Why the Government of India's policy on open source software is a watershed moment for open source in India

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Open Source Software(OSS), despite all its merits, has never been the first choice of software. However that could change, at least in all central government ministries and departments in India. In a policy statement dated 27th March 2015, notified through Government of India's Gazette, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology has announced a policy to prefer use of Open Source Software(OSS) in all central government departments and ministries, with use of Closed Source Software(CSS) only being considered as an exception with sufficient justification.


The seriousness of this must be understood and the gravity appreciated. Firstly it is not merely a recommendation. The government notification clearly mentions this as a 'Policy' thus implying that departments would have to take decisions with this guideline serving as limiting criteria. Again this 'policy' is connected  to the 'Digital India' programme. The said policy dated 27th March 2015,  appeared in 'The Gazette of India', on April 2nd 2015.

The reasons for such a policy are not far to seek. The Government of India is implementing 'Digital India' programme. Under this the Government of India is seeking to make available government services in reliable and efficient manner at affordable prices. Organisations all over the world have managed to reduce costs by exploring Open Source Software. Government of India has been promoting Open Source Software to leverage economic and strategic benefits. The National Policy on Information Technology policy 2012 too had mentioned as one its objectives the adoption of open source technologies.

In simple words, the policy prefers Open Source Software(OSS) compared to Closed Source Software(CSS). Presently this policy is applicable to departments and ministries under central government. State governments may chose to adopt this policy. The objective of this policy is not only reducing costs of projects, but also to adopt Open Source Software(OSS) to ensure long term control of applications.


The policy states that all central government RFPs(request for proposal) will require suppliers to include Open Source Software(OSS)  solutions along with Closed Source Software(CSS) solutions, while responding to RFPs. The policy requires vendors to provide justification, if they do not include Open Source Software option while responding. While deciding, government organizations would compare OSS and CSS options, on various criteria such as life time costs, capability, security, scalability and support.

The policy requires central government ministries and departments to adopt Open Source Software(OSS) in all e-governance applications or sytems implemented by government. However, when OSS solutions are not available, or when urgency demands adopting CSS solution or when skills in OSS are not available, the government may consider Closed Source Software(CSS) with sufficient justification.

The policy seems reasonable and practical. Very clearly the Government of India wants to leverage on benefits of Open Source Software(OSS). The policy neither prevents suppliers from proposing Closed Source Software nor does it prevent government from choosing Closed Source Software. The policy only requires vendors to propose Open Source Software solution and Government departments and ministries to prefer  and adopt Open Source Software solution whenever possible. This is understandable. Yet, the government of India has made its intention clear, that it seeks to explore Open Source Software, as the preferred alternative, to save on costs. The Government of India reserves the right to review the policy as and when required.

- Prabhakar Deshpande is an open source evangelist based in Mumbai

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