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Indian State Governments Aim to Capitalize on ISP Boom

The anticipated boom in the Indian Internet user base, thanks to the recently liberalized ISP policy, has spurred a number of state governments to announce local Internet initiatives, ranging from online trade and investment services to high-tech corridors conducive to foreign investments.

The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu--currently the most Internet-savvy politician in the country--has discussed getting all the companies in his state on the Internet and creating transparent government services accessible online.

Information and services to be provided via the Net will include land records, property taxes, birth and death data, and applications for certificates.

Naidu has suggested that a new Ministry for Informatics be formed by bringing together the Departments of Information and Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Electronics. He also is calling for the creation of a National Software Development Fund for promoting information technology (IT) in the country.

The Maharashtra state legislature plans to launch its Web site soon; computerization of the proceedings of the state legislature will be undertaken at an estimated cost of about a million dollars. The state government has even announced that it will observe 1999 as the Year of Information Technology.

Other Indian states with official Web sites promoting activities like tourism and industry now include Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra.

Krishnat Deshmukh, district chief of agriculture in Maharashtra, said the state will launch an online service to offer information on world-wide produce prices, weather, and crop scenarios. This would enable farmers to take decisions on exporting their produce.

The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is working on a plan to connect villages in the state via a network.

The Chennai traffic police force, also in Tamil Nadu, plans to use its Web site to provide information about the spot fine system and traffic offences.

Karnataka legislative assembly speaker Ramesh Kumar has proposed plans for online disclosure of the state government's schemes in various departments, amounts spent, schemes implemented, personnel in each department and salaries paid to them, and work done by the respective legislative representatives.

State governments in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, and Gujarat are discussing projects for the launch of public access Internet community centers with World-Tel, which has already tested such access models in Latin American countries like Peru.

500 Internet community access centers are scheduled to be established in 1999 across Tamil Nadu. Organizations like the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) will be involved in setting up the backbone for the project.

India's Commerce Ministry has selected several organizations for coordinated EDI implementation, such as Customs, Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Reserve Bank of India, and Container Corporation of India.

DGFT, National Information Center (NIC) and the Commerce Ministry have made export-import policy documents accessible on the Internet.

The Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi was the first Indian mission in the Gulf to launch its Web site. Information provided covers regulations for obtaining business visas, and templates for sworn affidavits.

The Ministry of Railways has decided to create a Web site for Indian Railways. The site will contain information on ticketing and routes as well as purchase and tenders.

The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Development Authority of India has a Web site listing 5,000 exporters in categories like fresh produce, cereals, grains, animal products, and alcoholic beverages.

India's National Stock Exchange (NSE) has a site featuring stock prices, volume traded and information on 1,500-odd stocks traded on the NSE, press releases, a live ticker, and a portfolio manager.

Public sector units like Indian Railways, the Power Grid Corporation of India, and the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WSEB) plan to offer backbone services to ISP's.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) plans to make phone directories of the major cities available on the Net.

The Prime Minister's Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development plans to leverage IT to create a million jobs in the next five years and increase the annual software exports to $50 billion by 2008.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett, on a recent visit to India, proposed to the Task Force that it should focus on value added software applications with special relevance to the Internet if it seeks to become a global software leader.

Challenges still remain in basic Internet infrastructure in the country and e-commerce laws covering taxation and intellectual property rights.

A working group set up by India's Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) is studying the issue of taxation of Internet transactions.

The Indian government has formed a Group on Telecommunications (GOT) which is formulating new telecom policy for convergent technologies; however, it is divided over the issue of allowing private parties to provide Internet telephony.