Power-starved Kashmir to launch cyber initiative
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Power-starved Kashmir to launch cyber initiative

Friday, 24 October 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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SRINAGAR: An ambitious Indian government plan to set up community information centres to connect villages across Jammu and Kashmir has been hailed as a right step in the campaign against corruption, reports OneWorld.net.

The $8.2 million scheme, alongside other schemes to boost IT, is aimed at connecting 2,681 villages through 130 centres, but the fact is connectivity and power remain elusive.

Indian IT and Communication Minister Arun Shourie says efforts will be made to improve the functioning of the lacklustre Software Technology Park of India (STPI), established to aid IT-related projects in 1999.

The central IT ministry will collaborate with universities in the strife-torn state to send students for training and exposure to leading IT firms in India. This will help them "set up their own ventures in the state", says Shourie.

According to him, New Delhi also plans to set up call centres here.

For its part, the state government is formulating a comprehensive IT policy.

"We have sought recommendations and suggestions from experts and all heads of department," says Science and Technology Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora.

Jora says construction work on the community information centres would begin next month, with as many as 60 to be functional in a year's time.

There is a two-year deadline to link all corners of the state through such centres.

"The information centres will be fully equipped to provide information via the Internet to common people living even in the remotest villages," boasts Jora.

Reeling under separatist violence that has killed around 40,000 people since 1989, Jammu and Kashmir has seen only primitive IT development.

But Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who heads a one-year-old coalition government here, has just launched a massive programme for e-governance.

Last month, he inaugurated a video-conferencing facility at the state secretariat in the summer capital, Srinagar, linking it with the winter capital of Jammu and Leh town in the Ladakh region.

The 14 district headquarters have been linked through the National Information Centre network, though the facility is confined to top district officials only.

Jora says the video-conferencing facility will take another two months to become operational.

The previous government had also attempted to develop IT in the state, allocating $360,000 for training officials and purchasing equipment.

Following this initiative, as many as 23 government departments launched their websites, with many others in the process of doing so.

"The idea is to discard the age-old system of office functioning, which promotes corruption and red-tapism", says Junior Minister G.A. Mir.

Aiding the state's efforts in the IT sector is one of India's leading industrial groups, the Tatas, renowned for ushering in e-governance in Andhra Pradesh.

Despite the hype, local IT professionals and entrepreneurs are cynical.

"The government has not entrusted even a small software development project to any local professional," complains IT professional Mubashir Hassan.

Take the case of software developer, Nasir Ali Mirza, who had to close his unit due to poor facilities and lack of support from the government and the public.

Admits Jora: "I agree that STPI has not been able to function properly, forcing many professionals to back out. No entrepreneur is ready to invest in such conditions."

Sample the facts: the state is plagued by poor connectivity and lack of round-the-clock power supply. Internet service provider, the public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), has no plans to upgrade its existing server.

Protests cyber cafe proprietor Aijaz Ahmed: "Most of the time its server is down or it runs at the pace of a slug."

Jora claims Shourie has instructed BSNL "to improve its service".

Power supply is equally erratic, with five-hour daily power cuts, which sometimes extend to 10 hours. Not to mention insecurity and lack of awareness.

As computer professional Khadim Hussein remarks: "Most people in Kashmir use computers as typewriters or calculators."




Source: IANS
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