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
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  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.