Pitroda does a Modi, ducks hard queries on Twitter

Sam Pitroda

The ‘first-ever government press meet on Twitter‘ by adviser to the Indian Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, left more questions unanswered than it cleared lingering doubts
Balaji Ramesh and Chokkapan S, CYBERMEDIA http://www.ciol.com/
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BANGALORE, INDIA: Just like how Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi handled questions on Google+ Hangout in a potentially-trendsetting public interaction on August 31, Sam Pitroda, adviser to the Indian Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, adapted a similar approach on Tuesday. Duck and dodge uncomfortable, hard questions, and propagate the government’s agenda through a popular social media platform.

To Pitroda, his own. His preferred choice was Twitter, on which he had called for a ‘virtual’ press conference on Democratization of Information – with a dedicated hashtag, #DoI – which was promoted as the first such ever.

Before the commencement of the press meet at 3.30 pm, the adviser to PM, who is considered a revolutionary in the field of communications, warmed up and set the agenda for the meet with some feel-good promotional messages on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s policies and plans.

Here are a few to sample:

“UPA Govt has various plans to build robust Information Infrastructure to democratize information on a scale that has never been done before.”

“Information is power and not many wish to share. Info is critical for development and needs to be timely available to people.”

“I firmly believe that #Information is the 4th pillar of #democracy along with legislature, executive and judiciary.”

“We have the #open government platform at http://www.data.gov.in/  will provide access to govt. data and documents.”

Once the 45-minute virtual conference began, he was mostly touching upon and explicating about the Public Information Infrastructure (PII) and the National Knowledge Network (NKN).

In his words, “Public #Information Infrastructure (PII) will transform India’s 1.2 billion people into 1.2 billion opportunities.” And, “To build PII, we need multiple open platforms for Broadband, UID, GIS, Security, Applications, Payment and Portals.”

Pitroda added that PII also included fibre connectivity to all 250000 panchayats and the NKN that would connect 1,500 nodes for universities, colleges, R&D labs and libraries, among others. He assured that all 250,000 panchayats would have fibre connectivity to ensure ubiquity.

As for justice delivery, Pitroda said that they were applying ICT for improving and speeding it up.

In response to CIOL’s questions on cloud, mobility and NKN implementation, he had two anwers, as tweets, while harder queries on creative freedom, information security, social media policies of the government duly were ducked, as were many other such questions from other individuals and publications.

The question about his views on the growth of cloud and mobile services in India, was met with, “cloud computing beginning, answer to standards in many areas. Mobile will move more to data & applications.”

Next, the one on the timeline to implement NKN completely across all educational institutions the government planned to cover, had as a reply, “NKN will connect all public universities and R&D labs by end of the year.”

According to Pitroda, NKN was already operational, with 850 institutions connected so far and it was already in all states upto block level. He urged state governments to leverage it, as it had enormous possibilities, including virtual classrooms and research collaboration.

But, in this regard, too, some questions were clumsily handled. Like this one: On how the NKN could possibly help a school girl in a remote village or a tribal in Chattisgarh, Pitroda replied, “They can take online courses.” And, on why Internet remained so unaffordable to the common people in India,  he said, “Hopefully prices will go down as we get more broadband capacity and OFC to panchayats.”

Although many commenting on the thread felt that it was innovative and good for more and more government representatives to interact with public on an open forum like Twitter, there can be no denying that some restrictions on the number of letters one can type and interviewees having a safe option to avoid hard questions, offer them a good platform to talk only about the issues they want to and push their own agenda.

Mobile phones and not Roti, Kapda, Makan #Indiashining ? #WTFnews

Free mobile phones for all poor families, UPA promises

Free mobile phones for all poor families, UPA promises
In what could turn out to be its calling card for 2014 general elections, the govt is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore scheme to give one mobile phone to every BPL family.

NEW DELHI: In what could turn out to be its calling card for the 2014 general polls, the UPA government is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore scheme to give one mobile phone to every BPL family.

Sources in the PMO said that the scheme, Har Hath Mein Phone, expected to be announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on August 15, will not only aim to give away mobiles to around six million BPL households, it would also provide 200 minutes of free local talktime.

Top government managers involved in formulating the scheme want to sell it as a major empowerment initiative of the UPA-II. While the move will ensure contact with the beneficiaries of welfare programmes worth thousands of crores, there is also a view the scheme will provide an opportunity for the ruling dispensation to open a direct line of communication with a sizable population that plays an active role in elections.

The scheme is likely to be funded from telecom department’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) funds. According to a source, 50% of the cost is likely to come from the bidder who gets the right to provide service and the remaining from the USO fund. According to estimates, the scheme will involve a monthly expenditure of Rs 100 per cellphone.

PMO is involved with the Planning Commission and telecom ministry in giving shape to the scheme.

The government has already launched a national infrastructure initiative under PM‘s advisor Sam Pitroda that aims to link 2,50,000 panchayats in 16 months through internet so basic communication facilities can be provided.

As our census revealed- Nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home, but more people own a mobile phone.Only 46.9% of the 246.6 million households have lavatories while 49.8% defecate in the open. The remaining 3.2% use public toilets.About 77% of homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand have no toilet facilities, while the figure is 76.6% for Orissa and 75.8% in Bihar. All three are among India’s poorest states with huge populations which live on less than a dollar a day.


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