Defender of your Digital Freedom

All Posts | Mar 29,2017

Joint letters to Chief Ministers raising concerns over Internet shutdowns

Concerned by the recurring Internet shutdowns imposed by states across India, we, along with a group of citizens and organizations, sent letters to the Chief Ministers of all states that have witnessed shutdowns in the past, requesting that immediate action be taken to curb this unjustifiable practice. Making note of the significant human rights deprivations and socio-economic costs that come with frequently preventing residents of entire states and regions from accessing the Internet, the letter urged the Chief Ministers of affected states to take necessary steps towards ensuring that any restrictions on communications imposed in the interest of maintaining law and order follow established legal protocol under the Information Technology Act, 2000, and that states refrain from imposing blanket Internet shutdowns under any circumstance.

The full text of the respective letters are available at these links:

Note: We will be re-sending these letters to the CMOs in a few weeks’ time with a larger pool of organizational/individual endorsements. We request all who wish to voice their support for this initiative to send in a line of endorsement of any/all of the above letters to mail@sflc.in. Please be sure to state your full name and designation as applicable in your email, and feel free to suggest any changes you would like to see in the current text of the letters.

All Posts | Jan 05,2017

Information received regarding SWAYAM under Right To Information Act, 2005

SWAYAM, the national Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) project established by Ministry of Human Rights Development (MHRD), is a laudatory effort set to serve as a source for courses related to all fields from high school to post graduation. This one stop destination is meant to bridge the educational and digital divide by ensuring learning resources are made accessible in consonance with principles of equity and affordability in the varying socio-economic sectors of the country. Last year it was announced that the development of SWAYAM platform has been decided to be pursued through proprietary platform, disregarding free and open source software (FOSS) options that have proved successful and are being used in MOOC platforms such as edX at the global scale.

SFLC.in conducted in-depth research regarding the discussions that took place by the committees within the MHRD that led to the decision of choosing proprietary software, despite India having implemented the Policy on adoption of Open Source Software for the Government of India in 2015 that makes it a mandatory requirement for all e-governance projects undertaken by various Government organizations to adopt open source software as a preferred option in comparison to closed source software, and wherever making the decision to choose closed source software, to provide reasons in writing. To generate awareness about this issue, a Joint Letter, signed by various academics, non profit organizations, and individuals, was drafted by us and sent to the MHRD. A copy of this Joint Letter can be accessed here.

[Our findings from this research, and a time-line of the events since the inception of the project in 2014 can be accessed here and here respectively.]

In addition, we also filed applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005 for a complete set of minutes of certain meetings that were unavailable on MHRD’s online portal. The applications filed by us asked for the minutes of the meeting held by the technical committee that decided to use proprietary software and awarded the contract to Microsoft. In the reply received by us, we were provided with the minutes of the 9thmeeting of the SWAYAM Project Cell (SPC) where Microsoft was finalized as the Systems Integrator for SWAYAM.

It has details of the discussions regarding the projected costs and further states that the technical and management committees constituted by The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for the purpose of deciding the method of development of SWAYAM had come to the conclusion that in-house developers from National Informatics Centre Services Inc. (NICSI) should be recruited for developing the platform, and “keeping in view the complexity of the project and the requirement of timely and reliable servicing facility, SWAYAM should be developed on a proprietary IT platform rather than open source.”

Furthermore, it states that available systems of Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and SAP were evaluated, and Microsoft was chosen for the following reasons:

  1. Microsoft platform has the whole bouquet of systems required for designing the MOOCs application, viz SQL, Windows servers, Share point, Dot Net and System Centre.

  2. The Software licenses (Educational versions) are available at highly subsidized rates under Education Discount Policy through their Authorized Education Partners (AEPs) as LSPs.

  3. Microsoft platform is available on DGS&D Rate Contract, so we can buy the same off the shelf.” [Point 9.3 of the minutes of the meeting]

Watch this space for updates on further RTIs we have filed on this topic.

For the entire text of the RTI reply and the minutes of the above mentioned meeting, refer here.

All Posts | Nov 10,2016

Timeline for India’s MOOC platform – SWAYAM

2014: SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) is announced by the Ministry of Human Rights Development (MHRD), as a national platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for the country in 2014 under its National Mission on Education through Information & Communication Technology (NME-ICT). This platform is being developed to serve as a source for courses related to all fields from high school, starting with the 9th standard, up till post graduation.

2014: For first stage of the program, MHRD chose faculty from the IITs; Bombay, Chennai, Kharagpur, and Guwahati to develop engineering based courses; IIM Bangalore and Calcutta for the business and management study base, and University of Delhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu Unviersity, and IGNOU for the field of social sciences. It was decided that a small fee would be levied on users who wanted a verified certificate from the university upon the completion of their course.

5th January, 2015: MHRD established the ‘Main Committee regarding SWAYAM platform for MOOCs’ to conduct a thorough examination of all elements for a successful MOOC project, including but not limited to the type of software platform to be used, any IPR or licensing issues, the expansion and scalability of the project, its capability to accommodate large number of students, among other concerns.

12th January, 2015: During the first meeting of the Main committee, one of the many policy considerations was that the national MOOC platform should be ‘Made in India’ with respect to its hardware, software, platform and that appropriate open source technologies should be used on the MOOC platform, and the source code should be available in the public domain.

13th January, 2015: A Sub committee was created to to recommend the most appropriate platform for SWAYAM, along with developing a road-map for the project to ensure it is sustainable and self sufficient, after deliberating upon the existing frameworks.

30th March, 2015: The Sub Committee submitted its report after evaluating the existing MOOCs in operation on open source platforms at IIT Bombay, Kanpur, and Madras. It recommended that the National Knowledge Network (NKN) data center, made by the National Informatics Center (NIC) along with E-Sikshak (an initiative by C-DAC) should be developed by incorporating all the features that are currently being used in the MOOCs platforms of IIT Bombay, Madras, and Kanpur.

22nd June, 2015: The Main Committee analyzed the Sub Committee’s Report. It accepted their recommendation that SWAYAM should be be developed as a home grown platform by C-DAC on Open Source and the advancements made by C-DAC. This would eliminate concerns of licensing or IPR issues with respect to the platform. It was concluded that C-DAC’s project proposal would further be examined by an Expert committee and recommendations would be given.

28th October, 2015: At the 30th Project Approval Board meeting of MHRD,

  • It states that the Minister for Human Resources had decided in a meeting that SWAYAM would be developed by National Informatics Centre Services Incorporated (NICSI) through NIC. NICSI is the arm of NIC that purports to assist by providing IT solutions for the development of e-governance projects undertaken by NIC, Deity, or other Government organizations.

  • DeitY was asked to seek a suitable consultant to draft Request For Proposals (RFP) for the job of a ‘System Integrator’ for SWAYAM as per the above stated Project Approval Board meeting. (It is important to note here that in the minutes of the first meeting of the Sub Committee, it was reportedly suggested that RFPs be drafted to tender the contract in the event of C-DAC not being able to deliver the development of SWAYAM. Although, it was noted that it would be a commercial venture and the MHRD would have to examine such action.) Through the bidding process, NICSI awarded the work to draft the proposal request to Price Waterhouse Coopers Pvt. Ltd (PwC), with the cost of entire project estimated at Rs. 29,88,510 (inclusive of service tax and NICSI’s operating margin)

21st November, 2015: MHRD releases Request for Proposal for System Integrator for MHRD-SWAYAM MOOC Project for the developer to be selected from a competitive bidding process. The three volumes of this RFP can be accessed as Volume 1, 2, and 3.

3rd December, 2015: At the 31st Project Approval Board of the MHRD, it was discussed that:

  • The process already underway for hiring the services of a consulting firm to draft the RFPs to select a System Integrator should be completed within 4 months at the decided price of Rs. 29,88,510.

  • The PAB also agreed in principle that the IT platform that would host the MOOCs under SWAYAM could be developed under the NME-ICT project and the cost for this development could be met from the head ‘Development of suitable pedagogical methods in e-content.’

23rd May, 2016: Post the floating of the RFPs, in the 32nd Project Approval Board of National Mission on Education through ICT held on 23rd May, 2016, it was stated that that SWAYAM project has been given to AICTE to be developed internally due to the lack of success in finding a successful bidder.

17th June, 2016: AICTE, after consultation with a technical committee along with PwC had decided to engage Microsoft as the system integrator for India’s MOOCs platform for Rs. 38 crores. The contract with Microsoft entailed their services for developing and maintaining the platform for 3 years, at the end of which, AICTE will take control.

19th July, 2016: the University Grants Commission (UGC) (Credit Framework for Online Learning Courses through SWAYAM) Regulation, 2016 was notified on 19th July, 2016 that entails a system of transference of credit of courses completed under SWAYAM.

[Update: SFLC.in, along with other concerned organizations and individuals has sent a Joint Letter to the MHRD, asking them to re-consider the decision of using proprietary software for developing SWAYAM. Further details along with the full text of the letter can be accessed here; if you wish to join the effort and be included in the list of signatories, please write to mamta@sflc.in]

More information on this issue can be accessed here.

Image credits: Opensource.com, CC-BY-SA 2.0; available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/47691521@N07/4370250843

All Posts | Apr 26,2016

Joint letter to the Department of Commerce expressing concerns over software-patent-friendly clauses in the RCEP

Indian law on patentability of computer programmes is abundantly clear in that Section 3(k) of the Patents Act 1970 explicitly excludes computer programmesper se, mathematical methods and algorithms from patent protection. Moreover the recent Guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions released by the Patent Office on February 19, 2016 ensure that patents are granted only to those inventions where a computer programme is claimed in conjunction with novel hardware. This eliminates the possibility of frivolous patents being granted in the field of software in India. However, recently it has come to light that the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Treaty (RCEP) presently being negotiated proposes a clause on patents in the area of computer programmes that will result in patents being granted in this field.

SFLC.in along with members of software industry, civil society, academia and other stakeholders, penned a joint letter to the Department of Commerce, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion and the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade marks, expressing our concerns over the clauses contained in the RCEP. A copy of the joint letter is available here.

All Posts | Sep 15,2015

Joint letter to the PMO expressing concerns over the “Guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions (CRIs)”

SFLC.in, along with several civil society organizations and citizens, penned a joint letter to the Prime Minister of India on September 15, 2015 expressing concerns over the "Guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions (CRIs)" issued by the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks on August 21, 2015.

Despite being intended to further foster uniformity and consistency in the examination of patent applications relating to CRIs, the 2015 Guidelines make way for the patenting of mathematical and business methods and computer programs, which until now was prohibited under Section 3(k) of the Patents Act, 1970 for the specific purpose of preventing monopolies and fostering innovation. The present Guidelines, by allowing patents in these areas, pose a significant threat to Indian industry and innovation, and could greatly undermine the Government's "Make in India" initiative.

An amendment to Section 3(k) proposed under the Patents (Amendment) Bill, 2005 had previously attempted to broaden the scope of patentability in computer programs, but was defeated due to protests in Parliaments over its potential to create monopolies by multinationals. This demonstrates a clear legislative intent against broadening the scope of patentability under Section 3(k), as is done by the 2015 Guidelines.

It is therefore necessary to initiate urgent steps to recall the 2015 "Guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions (CRIs)", and to ensure that any future guidelines on this subject are in tune with the legislative intent.

A copy of the joint letter is available here.