Centre will soon set up enforcement and compliance body

In what is termed a progressive and momentous move, one that will show the way for the developing world, the Central government has notified a National Policy for Open Standards in e-governance.

The policy, which lays down a framework for selection of technological standards, mandates that all government e-processes adopt a “single and royalty-free open standard” in each technological domain. This implies that the specifications of the standards — including associated patents and extensions —must be accessible and royalty-free, in perpetuity.

This applies to any new e-governance projects or new versions of the existing projects. The existing applications will have to provide for interoperability while interfacing with other systems.

This is significant because it will promote standards that are inter-operable (say, among various government departments), avoid any form of vendor lock-in and are cost-effective. Significantly, it can also fuel technological innovation by offering domestic and home-grown companies a level playing field. The best example of how open standards can do this is the story of the growth of the Internet, one that was built entirely on open standards.

Historic move

While the European Union has set open standards for inter-operability and a few countries do emphasise the use of open standards, Brazil is the only other country known to have a formal policy.

Advocates of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), in India and abroad, have termed India's move as historic. The policy, which was in its draft stages for more than two years, saw some intense lobbying by industry bodies for adoption of proprietary standards, and opposition from FOSS activists.

Most significantly, this policy will lay down the law for all government departments and any technological company (that wishes to do business with the government).

Speaking to The Hindu, a top official of the Union Ministry of Information Technology said that as part of the institutional mechanism required to implement the policy, the government would soon set up an “enforcement and compliance body.”

The policy states that a government-appointed body will look into the selection of open standards and review interim standards (in the absence of an existing open standard). “Currently, we check for compliance through third-party auditors. Such a body will strengthen this to ensure implementation of this progressive vision,” the official said. Further, specifications for standards will be made public (on the existing website: egovstandards.gov.in).

A major victory

FOSS activists term this a major victory for the Free Software movement in India. “Being in the early stages of e-governance, this will not only impact governance but society as a whole. This is a major victory,” says Gurumurthy Kasinathan of IT4Change, a Bangalore-based NGO.

Venkatesh Hariharan, corporate affairs director of Red Hat, a global Open Source technologies firm, says that with this, India joins the global open standards movement. “It's significant because some of the largest green-field e-government projects in the world are in India. Therefore, the standards used by India will make a major difference to the world.”