[fosscomm] Knowledge Common's representation to DIT on Draft Open Standards for e-Governance

Venkatesh Hariharan venkyh at gmail.com
Fri Jul 10 22:52:40 PDT 2009

Shri R Chandrashekar

Secretary (IT),

Department of Information Technology,
Ministry for Communications and IT,
Government of India

New Delhi

Subject: Draft Policy on Open Standards for e-Government

Dear Sir,

>From news reports, we understand that NASSCOM and MAIT in their
objection to the Draft Policy on e-Governance Standards, have
suggested multiple standards and also proposed the acceptance of
royalty encumbered standards. We would like to record below our
opposition to these attempts to dilute and render meaningless an
excellent policy.
Multiple Standards

Accepting multiple standards goes against the very objective of
standardisation, which is primarily for interoperability and enforcing
that all vendors manufacture to a common standard. Thus a user can buy
a nut from one vendor and a screw from another and yet be certain that
both will match as they are manufactured to a common standard. A
standard is primarily for the users so that they have more choice
regarding vendors: it is in users' interests to standardise technology
offerings. The vendors would like to retain their existing customers
and generally large vendors with an established user base do not like
standards. When the user community forces standards, the large vendors
then fight to have their system to be made the standard. In global
terms, countries also support those standards that help their domestic
firms. Thus, standards are very much a part of competition for global
markets and we have to keep our national interests in mind while
dealing with standards.

Multiple standards are an exception and occurs only under certain
conditions. When we see multiple standards, they are generally where
for historical reasons, different geographical areas, have had
different standards (110 VAC as against 220 V AC, GSM vs CDMA).
However, from the users point of view and the standardising process,
it is desirable to promote as far as possible one common standard.

Standards for e-Governance are an important issue as all Government
data and documents would be held under such standards. With the
Government of India rapidly adopting e-Governance, the standards under
which Government data and documents would be held will have a great
impact on users, organisations and the people who need to examine such
data/documents. Therefore, it is important that the Government evolves
a clear understanding of such standards, specifically so that
proprietary software is not forced on all users due to the Government
adopting standards for data and documents that are not open. If there
are multiple standards, and some of them are royalty based ones, then
for accessing data of and documents of different departments, the
citizens may have to procure different software and learn multiple
software platforms. Therefore, the Government should propose a policy
of a single standard and not multiple standards.
Royalty Encumbered Standards

If Government accepts the argument of Royalty Encumbered Standards or
as the trade bodies have called -- standards licensed on Reasonable
and Non Discriminatory (RAND) terms-- it would then be possible that
the Government would hold its documents and data using standards that
are royalty encumbered. This would mean that the Government would be
forcing citizens to pay a royalty to some software vendors if they
want to see Government data and documents. We have no reason to
believe that such royalties would even be reasonable. Apart from this,
there are legal reasons why the Government cannot prescribe royalty
based standards for e-governance. These are as follows:


      In India, Article 3 k) of the Indian Patents Act does not allow
software patenting. Accepting that royalty based software is possible
is accepting that royalties for software patents can exist, contrary
to the legal position that the country and Parliament has adopted.

      The Right to Information Act makes it mandatory that the
Government documents and data be open to the public without additional
cost, except the cost of duplication. Royalty based standards is
levying on every user of Government data and documents an extra cost
for buying specific software, that too from a specific vendor.
Therefore, royalty based standards for e-Governance would be in
violation of the RTI Act.

      The royalties from such adoption of royalty encumbered standards
would be a private tax being enforced by the Government on the users.
This is patently illegal.

We believe the Draft Policy on e-Governance Standards, ver 2.0 is an
extremely well drafted policy and should be adopted by the Government.
We strongly support its recommendations that standards be royalty-free
in perpetuity and that for a single domain, only a single standard
should be used. We would however like the document to be further
strengthened by removing the section that permits multiple standards
under circumstances where the second proposed standard is completely
compatible with the existing standard and has some new features
[Section 6.4]. If the second standard is completely compatible with
the first standard and has some extra features, then it is actually a
superset of the previous standard and should therefore completely
replace the previous standard provided it meets the remaining criteria
laid out in the policy document. This is the task of a standardisation
body such as BIS. Under no circumstances should e-Governance in India
have more than one standard at any point in time.

The provisions on only one standard and these being royalty free in
perpetuity, needs to be clearly and unambiguously emphasised in the
policy and no dilution of these provisions should be allowed. No
attempt by industry bodies such as NASSCOM and MAIT, who seem to have
been “captured” by a few large software companies should be allowed to
change fundamental principles of standardisation nor impose high
transaction costs on the economy by virtue of royalties.

Please find enclosed an annexure giving brief description of Knowledge Commons.

Thanking you.

Yours Sincerely,

(Prabir Purkayastha)


Society for Knowledge Commons

CC: 1. Ms. Vinnie Mehta,
          Executive Director,
          Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT)

       2. Mr. Som Mittal,

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