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October 25, 1999


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The Malayalee mistake: Keralites are learning to read and write but not drag and drop! George Iype
in Thiruvananthapuram

Plain literacy and a simple formal education has been the Keralite's passport to a life of employed bliss.

Email this story to a friend. But this might change drastically. Not only has Kerala slipped from its position as the country's most literate state, it is ignoring computer education.

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A case in point is that despite Kerala being one of India's most literate state, it is lagging in computerising government.

The reason: hundreds of thousands of government employees do not know and are not interested in taming the mouse.

For once, resource is not the issue. Hundreds of computers have been installed in every government department but nobody is willing to get the equipment working.

A state appointed task force that studied the progress of information technology in government has come out with a report that severely indicts the Left Democratic Front government's computerisation drive.

It criticises government employees for their slackness in learning and using computers.

Two years back Kerala was impressed and inspired by neighbour Andhra Pradesh whose chief minister, N Chandrababu Naidu, was busy wiring up the state's bureaucracy with a far-flung computer network.

Kerala had then allocated special funds in its annual budgets for a massive computerisation drive.

The government predicted that Kerala would steal a march over other states in staging an infotech revolution. Kerala soon announced installation of 10 PCs for every 1,000 people by 2001.

The state government chalked out an ambitious plan to set up Internet kiosks in every panchayat ward. As per the plan, all colleges are to be connected to the Internet by 2000 and all schools just two years later.

But since those announcements, Kerala's computer revolution has repeatedly misfired. An obdurate bureaucracy and a lackadaisical workforce ensured that government departments and panchayats and village offices remain unwired.

According to the report, last year the government spent Rs 250 million on computerising departments. The bulk of this money was spent on buying computer hardware...

Hardware that has yet to be been unpacked!

"For many institutions, computerisation means procurement of hardware. Purchasing machines with the funds allotted in the budget was the major activity. Once the purchase was over, not many people even bothered to open the packaging," the report charges.

"Various computerisation projects in the state lack the perspective to provide training as well as the mechanism to utilise the facilities available," the report says. It claims that there is lack of thrust in properly training employees who should become the eventual users of the computers.

The report also remarks that in a majority of the cases, the use of computers is not found to improve governance: "Instead, computers have been subjected only to individual use by a few officers and majority of people do not go beyond using some standard software for simple applications."

The report says that even in offices where computers are being used, they remain grossly under-utilised: "Time and resources are seldom spent to develop application packages for specific purposes which are essential for any meaningful computerisation programme."

The task force goes on to add that though computers have been installed in every department, they are not used even for simple tasks such as preparing the salary bills of employees, budgeting and maintaining employee details.

The problem is that "the focus is not on application of information technology for changing governmental mechanism", the report says.

According to the report, major information technology projects in the state have continuously missed deadlines and failed to deliver tangible results.

"Majority of the projects focus mostly on the reporting mechanism in the bureaucracy while neglecting the interface between the government and the people in the process," the report claims.

Stating that priorities in most of the IT projects are not decided on society's aspirations, the task force holds the government and major institutions responsible for "not applying IT and its benefits for assessing and realising the people's needs".

Officials in the information technology department say that to ensure that Kerala does not lag behind its neighbours Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the government is chalking out a multi-pronged information technology policy to computerise the state and woo computer software and hardware entrepreneurs to the state.

To begin with, Chief Minister E K Nayanar has invited chiefs of 100 important infotech companies in the country for a meeting on November 13. In the meeting, the government is expected to spell out its liberal IT policies.

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