[fosscomm] URGENT: Need to lobby with NASSCOM, MAIT and MCIT

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at cis-india.org
Tue Jul 7 02:30:07 PDT 2009

Dear All,
Please find attached CIS's response to draft v2 of the policy.


Shri Shankar Aggarwal
Joint Secretary (e-Governance)
Department of Information Technology
Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

Monday, July 6, 2009

Dear Sir,
Sub: Comments on Draft Policy on Open Standards for e-Governance (version 2)
I am writing on behalf of the Centre for Internet and Society, which is
a Bangalore-based civil society organization involved both in research
and policy advocacy.  Public accountability and digital pluralism are
two of our core concerns, and it is for this that we are writing to you
today.  As a natural corollary of our mission, we aim at representing
the concerns of citizens and consumers.  You would recall that we had
submitted comments to the call for comments you had put out for the
draft National Policy on Open Standards for e-Governance last year
(archived at <http://cis-india.org/advocacy/os/iosp/the-response/>).
We have recently received what appears to be a newer draft (version 2)
of the National Policy on Open Standards for e-Governance, dated May 26,
2009.  We are yet again very pleased to note the progressive nature of
this document and wish to congratulate the government on its decision to
promote the interests of the citizens of India over the narrow partisan
interests of a few companies which wish to promote proprietary standards.

It has brought to our notice by some in the software industry that the
National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has
argued for the dilution of the definition of open standards by including
standards licensed under “reasonable and non-discriminatory” terms to be
considered “open”, and has also called for multiple standards in the
same domain to be considered valid as a rule under the policy.  We
believe both these demands go against the interest of consumers of
standards — which in this case is the Indian government — and are thus
against the interest of citizens as well, since the Indian government
handles data on behalf of its citizens.

Even “reasonable and non-discriminatory” terms of licensing of standards
are in fact discriminatory as they prevent the development of
free/libre/open source software based on those standards.  And while
having multiple implementations of a standard is beneficial as it
increases consumer (i.e., governmental) choice, having multiple
incompatible standards is detrimental to the government's interest as
the policy itself recognizes in paragraph 4.2, and the very purpose (as
enumerated  in paragraphs 1, 3, and 4) of having standards is defeated.
 Even if the multiple standards are bi-directionally interoperable,
additional costs are incurred in having concurrent multiple standards.
Thus, one hopes that the the threshold of “national interest” mentioned
in paragraph 6.4.1 is set to a high level.  Lastly, the views put forth
by NASSCOM seem not to be truly legitimate as it has been the complaint
of some that NASSCOM did not hold an open consultation with its own
members before formulating its views.  There are software giants,
including IBM, Sun, and Red Hat, that have openly criticized the
NASSCOMM position on open standards.  More importantly, NASSCOM's
position does not concur with what we believe is in the best interest of
small and medium software enterprises, which constitute the bulk of the
Indian software industry. We pray that you shall keep this in mind while
considering NASSCOM's views.

We believe that apart from the technical reasons to favour open
standards, there are many public interest reasons as well.  We believe
that the adoption of open standards is a step towards the promotion of
equitable access to knowledge to all the people of our country.  We
further believe that public accountability will be served greatly by
adoption of an open standards policy by the Central and State
governments.  While even developed countries (such as those of the EU)
are mandating open standards in all governmental departments, processes,
and interactions, it is developing countries that stand to gain most
from open standards.  Proprietary standards place a larger burden on
developing economies than developed as developing economies have a
greater need to participate in the global network by using standards,
but do have lesser capabilities than developed economies in terms of
paying for royalties.

On the document itself, while there are many reasons to hail it, we
believe there are still a few shortcomings which we wish to bring to
your notice.

Issue 1: Possibility of following letter of policy while violating its
Sometimes private companies can interfere with the standardisation
process by exerting undue influence on the members of the standard
setting body.  That such undue influence have been sought to be applied
even in India recently shows that this is not mere conjecture or idle
speculation.  Given this background, the document should note this as a
problem and note that remedial measures could be undertaken in the event
such undue influence comes to light.
Introduce language, such as that used in the EU EIF, stating:
“Practices distorting the definition and evolution of open standards
must be addressed immediately to protect the integrity of the
standardisation process.”

Issue 2: Patenting and licensing of government-developed standards
Paragraph 6.3 of the draft policy allows the government to opt for the
development of a new standard by a Government of India-identified agency
in case no standard is found to meet the government's functional
requirements.  However, it is not clear under what terms this standard
will be available.
Introduce a paragraph 6.3.1 stating:
“Any standard developed by or on behalf of the government shall be
patent-free and the specifications of such a standard will be published
online and will be available to all for no cost.  Along with the
standard, the government shall also provide, or shall cause to be
provided, a free/libre/open source reference implementation of that

Issue 3: No framework provided for review or phasing out interim standards
Paragraph 6.2 permits the government to adopt a non-open “interim”
standard (one which does not fulfil all the mandatory requirements of
open standards as laid out in 5.1) if no open standard exists in the
specific domain for which the standard is required.  This however does
not have a clause necessitating the phasing out of such an interim
A review mechanism should be provided for periodic evaluation of all
standards selected by the government, especially those designated as
interim standards.  A new paragraph 7.1.1 could be added:
“All standards selected through the processes outlined in this policy
shall undergo an annual review by the Apex Body on e-Governance
Standards, and all those designated as interim standards shall be
reviewed biannually.”

Issue 4: Problematic definition in the glossary
In Appendix A, the definition of “patents” (A.12) states: “The
additional qualification 'utility patents' is used in countries such as
the United States to distinguish them from other types of patents but
should not be confused with utility models granted by other countries.
Examples of particular species of patents for inventions include
biological patents, business method patents, chemical patents and
software patents.”  Many of these references are U.S.-specific and are
not valid forms of patents in India (e.g. biological patents, business
method patents, and software patents).
Delete the last two sentences in A.12

We once again wish to compliment the government on developing such a
strong policy on open standards, and hope that our suggestions are
incorporated into the text of the final version.  We further hope that
the policy will be notified at the earliest, as there has already been
considerable opportunity for the public and industry to comment on the
draft versions of the policy.

Yours sincerely,
Pranesh Prakash
Programme Manager
Centre for Internet and Society

Pranesh Prakash
Programme Manager
Centre for Internet and Society
W: http://cis-india.org | T: +91 80 40926283
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