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

jtd jtd at mtnl.net.in
Sat Jul 11 00:08:09 PDT 2009

On Saturday 11 July 2009, Venkatesh Hariharan wrote:
> Shri R Chandrashekar
>           KC/REP/01/09
> Secretary (IT),
>                    10/07/2009
> 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).

Further these multiple standards came into existence only because some 
geographical regions opted for certain technologies without being in sync 
with International standardisation processes. This resulted in wide spread 
use of these differing technologies in the relevant geographical area prior 
to the International standards being agreed upon. Subsequently these regions 
were left with no alternative but accept multiple standards at enormous costs 
to the public and exchequer. Eg. the TV transmission standard PAL, Secam and 
NTSC. Television sets sold internationally costed more due the need for 
incorporating additional circuitry to operate with these multiple standards. 
Feeds from differing regions need expensive conversion equipment to be 

> 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:
>    1.
>       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.
>    2.
>       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.
>    3.
>       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.

Nor impose ANY transaction costs on the economy by virtue of royalties or 
requirement of usage of vendor specific hardware or software or connectivity.

> Please find enclosed an annexure giving brief description of Knowledge
> Commons.
> Thanking you.
> Yours Sincerely,
> (Prabir Purkayastha)
> Chairperson
> Society for Knowledge Commons
> CC: 1. Ms. Vinnie Mehta,
>           Executive Director,
>           Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT)
>        2. Mr. Som Mittal,
>            Chairman,
>            NASSCOM
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