[Edit Notes: As 2013 comes to an end, we take a look at the events that shaped the technology landscape in India. This article looks at what the Government has been up to and how it impacts the digital economy in India.]
This year, although the government was dysfunctional for many days, we saw some great technology and entrepreneurship focused initiatives. In many ways, 2013, was a big year for Gov Tech. According to industry analysts, the Indian government was expected to spend nearly $7 bn on technology products and services this year. Fueled by Government orders, the Personal Computer industry is also likely to grow further. Big projects like the Aadhaar, will face a decisive year in 2014, after the elections.
Tax troubles- Uncle Wants You (sic)
For corporates dealing with the taxman, it wasn’t a great year. After a long winding battle, Finnish phone maker Nokia was asked to deposit $367 mn in an escrow account to be able to transfer its Chennai manufacturing unit to Microsoft while the tax dispute will continue separately. The seizure of its plant was stopping the company from completing the sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft, in a deal worth $7.4 billion. Nokia India and Nokia Corporation owes Rs 21,153 (~$3.5 bn) crore as tax liability including penalty during a seven-year period from 2006-2013, according to a claim made by the Income Tax department to the Delhi High court.
Other large multi national corporations like Google and Microsoft are also fighting various tax related disputes in different courts.
FDI in E-commerce- Now It’s Cool, Now It’s Not
After allowing foreign direct investment into multi brand retail in September last year, the government singled out E-commerce and said that FDI is now allowed in the sector. Later in March 2013, it reiterated the ban on FDI in E-commerce.
Meanwhile, American online retail giant Amazon, which launched its marketplace in India, has been talking to the Indian government to re-look at the norms. In February, Amazon’s global Vice President Paul Misener met India’s trade minister Anand Sharma.
Last we heard (sometime in September), the Government wanted to re-look at the ban on FDI in e-commerce.
Freebies- How Government Saves an Industry
Various state governments propped up the Personal Computer market by buying large number of devices to distribute in their constituencies.
Research firm IDC which tracks personal computer shipments, said that the growth in the PC market was mainly due to large government orders. States like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu purchased laptops to distribute as freebies.
The distribution of laptops, however, wasn’t very smooth. Many of them were found rotting in government godowns.
The Agenda- Read pipe dreams?
In January this year, the Indian government began by announcing an agenda for the Department of Information and Technology (DeitY) for the year. The department said it will undertake initiatives such as National Rollout of Mobile Service Delivery Gateway (MSDG), National Information Infrastructure (NII 2.0), National cloud initiative and setting up academy for egovernance. The government also said that it will develop an Android watch as a personal safety device. We are yet to hear from them about this.
The Government App Store: eGovernance gives way to mGovernance
The government started rolling out a set of “m-governance” applications for Android and Java based phones through its app store. We found to be lacking in several aspects. To woo app developers, Indian government announced an app development contest inviting developers to make apps under six categories. Applications will be reviewed and top apps will be hosted on the Governments Mobile Seva App store.
The government of India is set to release a dedicated fund for technology startups engaged in developing solutions pertaining to e-governance, according to a new report.
The fund will draw from Rs 700 cr set aside by the government to roll out the national e-governance plan, a leading financial daily reported yesterday citing an unnamed government official.
In another positive development, the cabinet approved a massive fund to back innovative companies. The India Inclusive Innovation Fund, is looking at a first close of Rs 500 cr and a total corpus of $1 bn.
Apps & Others
The Ministry of External Affairs launched a smartphone app to make passport services, Hajj and visa/ consular services more accessible to Indians.
The government of Uttarakhand has launched a search engine for people to track hospitalised victims of the recent floods in the region.
To help Indian farmers across the country Government of India launched an SMS portal, named “Kisaan SMS Portal”.
The center also launched National Transport Portal With Busindia.
The Year Aakash Was Orphaned
This was the year when the low cost tablet program was orphaned. The Aakash project, went through a new set of controversies. As of now, Union Minister Kapil Sibal who first proposed the $35 tablet, seems to be giving it one more go. Sibal, now the country’s Information Technology Minister said that the 4th version of the low cost tablet will be available by January next year. Read the full back story here. As departments pushed the project around, the Aakash tablet, was presumed dead, and miraculously revived.
India Gets Cagey About Tech Sourcing
Sometime in February, there was a bit of skirmish between the United States & India as the latter made it mandatory for government agencies to source electronics from Indian manufacturers. The Ministry of IT and Communications notified government agencies that it must give preference to locally manufactured electronics and set a deadline for March 2014 to implement this rule. Read the full back story here.
Social Media, A(A)Pain for Govt
By late 2012 and early 2013, social media had become a regular pain for the political class. Several attempts were made to muzzle freedom of speech on the Internet. But then, politicians grew savvy. The Congress, asked key party members to submit their social media credentials to control dialogue on social media.
As we’d written before, the government was also criticized for its clumsy response to the north east exodus, the overreaching section 66 of the Information Technology act which was misused to make arrests of people who made comments on social networks to the government’s initial stand on the United Nations Treaty to govern the Internet. Its proposed inter ministerial panel to handle Internet related issues and moves to monitor the Internet has also been criticized.
Many government websites were hacked and protesters also took to the street against government’s move to police the Internet. The government also started a social media outreach program to popularize its initiatives on social media. Read more here.
Reluctant politicians like Kapil Sibal joined Twitter. As elections approached, the BJP & Congress sparred on Social Media. The Aam Admi Party, which came to power in Delhi, in their debut elections, leveraged social media heavily for their campaigns.
Internet Monitoring- Much Bickering; Very Few Sensible Views
In 2013, Indian government’s plans to develop its own cyber monitoring system came to light. Internet activists launched a campaign against the government to protest the implementation of a centralised monitoring system capable of tracking online activities including phone calls, chat logs and emails. We also exclusively reported on the Governments special plans to monitor the Internet in India’s North Eastern region.
Earlier, reports of mass surveillance in the United States by the National Security Agency had been leaked. The leaks also said that India was one among the countries that were spied on. The Indian government said that it will seek details from the US about the “intelligence” it gathered on Indian citizen, according to a new report.
Meanwhile,WeChat, the Chinese messaging platform launched in India by ibibo, came under the Intelligence Bureau scanner due to security concerns about its Chinese origins.
After much back and forth in 2010, finally agreed to the Indian government’s demands to be able to monitor communication over BlackBerry devices.
The Indian Government made less than 10 user information request to Twitter, the microblogging site revealed in a transparency report. Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Google published similar reports.
Startup Village, a technology incubator, got $24 mn from the Government for infrastructure.
Aadhaar- The CIA Connection
In 2013, the government approved an expense of Rs 3436.16 cr to implement the fourth phase of Aadhaar, the project which aims to give a unique verifiable online identification number to 1.2 billion Indians. During the phase, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is looking to enroll 40 crore residents to Aadhaar’s biometric database by March 2014.
In a setback to the project, a few ministers and the court said that Aadhaar is not mandatory to avail government subsidy. Privacy advocates questioned the security of data stored by the government.
Meanwhile, video footage of couples making out on the Delhi Metro hit major porn websites, calling into question the security of data and lowly work ethics of people who are in charge of securing the data.
Meanwhile, an important story highlighted that Aadhaar, which will eventually contain details of every Indian resident, was working with MongoDB, a company which was funded by the non profit arm of the CIA. We took a dive into the Aadhaar tech stack and figured that a thorough audit of the open sourced code would safeguard the data.
Kerala- Beyond Tourism
The Kerala government made all the right noises last year. After announcing a student entrepreneurship policy under which 20% grace attendance and 4% grace marks would be given to students who start a venture, the state government said it will set aside Rs 500 cr from its annual budget to invest in startups. This was first announced in September.
The state government also said that it will distribute 10,000 Raspberry Pi units in schools.
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