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|April 5, 1999||
D Jose in Trivandrum
Kerala, the first Indian state to achieve 100 per cent literacy, is now making a concerted attempt to become the first 'intelligent' state by deploying information technology.
This ambition, however, will have to be realised at a time when it is finding it difficult to sustain several social achievements including those in education.
But few realise that it has now slipped to the fourth place with just 93 per cent literacy, behind Andaman and Nicobar Islands (97 per cent), Lakshadweep (96 per cent) and Mizoram (95 per cent). These figures have the stamp of the National Sample Survey Organisation.
But try reading out these rankings to Kerala state officials. Unfazed, they have set themselves a 1,000-day deadline to act on the state's IT policy statement. The officials are keeping course by concentrating on meeting targets set by the Advisory Council on Information Technology headed Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal.
Kerala has become first state in the country to provide connectivity to all the 132 administrative blocks. The next target is to provide connectivity to all the 991 village panchayats.
Videoconferencing facility between districts and state headquarters will be in place soon. Similar connectivity between villages and state headquarters should be up by the end of May.
The rural development department is working overtime to achieve the target. Ahead of it is the stupendous task of monitoring 50,000 projects involving Rs 15 billion.
State Secretary Amitabh Kant told Rediff that these projects are being implemented by local bodies comprising 14,000 elected representatives, over 50,000 employees and 100,000 resource persons under the People's Campaign for Plan.
"We have already trained a good number of block officials and have set up training centres in different parts of the state to train village-level officials," he claimed.
In fact, lack of proper facilities for physical and financial monitoring of the projects has led to many complaints against the campaign. "With the computers in place in all the villages soon, we can monitor every project by a click of the mouse," Kant said.
The need for effective monitoring of the campaign has thrown up opportunities for spread of computers in the state, points out IT Secretary Aruna Sundrararajan.
Ironically, the campaign for promoting IT is being blamed for taking away the focus from literacy. The allegation seems likely because human resources to keep up the literacy drive are being diverted for the IT project and the neo-literate are relapsing.
However, Sundrararajan does not perceive a threat to the computerisation project because it is providing work to Kerala's vast army of educated unemployed.
Kerala's IT policy is aimed at use of computers in every walk of life rather than attracting computer majors to set up shops in the state as aimed in the IT policies of some other states.
The basic component of the detailed action plan for IT implementation formulated by the advisory council is to use IT as a tool for administrative reforms and ensure a citizen friendly governance at all levels.
It will be a coordinated effort with different departments having a common information network, the State Information Infrastructure.
The opportunities that would emerge in the wake of computerisation are immense, says Sundrararajan. For example, the online treasury banking system that will be in place by November 1999 would enable the government to start retail banking operations.
Similarly the computerisation of the cooperative banks network will enable the government to get the Reserve Bank of India clearance for handling 'foreign currency non-resident' deposits.
Such opportunities will be a boon to the state that has always been complaining about neglect of its credit needs by commercial banks.
The state has begun setting up Internet kiosks in villages. Kerala has already signed a memorandum of understanding with World Tel for setting up Internet community centres. A three-month pre-investment study regarding these centres is being conducted.
The state is also toying with the idea of providing Internet connectivity to all schools and colleges. This fiscal, the Internet may be introduced to 150 schools and computers to 750 high schools and 500 primary schools.
A 'PC For Every Home' scheme has been launched by the Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation to achieve PC penetration of 10 per 1,000 of the population by 2001.
The government is planning to set up facilities for development of software and hardware to meet the increasing needs.
The Electronics Technology Park at Trivandrum, which is expected to be fully occupied in another six months, is going for its second phase with private participation.
Mahindras and BPL have been shortlist as the joint-sector partner. Software technology parks have already become operational in Cochin, Calicut and Trivandrum.
Work on setting up such parks in major cities like Kannur, Palghat, Trichur, Kottayam and Quilon is going on.
The work on a School for Information Technology and Management is being taken up in the coming year at a cost of Rs 300 million in the joint sector on the lines of the Indian Institute of Management to create qualified workforce.
For this, the government has already set apart Rs 100 million in the 1999-2000 budget.
Efforts are also on to make Kochi an Internet gateway. The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited has already announced that the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable system, which uses 'wavelength division multiplexing' technology to provide 10 GBPS per fibre pair, will have a land point at the VSNL gateway in Cochin after Bombay.
When this comes through, Cochin will have the best connectivity in the country after Bombay and it would attract significant IT activity into the region, particularly teleworking, it is hoped.
The Kerala government has already set apart 3 per cent of its annual budget for IT in tune with the recommendations of the National Task Force on Software Development and Information Technology.
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