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Pre-Budget Consultation 2016 - Submission to the IT Group of the Ministry of Finance

The Ministry of Finance has recently held pre-budget consultations with different stakeholder groups in connection with the Union Budget 2016-17. We were invited to take part in the consultation for the IT (hardware and software) group organised on January 07, 2016, and submit a suggestion note. We are sharing the note below. It was prepared and presented by Sumandro Chattapadhyay, with contributions from Rohini Lakshané, Anubha Sinha, and other members of CIS.

 

It is our distinct honour to be invited to submit this note for consideration by the IT Group of the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, as part of the pre-budget consultation for 2016-17.

The Centre for Internet and Society is (CIS) is a non-profit organisation that undertakes interdisciplinary research on internet and digital technologies from policy and academic perspectives. The areas of focus include digital accessibility for persons with diverse abilities, access to knowledge, intellectual property rights, openness (including open data, free and open source software, open standards, open access, open educational resources, and open video), internet governance, telecommunication reform, digital privacy, and cyber-security. We receive financial support from Kusuma Trust, Wikimedia Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, IDRC, and other donors.

We have divided our suggestions into the different topics that our organisation has been researching in the recent years.

 

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is the Basis for Digital India

 

We congratulate the policies introduced by the government to promote use of free/libre and open source software and that of open APIs for all e-governance projects and systems. This is not only crucial for the government to avoid vendor lock-in when it comes to critical software systems for governance, but also to ensure that the source code of such systems is available for public scrutiny and do not contain any security flaws.

We request the government to empower the implementation of these policies by making open sharing of source code a necessity for all software vendors hired by government agencies a necessary condition for awarding of tenders. The 2016-17 budget should include special support to make all government agencies aware and capable of implementing these policies, as well as to build and operate agency-level software repositories (with version controlling system) to host the source codes. These repositories may function to manage the development and maintenance of software used in e-governance projects, as well as to seek comments from the public regarding the quality of the software.

Use of FLOSS is not only important from the security or the cost-saving perspectives, it is also crucial to develop a robust industry of software development firms that specialise in FLOSS-based solutions, as opposed to being restricted to doing local implementation of global software vendors. A holistic support for FLOSS, especially with the government functioning as the dominant client, will immensely help creation of domestic jobs in the software industry, as well as encouraging Indian programmers to contribute to development of FLOSS projects.

An effective compliance monitoring and enforcement system needs to be created to ensure that all government agencies are Strong enforcement of the 2011 policy to use open source software in governance, including an enforcement task force that checks whether government departments have complied with this or not.

 

Open Data is a Key Instrument for Transparent Decision Making

 

With a wider set of governance activities being carried out using information systems, the government is increasingly acquiring a substantial amount of data about governance processes and status of projects that needs to be effectively fed back into the decision making process for the same projects. Opening up such data not only allows for public transparency, but also for easier sharing of data across government agencies, which reduces process delays and possibilities of duplication of data collection efforts.

We request the 2016-17 budget to foreground the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy and the Open Government Data Platform of India as two key enablers of the Digital India agenda, and accordingly budget for modernisation and reconfiguration of data collection and management processes across government agencies, so that those processes are made automatic and open-by-default. Automatic data management processes minimise the possibility of data loss by directly archiving the collected data, which is increasingly becoming digital in nature. Open-by-default processes of data management means that all data collected by an agency, once pre-recognised as shareable data (that is non-sensitive and anonymised), will be proactively disclosed as a rule.

Implementation of the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy has been hindered, so far, by the lack of preparation of a public inventory of data assets, along with the information of their collection cycles, modes of collection and storage, etc., by each union government agency. Specific budgetary allocation to develop these inventories will be crucial not only for the implementation of the Policy, but also for the government to get an extensive sense of data collected and maintained currently by various government agencies. Decisions to proactively publish, or otherwise, such data can then be taken based on established rules.

Availability of such open data, as mentioned above, creates a wider possibility for the public to know, learn, and understand the activities of the government, and is a cornerstone of transparent governance in the digital era. But making this a reality requires a systemic implementation of open government data practices, and various agencies would require targeted budget to undertake the required capacity development and work process re-engineering. Expenditure of such kind should not be seen as producing government data as a product, but as producing data as an infrastructure, which will be of continuous value for the years to come.

As being discussed globally, open government data has the potential to kickstart a vast market of data derivatives, analytics companies, and data-driven innovation. Encouraging civic innovations, empowered by open government data - from climate data to transport data - can also be one of the unique initiatives of budget 2016-17.

For maximising impact of opened up government data, we request the government to publish data that either has a high demand already (such as, geospatial data, and transport data), or is related to high-net-worth activities of the government (such as, data related to monitoring of major programmes, and budget and expenditure data for union and state governments).

 

Promotion of Start-ups and MSMEs in Electronics and IT Hardware Manufacturing

 

In line with the Make in India and Digital India initiatives, to enable India to be one of the global hubs of design, manufacturing, and exporting of electronics and IT hardware, we request that the budget 2016-17 focus on increasing flow of fund to start-ups and Medium and Small-Scale Manufacturing Enterprises (MSMEs) in the form of research and development grants (ideally connected to government, especially defense-related, spending on IT hardware innovation), seed capital, and venture capital.

Generation of awareness and industry-specific strategies to develop intellectual property regimes and practices favourable for manufacturers of electronics and IT hardware in India is an absolutely crucial part of promotion of the same, especially in the current global scenario. Start-ups and MSMEs must be made thoroughly aware of intellectual property concerns and possibilities, including limitations and exceptions, flexibilities, and alternative models such as open innovation.

We request the budget 2016-17 to give special emphasis to facilitation of technology licensing and transfer, through voluntary mechanisms as well as government intervention, such as compulsory licensing and government enforced patent pools.

 

Applied Mathematics Research is Fundamental for Cybersecurity

 

Recent global reports have revealed that some national governments have been actively involved in sponsoring distortion in applied mathematics research so as to introduce weaknesses in encryption standards used in for online communication. Instead of trying to regulate key-length or mandating pre-registration of devices using encryption, as suggested by the withdrawn National Encryption Policy draft, would not be able to address this core emerging problem of weak cybersecurity standards.

For effective and sustainable cybersecurity strategy, we must develop significant expertise in applied mathematical research, which is the very basis of cybersecurity standards development. We request the budget 2016-17 to give this topic the much-needed focus, especially in the context of the Digital India initiative and the upcoming National Encryption Policy.

Along with developing domestic research capacity, a more immediately important step for the government is to ensure high quality Indian participation in global standard setting organisations, and hence to contribute to global standards making processes. We humbly suggest that categorical support for such participation and contribution is provided through the budget 2016-17, perhaps by partially channeling the revenues obtained from spectrum auctions.

 

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