[fosscom] Letter to NASSCOM and MAIT on Open Standards policy of India

Venkatesh Hariharan venkyh at gmail.com
Sat Jul 4 00:02:59 PDT 2009


Friday, July 03, 2009

Last minute dramas around around Open Standards

Now that India's Draft Policy on Open Standards is close to
finalization, the usual last-minute dramas are on. In a new twist, I
am told that NASSCOM and MAIT have submitted their recommendations,
purportedly on behalf of the industry. If this is indeed the case, my
organization, Red Hat was not consulted. I also checked with IBM and
they too were not consulted. Since Red Hat and IBM have been key
players in this area, this is definitely intriguing. I shot off a
letter to both MAIT and NASSCOM and a copy of the letter to NASSCOM is
reproduced below. It is self explanatory. The letter to MAIT had minor
editorial changes but is essentially the same letter.


    Mr. Som Mittal,



    International Youth Centre,
    Teen Murti Marg,
    New Delhi 110 021
    Phone: 91-11- 2301 0199

    Dear Sir,

    We have been informed that NASSCOM has submitted its opinion on
the Draft Open Standards Policy for e-governance to the Department of
Information Technology, Government of India. We have been informed
that NASSCOM's submission supports the inclusion of standards under
Reasonable and Non Discriminatory (RAND) terms and also the usage of
multiple standards in the same domain.

    Red Hat has been actively involved in the standards issue and we
would like to place on record that we have not been consulted by
NASSCOM before this submission was made. We DO NOT support the above
recommendations of NASSCOM for the following reasons.

    1) Standards should belong to humanity and not be controlled or
owned by anyone. In the physical world, we do not pay for using
standards like weights and measures. These are norms of civil society
that have evolved over centuries and the digital world should be no
exception to these norms.

    2) In order to protect India's digital sovereignty, we must ensure
that national data is stored in formats that are open and free of all
encumbrances like royalties, patent claims etc. The Government is the
custodian of data that belongs to the citizens of India. It must
therefore ensure that this data is not stored in formats that are
owned and controlled by anyone.

    3) e-Government data like land records etc remain relevant for
hundreds of years. If this data is stored in proprietary formats, it
will prove expensive for the country in the long-term. It is also seen
that proprietary formats are controlled by monopolistic outfits that
(a) drive the adoption of a technology (b) file a thicket of patents
around that technology and (c) litigate or threaten litigation if
royalties are not paid. India must avoid getting into this trap at all

    4) For each application area, there must be only a single
standard. The use of multiple standards will lead to tremendous
complications in the practice of e-governance. Since data is at the
heart of e-governance, the confusion created by using multiple
e-government standards in the same domain may bring e-governance to a
stand still. For example, if different government departments use
different standards for document storage, it could greatly slow down
or even thwart the process of exchanging files among government

    5) Vendors should collaborate on standards and compete on their
implementation. The most popular standards like HTML and Unicode are
standards that are supported by a vast number of industry players.
Multiple standards in the same domain leads to fragmentation. It also
helps vendors who can leverage their marketing muscle to drive users
towards their own proprietary standards instead of open standards that
are created through collaboration and consensus.

    6) The Draft Open Standards Policy for e-governance has been in
the works for the last two years and several public consultations have
been held on this subject. NASSCOM's presence was not visible at any
of these consultations and therefore a comment being made at this late
stage, when the policy is close to being finalized is surprising. The
two recommendations (RAND terms and multiple standards), if accepted,
will lead to nullifying the work of the committee that has toiled for
the last two years to create this policy because it will land us back
to the current status quo dominated by multiple, proprietary

    7) We welcome the acknowledgment of open source in the policy.
Both open source and open standards are inclusive movements and are
therefore closely related to each other. In India, open source is now
an integral part of many mission-mode e-government projects and it
mention in this policy recognizes its long-term strategic importance
in the e-Government sector.

    8) We have reviewed version 1.15 of the Draft Policy and would
like to place on record our appreciation of the excellent work done by
this committee. The Draft Policy does an great job of protecting
India's digital sovereignty and avoiding the clutches of proprietary
standards. We therefore request NASSCOM's help and support in ensuring
that the policy is approved "as is" without any further dilution.

    With warm regards,

    Venkatesh Hariharan
    Corporate Affairs Director
    Red Hat

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