of the people. It does talk about infrastructure development for this purpose. However the target date for reaching Internet to all villages and schools is 2010. This is far off considering fast development in the sector. An Internet Year is just over 50 days, and Internet would reach all schools only in about 25 (Internet) years from now!

time frame
Incidentally, this is the only area in which the policy lays down a clear time frame. This was not the case when the LDF Government brought the first policy in 1998. It appears that bureaucrats have learnt not to specify clear targets and time frame after the 1998 policy failed to achieve hardly any of the targets within the specified time frame.

Free bandwidth for Government institutions and schools from service providers in lieu of right of way through public roads was one of the outcomes of a policy adopted by the Government then. However, this free bandwidth remained unused till recently. Even now, connections have not reached schools owing to ambiguities in the agreements signed by the Government.

The last two policies had focused justifiably on incentives to attract investments to the State. However, there is little justification for retaining the same level of incentives now also. First of all, the level of investments that the State needs now could not be achieved through subsidies. Secondly, the Government lacks the money needed for providing big subsidies. The cash-starved State should be focusing on infrastructure including roads instead of offering direct subsidies. It should develop better skill sets and bank on highly skilled people, connectivity and operational costs. (The policy identifies these as the selling points. It is to be noted that other States are moving away from the subsidy regime.)

It should also be focusing more on hardware. If at all direct subsidies are to be given, it should be given to hardware units in their initial phase. Preference should be given to less polluting high-end technologies.

open standards
A clear policy statement emerges when the policy states that open standards like Unicode and Open Document Format and Open Architectures will be followed in e-governance projects to avoid total dependence on select vendors. However, the proposals in the policy would not suffice to develop the State as a FOSS (Free, Open Source Software) destination. Incentives and an institution to do research and development alone would not achieve the objective.

A bigger drive for popularising free software in schools, colleges, government offices and institutions is needed, ably supported by Government agencies such as the Centre for Development of Imaging Development and Keltron. Kerala should build its brand to export free software services to other States and other countries too. The Akshaya kendras, public sector units and Government’s web services should not shun free software.

The Government ought to be lauded for paying attention to the needs of the physically, mentally and socially disadvantaged in the policy. However, it is not clear how it proposes to use “new media to give voice to the concerns of the marginalized sections of the society".

labour laws
The policy promises amendments to existing law to provide for flexible working conditions while stressing the freedom of the employees to organise themselves.

However, the Government may actually face the need to tighten some of the laws in view of the exploitative practices by some of the IT units. At the same time, workers cannot be allowed to organise strikes and violent agitations that would hit 24x7 services. The Government would have to do a balancing act in these regards. Exploitation should be checked to prevent strikes.

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