We just need to market the state well, and the story will be quite different

Though it had a lead, Kerala has clearly missed the IT bus when compared
to other southern states. What really went wrong?
I would agree that we had a lead in terms of IT advancement. In fact, the
Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram was the first such park in India, way back in
the nineties. But due to a variety of reasonsmainly, negative perception and
lack of political willthe state lagged behind other states. Though Kerala might
have fallen in the race to investments, the state has continued to be a flag
bearer for India, in terms of social indices. Take the case of education,
infrastructure, or people; there is nothing that the state really lacks. We just
need to market it well, and the story will be quite different.

What benefits can IT companies draw by investing in the state?
Literally every survey in India ranks Kerala quite high as an investment
destination. The recent Nasscom survey of emerging cities also ranked Kochi at
the second position in the entire country. There are many reasons why IT
companies are indeed opening up campuses and development centers in Kerala. The
biggest attraction is cost saving; according to estimates, companies can save as
much as 50% on the cost of operation when compared to other destinations like
Bangalore and Chennai. Next is the highly literate workforce that is abundantly
available. Also, Kerala is very well connected to any part of the world, through
undersea cable connections. In fact, Kochi is the only city in the country which
is the landing point for both SEA-ME-ME3 (it lands in Mumbai) and safe undersea
cables that connect the country to the rest of the globe.

What e-gov initiatives have you taken?
The governments vision is to turn Kerala into a knowledge society with
sustainable economic growth, social harmony and high quality of life for all.
Unlike other Indian states, we lay a lot of emphasis on inclusive growth rather
than rapid growth. Our IT policy clearly maps out the path we intend to take.
Even our e-governance initiatives are geared toward that objective. Take for
instance the Akshaya project.

KR Jyothilal, special
secretary, Department of IT, Kerala

To ensure that the benefits of ICT reach the commonest of the common
Keralites, the state government is in the process of setting up around 3,000
broadband-enabled information hubs, or Akshaya e-centers, throughout the length
and breadth of the state. The project envisages providing functional computer
literacy to at least one person from each of the 64 lakh families in the state.
In the time to come, every citizen of the state will have a unique Akshaya ID,
which will enable the citizens to make use of the numerous e-governance
applications through the Internet or the kiosks. By December 2007, the complete
state will have broadband connectivity, right up to the gram panchayat level.

We are also in the process of implementing the SWAN (state wide area network)
whereby all the 14 districts of the state will be connected to smaller blocks in
the state. All the districts have been inter-connected by a 30 Mbps pipe and
they will be connected to the block level on a 2 Mbps pipe, thereby facilities
like videoconferencing and other such things will be available to state
officials as well as to the common man.

There was also this talk of networking all government departments
Indeed, we are in the process of networking all government departments. As
of now, we have configured and networked fifteen departments; the entire
secretariat has been networked, making it the first in India. We are also
putting in mechanisms whereby petitioners can track the movement of files
through IT. As of now, the facility is available in the finance, IT, and
industries departments. This not just increases the efficiency but also helps in
making the process transparent.

What is your take on open source?
I am an ardent admirer of the open source movement, and feel that we should
have open source applications and systems wherever possible. The Kerala
government keenly promotes open software as it is less costly.

Shashwat DC

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