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India looks for free and open-source software for government tech

India is well-positioned to become a hub for free and open-source software (FOSS) innovations, due to the large number of 4G data subscribers in the country, 96% of whom access the digital world via open-source-based mobile operating systems. Some of India’s largest government projects (including Aadhaar) and many technology start-ups have also been built using FOSS. In 2015, the government had issued a Policy on Adoption of Open-Source Software.

To discuss FOSS adoption in governance, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) recently organised a virtual roundtable discussion in collaboration with Omidyar Network India. The event held on 22 April, was entitled ‘Free and Open-Source Software in Government’. The Ministry will continue to play a key role in the development of the technology, according to a press release.

Omidyar Network India makes equity investments in early-stage enterprises and provides grants to non-profits in the areas of digital identity, education, emerging tech, financial inclusion, governance and citizen engagement, and property rights.

The roundtable provided a forum for eGov leaders of states, central ministries, and agencies to share their experiences, best practices, and learnings in using FOSS in GovTech platforms and applications. Participants shared perspectives on how to drive the adoption of FOSS in government.

Varad Pande, Partner, Omidyar Network India explained that FOSS is a key component of GovTech 3.0, which is about building secure and inclusive open digital ecosystems (ODEs) that harness the potential of social innovators to help solve India’s toughest problems. “We are excited to see MeitY advancing the adoption of FOSS in [the] government in a thoughtful and strategic manner and are delighted to partner with them on this journey,” he said.

The President and CEO of the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), the CEO of MyGov, and the Managing Director of the Digital India Corporation moderated sessions where stakeholders shared their experiences on FOSS-based platforms like Aadhaar and Unified Payments Interface (UPI). They highlighted best practices and learnings for the participants.

Presentations were made on successful FOSS-led innovations adopted by the state governments of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, and other open-source enterprise solutions. The speakers included representatives from the EkStep Foundation, Samagra Governance, the Civic Data Lab, the International Centre for Free and Open-Source Software (ICFOSS), and Frappe Technologies.

The collaborative potential of FOSS was palpable in the discussion with FOSS community members, innovators, and academia, the release noted. Representatives from state governments shared their experiences about building tech platforms and reflected on the challenges where open-source technology could be most useful.

MeitY also announced the #FOSS4GOV Innovation Challenge, which will harness the innovation potential of the FOSS community and start-ups to solve critical issues in government technology. It claimed that several similar efforts will be forthcoming. The challenge calls upon FOSS innovators, technology entrepreneurs, and Indian start-ups to submit implementable open-source product innovations in CRM and ERP with possible applications for Govtech in health, education, agriculture, and urban governance.

Participants are eligible for incubation support, prize money, mentorship by domain experts, institutional support from eminent organisations for the incubation of ideas, and listing solutions on the Government e-Marketplace (GeM).

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