On 18th October, Kiranchandra from FSF Andhra Pradesh and myself, met the Union Minister for Information Technology, A. Raja, and the Secretary, Ministry of IT, in New Delhi. Mr. Sitaram Yechuri, who helped arrange the appointment, also joined them. The meeting took place for about half an hour. The delegation raised several issues and submitted a memorandum (given below). Both the Minister and the Secretary informed them that the government is committed to taking a positive stand regarding open standards, and will work in coordination with FSF India on the issues raised. The secretary informed them about the work NRCFOSS and CDAC, Chennai, are doing with regard to FOSS promotion.
We requested the government to get down to action points. Releasing under copyleft license all software created using government funds, publishing all government websites in an interoperable format promoting the use of a specific browser, sorting out Indian font encoding problems, examining the license issue for importing hardware without free software drivers, advertising the use of only applications that use open standards, including FSFI and members from the Free Software community as stake holders in all ICT policy decisions are few of the issues that the team had time to speak about during the meeting. However, the submitted memorandum was more comprehensive.
The secretary offered to meet the delegation again very soon to discuss several of the issues that were raised, and promised another appointment in the coming days.
The text of the memorandum:
Shri A. Raja
Minster of Information and Communication Technology
Electronics Niketan Bhavan
Free Software Foundation of India (FSF India) is a non-profit organisation committed to advocating, promoting and propagating the use and development of swatantra software in India. FSF India is the official Indian affiliate of the Free Software Foundation(FSF), and is the national agency for the promotion of the use of software distributed under the GNU General Public License(GNU GPL) and other licenses approved by FSF. Our goal is to ensure the long term adoption of Free Software in all walks of technology, and thereby making the benefits of ICT accessible to the common man.
Free Software Foundation of India was officially inaugurated in Trivandrum, Kerala on July 21, 2001. The Freedom First! conference organised to mark the launch was supported by the Government of Kerala. FSF India is a registered Non Profit Company under the companies act (Section 25) with a registered office in Trivandrum. Our voluntary groups are active in several parts of the country.
A developing country like India has a special stake in promoting and encouraging the use of free software. Not only does it help us save our financial resources, but more importantly it also helps the social cause of bringing knowledge to commons and making the benefits of ICT accessible to everyone without any sort of distinction. FSF India aims to bridge the existing digital divide by developing local language computing, and by providing free software solutions to suit local requirements by empowering local programmers in free platforms tools and technologies. We also strive to assist the National and State governments in all aspects relating to free software, such as evolving and maintaining standards, providing a quality assurance mechanism for free software.
We request you to consider FSF India as one of the core stake holders in matters related to ICT policy and be considered for inclusion into the committees. We put forward the following proposals for your kind consideration and intervention.
ICT Policy Guidelines
The right to digital encoding and decoding must be declared a fundamental right of the people and not the industry alone (currently the Government de facto grants this right only to the industry and not to the people).
The guide line for the ICT policy must be based on a fundamental principle: all cultural resources that are digitized must be readable (decodable) and writable (encodable) for eternity to ensure preservation of culture.
Digital encoding must be recognized as an extension of the social form of documenting various cultural forms like writing, publishing, and performing.
ICT Policy Recommendations from FSF India.
Documentation and Publishing
All public digital encodings (data) must be a free and open standard.
All public websites must be made interoperable, and must not publish its content in proprietary format (e.g., macromedia flash) or dependency requirements must not include special software. Public websites must not make their pages work only in one operating system. This violates inter-operability of the published content and services provided by the web sites.
All indian language fonts which do not follow either ISCII or Unicode standard must be declared illegal. Font encoding (creating private mapping table between the font and the character) must be declared illegal. All current industries which are doing this must be warned and asked to comply to this within a stipulated time frame. Manufacturers should be made responsible for providing filters to convert all the existing documents without any additional expenditure, and such filters must be published as free software.
Technical education in general and ICT education in particular must focus on providing skills and not emphasize on brand names and products. This is already an implied policy based on MRTP Act, however technical education in both formal and informal sectors are not implementing these guidelines.
Evaluation (examinations) of technical and ICT skills must not be based on a specific brand/product, but must test only the skills.
Procurement of Software and Hardware
Software that does not support free standards must not be bought, and used by a public body, and the software must warn the user if a proprietary encoding is used (this is contrary to what happens while saving a file in MS Office today, which warns the user that there will be loss if you save in an open standard like rtf or html or text). Applications should explicitly encourage the use of free and open standards, and discourage the use of proprietary standards.
Importing hardware that does not publish its manufacturing specifications or do not provide free software drivers (software that controls the hardware) should be prohibited by law. Similar condition should apply to manufacturers in India.
All ICT development projects funded by the people must be published without restrictions on their use, study, modifications and distribution. FSF India recommends the use of the appropriate copyleft licenses.
Public funds must be made available to develop free information infrastructures like, wikipedia, open access publications, knowledge bases, geographical information, maps etc.
Government should take initiative in the creation of an independent consortium to define from time to time what is a standard and what is not, what is best digital governance and what is not.
Organizations representing free software community, such as Free Software Foundation of India must be considered as one of the core stake holders while deciding public ICT policy in the country, and the consultations must not be restricted to academic and industry bodies like NASSCOM, FICCI, and CII, who have not kept the people’s interest, but served mostly the interests of the industry.
Procurement of software by Government, Government organizations/undertakings and Government funded organization shall be Free Software.
Only non-proprietary software and data formats to be used for any Government work.
Making all software developed under Government funding to be made Free Software and released under copyleft license.
The recent change proposed in the copyright law that allowed
encryption, and hardware locking should be revoked.
University Grants Commission should ensure the usage of Free Software both in the curriculum framework and research.
The Government should take initiative in starting Free Software
Development Centers suited for Indian requirements and developmental goals. The energies and resources of the knowledge pool available in the form of Free Software users groups should be effectively utilised and space should be provided for incubating all such initiatives.
All fonts in Indian languages developed under Governmental aegis to be immediately put in public domain particularly the softwares and fonts developed by CDAC.
Time bound development and standardization of Indian language coding systems, keyboards and fonts under DIT aegis.
Promotion of Free Software in schools, colleges, universities and the curriculum should not name any brand.
Promoting self-reliance in IT sector.
Internet access to every individual within 2km radius within a time bound programme.
Free Software Foundation of India will be happy to conduct training sessions by invitation to your colleagues, particularly to administrators, policy makers or decision makers.
We are eager to work in coordination with our government in taking forward our society into a free digital knowledge society.
Chairperson, Free Software Foundation of India.