India plans 2.7 billion-dollar technology project to bridge digital divide
BANGALORE, India (AFP) Nov 02, 2003
India will spend 2.7 billion dollars in the next four years to bridge its growing technological divide, including the construction of an internet device acceessible to illiterate villagers, a civil servant announced Sunday.

The "world computer" would be low cost and take commands orally from villagers regardless of what language they speak, said Rajeeva Ratna Shah, the Indian government's secretary for industrial policy and promotion.

"It should be able to take commands orally. There must be total interactivity and literacy should not act as a barrier," Shah told a conference in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, home to more than 1,000 foreign IT firms.

It would be "something on the lines" of the Simputer, a 200-dollar handheld device launched two years ago by Indian engineers that includes e-mail, voicemail, text-to-speech and Internet access, Shah said.

He said the government aimed to provide broadband service to all rural areas and had launched a pilot project in a corridor in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Shah said 124 billion rupees (2.7 billion dollars) had been allocated until 2007 to curb the "digital divide," which has become "one of the major concerns of the governments all over the world."

"You do not want to get into a situation where ICT (information, communicaton and technology) and its progress create social chasms and economic chasms between the haves and have-nots," he said.

"Advent of computers could make these much wider as you will have more haves and have-nots will become more deprived," Shah warned.

In one trial project near New Delhi, postal employees are downloading e-mails on wireless handheld devices and delivering them to villagers, who can reply using the same technology, Shah said.

"It is offline connectivity. But at least once a day there is a chance to send a message around the world," Shah said.

He said India would also soon launch a portal to let all corporations deal directly online with the government.

"This will enable us to cut corruption," Shah said.