Sunday, August 5, 2012

DeitY issues notification for ODF and other e-Gov Standards

The Government of India, Department of Information Technology, now rechristened as Department of Electronics and Information Technology, with a new acronym DeitY, issued its much awaited Policy on Open Standards vide Gazette Notification No. 2/32/2009/EG-II Dt. 10th November, 2010. In case you want to have a copy, please click here. However, the actual standards took lot more time to be notified. 

The long wait and the struggle by the FOSS community of India has definitely bore fruit when the DeitY notified the "Technical Standards for Interoperability Framework for E-Governance in India" on the 10th of May, 2012. In case you want to have a copy, please click here. Some of the standards which are of common interest to computer users are:
  1. ODF               (Editable Documents)
  2. PDF/A            (Scanned documents for storage/archival)
  3. JPEG              (Graphics Raster images- Lossy)
  4. PNG               (Graphics Raster images- Lossless)
  5. GIF89a           (Grahics Animation)
The most notable part of the notification is that ODF has been placed in the categories shown below:
  1. "O"    : Open Standard: Which meets the Mandatory Characteristics of the Policy
  2. "MC" : Matured and Current
  3. "M"   :  Mandatory/ MUST
The Standards document spells out in Para 2 that "The Technical Standards listed in the document shall  be used in all e-Governance applications by
  1. Project Teams of e-Governance applications in all Departments at Central / State Government level
  2. Contractual Policy framing agencies for e-Governance Applications
  3. All integrators / service providers of Indian e-Governance Applications"
This clearly indicated that ODF as a standard which is mandatory and must be followed  in all e-Government applications across India by all the Central Govt. departments and the States.

This is no doubt a very big achievement. However, adoption is very rare to be seen or heard (such species, in forestry, we call by the botanical name "Never seena never knowna"). Do we want ODF to become one such species? Who is responsible for it, and how should one go about approaching the issue? I have a few thoughts here for you all to ponder:
  1. All IT companies (the original culprits according to me, who have strong demonstration effect on humble and siple users and first timers in IT) who have anything to do with any Govt. or Govt owned body must (or must be made to) communicate or exchange documents only in ODF
  2. All Govt documents on websites must be converted back to ODF within a fixed time frame, else the Department and its IT wing should be brought to book (NIC should better watch out!)
  3. All the Central and State Govt Portals and Websites asking for upload of documents must change to accept only ODF. (Income Tax and MCA21 may watch out)
  4. All email attachments to and from any Govt agency (Central or State) carrying any editable document must only be in ODF.
  5. All tenders must be issued only in ODF by all agencies including PSUs.
  6. All educational institutions fully or partially supported by the central/ State Govts, and or their agencies, must also only use ODF. Infact, they must not only use free editors, but also  "Free" Software. Proprietary software should be used only in designated proprietary software labs.
However, all this would require lot of awareness, workshops, trainings and whole lot of "iron hands" in the Govt. simply to say no to  proprietary formats such as ".doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, .pptx".

Here the  biggest challenge in the way of adoption of ODF today is in the domain of mobiles and tablets. I am using Android based "Mobile Document Viewer" on my Samsung Galaxy Note ( I always say no to iPhones and iPads!!!) which has the capability now to view ODF files. However, capabilities in spreadsheet appear to be limited. An ODF editor is still lacking. Further, applications such as QuickOffice are sleeping for more than two years in providing any support for ODF. Shame on such applications!!!. Another reader on Android is "OpenOffice Document Reader".