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December 2, 1999


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D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

Politicians bunk school:Only 60 of the 141 MLAs in Kerala
turned up for their PC classes! If e-governance was an equation that read hardware + software + modems = efficiency, the rulers of Kerala would already be wired.

Email this story to a friend. But that is not the case. E-governance means you first have to have computer-friendly politicians.

This is the piece of wisdom that prompted the Kerala government to announce computer classes that would coach the ministers and the members of the legislative assembly in the basics of operating PCs.

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But not very surprisingly, on Wednesday, only 60 of the 141 members of the legislative assembly in Kerala attended the class organised by the state secretariat.

Of these, half could not bare to sit through till the end. K Sasidharan, consultant to the Planning Board's IT wing was teaching the class.

Power Minister S Sarma was the only minister to turn up. However, he was one of the early quitters. He left immediately after the formal introduction to the course.

And, of course, senior leaders of both the ruling and the opposition coalitions were absent.

Barring a few, all MLAs and ministers are completely ignorant of operating a PC. MLA Sebastian Paul has some working knowledge about using computers. And with him is Indian Union Muslim League member E T Mohammad Basheer. But that seems to be about all.

Paul has been using a PC in his earlier professions of teaching and journalism. Basheer picked up his mouse wrist at a training institute in Thiruvananthapuram.

According to the e-governance plan of the Kerala government, all ministers have already been supplied with PCs. But, obviously, they are not using it.

Incidentally, the government's initiative to computerise government processes is running into larger problems because even administrative officers are reluctant to use PCs for their daily work.

Consequently most computers that have been bought by the government are lying idle, relegated to corners behind heaps of dead-tree files.

Kerala Information Technology Secretary Aruna Sundrarajan admits that it is not an easy task to computerise the government in a state like Kerala where officers highly resent computers that are perceived to be job-snatchers.

She tells Rediff that employees' organisations are apprehensive that computers would lead to loss of jobs. This is a very sensitive issue, especially in Kerala where the educated look towards spending an entire lifetime's career in a government job.

Sundrarajan explains that nevertheless, the government has been going ahead with its computerisation initiative, but very cautiously.

"We had to remove the deep-rooted apprehensions in the minds of the people. The employees were resistant. We have successfully overcome that stage. Now the employees are enthusiastic about the prospect of using computers," she claims.

"We are now trying to impart training to the employees to use the computers. Once this is over we are going to face head-on the task of using the computers to deliver benefits to the people," Sundrarajan says.

Computerisation would not mean anything to the people unless they benefit directly. But it will take some more time for the benefits to percolate down to them.

Sundrarajan believes that there is steady progress in the process. "The overall climate is positive and we hope Kerala will not lag behind in the path to e-governance."

She says, "We have drawn out our blueprint for computerising 34 government departments" and are hopeful that there will be significant developments in the coming days.

The Kerala IT department is now in the process of putting in place the 'State Information Infrastructure', which would offer wide-area network connectivity for Kerala state headquarters, 14 district headquarters and 1,400 village offices.

All blocks have already been given the connectivity. A 'Grameen Data Bank' is being developed under the 'Kudumbashree' project to serve the village network.

The SII is aimed at accelerating proliferation of the IT industry, software parks in public and private sector and transforming the state as an IT metro through extension of the 'Wired Village' concept.

A state-level coordination committee under the IT secretary has been constituted to implement the project.

The Kerala IT policy aims at making Kerala a 100 per cent 'Internetised' state.

The state proposes to spend Rs 15 million for implementing the computerisation programme in two phases.

First, computer centres would be established at the legislature secretariat and the assembly hostel where all MLAs have been provided rooms that can be used by them, their assistants and officers to pick up computing skills.

Next, the assembly secretariat will be linked with the government secretariat through a computer network.

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