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August 25, 1997


Govt inducts video-conferencing into administration

The days of slow-moving files, corruption and red-tapism may finally ending with the formal induction of audio-visual teleconferencing and other computer-based communications into government functioning.

When Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian formally inaugurated a teleconferencing system last week, he described it as a "Very important and symbolic beginning," to a new era of greater transparency to which "the present government is committed".

He said the idea is to use the instant audio-visual access provided by teleconferencing to provide a "citizen-friendly" government which is in consonance with the proposed Right to Information Act.

The whole process works through a multi-point conferencing unit set up at the headquarters of the National Informatics Centre in New Delhi. The system reserves time schedules and resources required for a proposed conferences among people located in any of the state capitals or even district headquarters.

In group video-conferencing with near-television quality resolution, up to seven people sitting in each studio can interact with similar groups sitting in other studios with screens showing up to four sites.

There are facilities to add audio-only sites over which other people can dial into the conference and ask questions on request according Nicnet engineers.

NIC's desktop video-conferencing works across 'local area networks' located in different cities over the Nicnet infohighway and simulates an environment in which each desktop seems to be on the same LAN segment.

LAN to WAN or 'wide area network' connection is possible through routers operated over ISDN lines which allow diallers to use public ISDN telephone networks to call in on the desktop video conferencing setup from almost anywhere.

According to NIC Director General Dr N Seshagiri, desktop video conferencing is primarily used for one-to-one communication and the system used is highly portable and cheap with charges as low as Rs 3,000 per hour between any two points.

The low charges are possible because of indigenous development of software by NIC and optimal use of available hardware bought on bulk-purchase reduction and economies of scales, Dr Seshagiri said.

Because the system uses digital, rather than analogue technology, point-to-point connections are more secure and eliminate the possibility of eavesdropping or tapping, he said.

Video conferencing has the potential of saving the government about Rs 100,000 on each conference of about 10 people participating from different cities and on costs such as travel and dearness allowance.

Most importantly, video-conferencing could drastically reduce project delays because changes can be made to blueprints design drawings or diagrams by experts sitting at their own desks in widely separated cities.

According to Subramanian, travel by government officials from the different states to the central government departments for meetings will be reduced substantially once studios are established in all the 32 state and Union territory capitals as well as major central government offices in Delhi.

At present, NIC has set up facilities in 11 departments of the central government in Delhi, 5 state government secretariats and NIC demonstration studios in seven other capitals.

NIC has plans to make multimedia conferencing involving sharing of information interactively with video, voice, text and graphics a major priority in its activities over the next few years, Seshagiri said.

The system is available to the private sector and the government for the same charges, he said.


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