IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
The Union government has declared this year as the "Year of Scientific Awareness". The National Council for Science and Technology Communications (ncstc) -- a Department of Science and Technology (dst) division -- plans to initiate a massive scientific awareness programme in the country, a component of which is to use information technology (it) to enhance people's decision-making capabilities. The success of the programme, however, will depend not merely on delivering it to people, but on its ability to connect people with the information they want.
India's it sector underwent a meteoric growth in the last 25 years or so, making it a symbol of national pride and a synonym -- though misplaced -- for development. But we have lost track of the basic fact that good it does not ipso facto mean good information. On its own, the technology cannot facilitate better decision-making. It can only help indirectly by improving people's capacities to generate better decision-support information.
In the North, a public information revolution -- the creation of large and open information systems on consumer rights, product safety and health -- helped trigger the development of it. In turn, it also benefited from it as the latter facilitated speedier dissemination of more information to wider audiences. Public information systems were worth many times their cost as it was an investment in increasing people's capacities.
The Indian it industry grew along with the global one; it was, however, not preceded by a public information revolution. Our it industry was driven by external forces rather than by internal compulsions. Barring a few exceptions -- such as e-governance -- this trajectory restricted the access of it to those best positioned to benefit from it. Computerisation has increased manufacturing and service sector efficiencies, and the wired-up now search for better deals on the Internet. The un-wired majority has yet to benefit from it.
About four years ago, the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (appcb) ordered industrial units to place notice boards at their entrances; the boards had to display information about a plant's regulatory compliance conditions, its emissions levels, the environment quality in its vicinity and the maximum vulnerable zone for a catastrophic accident. A few units complied. Some displayed environmental policy statements, but the information asked for by the appcb was not provided. Most units did not even put up the boards. With the appcb looking askance, an information system that could fulfill risk communication clauses under the law stands sabotaged.
In 1996, Vigyan Prasar -- another dst division -- decided to prepare a database on industrial safety. Over the next three years, the proposal moved through several sittings of an inter-ministry committee without any hitch. However, Vigyan Prasar terminated the project, just before its inception, offering no public explanation. A database that would have been very useful to a wide spectrum of users died at stillbirth.
With its human capital and mature it industry, India can still have a good public information system. If nsct's it programme is designed and executed well, such systems can be created. But if the government drags its feet in creating the right policy framework and in allocating funds, public institutions must take this task upon themselves.
Sagar Dhara is an environmental engineer