Economic Times carried a news report on the Draft IT Policy. For the last two or more years while the policy has been in the works, not a peep was heard out of NASSCOM or MAIT. Last month, when the policy was close to finalization, they argued for including royalty-based standards and the use of multiple standards for the same domain. According to the Economic Times report: NASSCOM, the apex body for software companies, is vehemently opposed to the idea of a single and royalty-free standard. “Ways can be worked out commercially to make a large e-governance project viable. Making everything patent-free may not be a commercial proposition as there might not be good standards available. On the other hand, adopting a single standard may constrict the country to adopt an old standard, if a new and better standard emerges in future. We support multiple standards which ensure interoperability at zero cost,” says Rajdeep Sehrawat, VP, Nasscom.If the Automobile Association of India took a cue from NASSCOM's stand on multiple standards and argued that cars sold in India should have right hand or left hand drives (the choice being that of the vendor, of course) the number of accidents would go up exponentially. Now, if users also demanded their, ahem, "rights," and said, "We should have a choice of which side of the road we should drive on," accidents will go up another exponential level. The point is that standards are collective choices that are imposed upon society for the better of all. I have no choice in deciding which side of the road I can drive on, but my life is better off for it. How many standards do you wish to use? Do you want two different standards for web pages and the corresponding mess of pages not displaying properly? There is only one single HTML standard because the vision of the creators of the web was to unify people, not divide them. The best standards, like HTML and Unicode are those that are universally supported.
NASSCOM's Mr. Sehrawat says, "On the other hand, adopting a single standard may constrict the country to adopt an old standard, if a new and better standard emerges in future. We support multiple standards which ensure interoperability at zero cost.”
Is India "constricted" because we have adopted "old standards" like HTML and Unicode? The world migrated from ASCII to Unicode and is migrating from HTML to XML-based web pages even as we speak. The "multiple standards which ensure interoperability at zero cost" is a nice Trojan Horse to sneak in proprietary standards.
Finally, will NASSCOM's suggestions benefit India? No, because the vast majority of standards are controlled by entities that lie outside our borders. If accepted, NASSCOM (and MAIT's) suggestions will mean that the country will pay huge royalties to foreign outfits. Does anyone remember what happened to us when the British East India Company came to us with a similar proposal?