Atanu Dey has a series of posts that criticize the IT Vision Document released by the BJP in the runup to the Indian elections. In his latest post The Rational IT Policy, he proposes an IT policy that basically does nothing – an Unpolicy, if you will. It requires government to stay out of the way of individuals and the market which will make their own decisions about using IT or not.
To me this seems wrong-headed. I think it is important for any government that comes to power to nurture and encourage the use of IT in government, business, education and at home.
IT penetration requires broadband infrastructure. To get infrastructure in place requires the government to set the rules. Anything that is utility-like – high investments, limited consumer choice – requires the government to put a regulatory framework in place both to enable the investment as well as to protect the consumers from being taken advantage of. Then there are tariffs on all kinds of computing equipment. Set them too high and demand is depressed.
The use of IT in the government is highly desirable. Productivity, transparency, better service – there are many reasons why. But letting things take their course is not going to computerize the government. Many government servants like things the way they are.
The Indian IT industry is a completely separate matter since it is almost entirely targeted at foreign markets, but it does generate significant employment and a nice share of GDP. It doesn’t need much help any more. But at one time they did and without that help from the government, we may have delayed the emergence of the industry for a long time.
The argument Dey makes on affordability of course are right. India is a poor country with a large budget deficit. So we have to be careful about how much we spend. Large projects have serious leakages due to graft, as he points out. But then if we stopped funding anything that was a large project for fear of leakages we wouldn’t have any highways.