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India's IT Ministry Sets a Tech Agenda for the 21st Century

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, January 24 2013

Indian IT Minister Kapil Sibal (Wikimedia Commons).

Indian IT Minister Kapil Sibal has made his plans clear to digitalize government, with online portals and e-governance measures meant to streamline bureaucracy and increase accessibility. Now Sibal has put forth an ambitious one-year agenda for the country’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (acronym: DEITY).

An announcement released Tuesday outlines 18 initiatives for IT policy, electronics, and government-backed hardware and digitization solutions, with goals set for December 2013. Mobile governance — which has been implemented at the state level in Kerala and Karnataka, as techPresident wrote last week — was a major priority on the IT agenda. One initiative called for the expansion of India’s Mobile Services Delivery Gateway, a group of apps providing access to government services as well as an online store for m-gov and e-gov solutions. 59 percent of Indians have access to the Internet only from mobile; e-governance could significantly increase access to government services in rural areas, where there are 282 million subscribers and counting.

On the hardware side, an additional initiative announced the development of a prototype mobile personal safety device, with live GPS tracking and connection to emergency services, a project doubtlessly influenced by the rash of violent sex crimes that have rocked India over the past year.

Other agenda items called for optimizing use of existing IT infrastructure, as well as growing cloud computing, supporting start-ups, and strengthening cyber-security. Perhaps the most significant — and challenging — of Sibal’s 2013 initiatives is the launch of a Scheme for IT Mass Literacy, with the eventual goal of making “one person e-literate in each house hold [sic]” in India. By December of this year an intended 10 lakh (1 million) households will have an e-literate member. Statistics from last year cite 121 million Indians with access to the traditional Internet – this is in a country of 1.2 billion, though about 900 million Indians have mobile access.

“E-literacy” is a broad term, intertwined with a multitude of social and infrastructural factors; availability of computing hardware seems necessary to precede the ability to use it, though projects like the distribution of inexpensive tablets to university of students are working to increase that accessibility. The agenda for 2013 makes one thing clear: the Indian government intends put the country’s vast IT sector to work for all its citizens.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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