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03.02.11

AICTE’s (India) Back Room Deals With Microsoft: Taxpayers Stay Out!

Posted in Asia, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 11:37 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Public institutions, secretive deals

AICTE's letter to Narendra Sisodiya

Summary: The sham at AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) goes deeper than initially thought

IT SMELLS like corruption. Well, Microsoft is involved, so back room deals are a standard routine. The AICTE fiasco is a subject that we’ve been writing about since last year and Narendra Sisodiya, an educator promoting software freedom in India, is now appealing with help from SFLC-India in order to get to the bottom of it. To quote his letter (response to the above statement):

To

The Appellate Authority(E-Governance) in AICTE,

7th Floor, Chanderlok Building, Janpath

New Delhi- 110 001

Sir,

Sub: Appeal under Section 19 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Ref.: Application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 dated 21-10-2010

This is with reference to my application under Right to Information Act, 2005 dated October 21, 2010 filed before the The Central Public Information Officer, All India Council for Technical Education, 7th Floor, Chanderlok Building, Janpath, New Delhi- 110 001, for obtaining the following information:

1. Copy of the agreement signed on 15 October 2010 between between All India Council for Technical Education and Microsoft to deliver free access to development software and design software for institutions, students and faculty in India under DreamSpark program

2. Copy of the agreement signed on 15 October 2010 between All India Council for Technical Education and Autodesk to deliver free access to development software and design software for institutions, students and faculty in India

In response to my application, the CPIO has sent a letter dated January 11, 2011 refusing to provide the information requested, as per Section 8(1) of the RTI Act as the information is coming under commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property. It is submitted that the letter does not specify reasons as to how the disclosure of an agreement entered with an organisation to provide software to students will result in giving information relating to commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property. The CPIO has not given any justification for denying the information sought by the applicant. The letter furnished by the CPIO is not a speaking order and hence the refusal to provide information is not justifiable.

An agreement entered with an organisation to provide software to students cannot be withheld from the public citing commercial confidence as a reason. The Central Information Commission has held in Gita Dewan Verma Vs. Additional Secretary (UD) Govt. of NCT Delhi decided on 27.01.2009 that claim of ‘commercial confidence’ in denying access to agreements between private parties and the masters of the Public authorities,- Citizens, – runs counter to the principles of the Right to Information. The Central Information Commission has held in K.S. Jasrotia v Hindustan Steelworks Construction Limited dated 18-05-2007 that Memorandum of Understanding between two parties should not be treated as confidential papers. Hence withholding the information sought for from the applicant is unjustifiable and against the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

As per Section 8(1) (d) of the RTI Act, 2005, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information (emphasis supplied). AICTE is vested with the role of proper planning and co-ordinated development of the technical education system throughout the country. The agreement entered into by AICTE with Microsoft Corp and Autodesk has definite public interest considering the fact that it has a direct bearing on education provided to the student community. The Government of India and many State Governments have undertaken various initiatives to promote Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in the field of education as well as governance. Recently a letter was sent by Mr. N. K. Sinha, IAS, Additional Secretary (TEL), Department of Higher Education, MHRD to AICTE and Directors/VCs of Central Educational Institutions to explore Open Source Software Solutions before adopting proprietary solutions for their academic, administrative and financial needs. A copy of this letter dated January 12, 2011 is enclosed along with this appeal. In the light of initiatives undertaken by the Government in promoting Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), it is in public interest to disclose details of an agreement entered into by AICTE that could result in promotion of proprietary software. Knowledge Commons is a Non-profit organisation involved in development of Free software like SchoolOS, in collaboration with NCERT, and hence has a public interest in learning the details of such agreements entered into by the AICTE. As the information sought for is in larger public interest, the refusal to provide the information to the applicant is unjustifiable.

For the reasons stated above, I request you to quash the decision of the CPIO and to direct that the required information be furnished to the applicant at the earliest. I am enclosing a copy of the application along with this appeal.

Although the letter from the CPIO is dated January 11, 2011, it was delivered much later at my office and as I was on sick leave, I received the letter only on February 14, 2011. Considering these facts, I request you to condone the short delay in filing the appeal.

Encl:

1.

Copy of application under RTI Act, 2005 dated October 21, 2010
2.

Letter dated January 12, 2011 of Additional Secretary (TEL), Department of Higher Education

Place: New Delhi

Date: 28/Feb/2011

Signature of Applicant

E-mail Address :- narendra@narendrasisodiya.com

Tel. No.(Office) :- 011-26693563

Mobile :- 9312166995

Postal Address :- B-130, Lower Ground Floor, Shivalik, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi – 110 017

Our Indian readers are kindly asked to help Narendra Sisodiya by sending similar complaints. India’s population should demand real education (not Microsoft et al. training), so it should take this abuse to the highest level. Under scrutiny, those who sign secret deals will have to flee — maybe even get fired — or simply improve their behaviour.

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A Single Comment

  1. twitter said,

    March 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Gravatar

    Wow, what a great letter. Thanks for sending it. Microsoft is secretive about their deals and we need to shine a light on them. I’ve seen the same kind of thing more than once myself, Microsoft’s deals with universities and recycling companies were off limits to me but I did not have the resources to deal with it at the time. When something smells, get to the bottom of it. When the information is refused to you, complain in public. Send it to Techrights and other places that might publish.

    There’s another great example in Austin, Texas. Helios was denied access to public school records for more than five years. As he recounts the saga:

    In 2006, I started a personal campaign to find out what AISD was spending in software. Since I am a Free Software (Open Source) guy, it seemed to me that adopting an Open Source solution could at least help with lowering the overall operating costs. …

    After badgering enough people, by 2008, I finally got through to someone who was able to give me the answer and she would be happy to give me access to that information. For a $2000.00 administration fee.

    So I attended various PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) meetings and presented my ideas when I could. There was a large amount of support within those meetings of at least exploring the idea, but that’s where it died.

    The magic sword that protected the disclosure of software expenditure costs turned out to be the vendor agreements AISD signed with Microsoft and other various software companies….

    Filing for this data under the Freedom of Information Act of 1974 was impotent. It seems our laws, the way they are currently written, gives the corporates protection..

    Now the Austin school district is going to fire 1,000 teachers to save money that was previously squandered, in part, on non free software and hardware churn. Helios grossly underestimates the amount that could have been saved at $1.2 million per year and points to Indiana to show that much more than that is really at stake. No one can tell for sure because Microsoft hides the numbers.

    Be careful while investigating, Microsoft is a lawless and vindictive company. Mr. Pogson, a noted and knowledgeable critic of Microsoft in Canadian public schools, is being relieved of his position. One of his site trolls repeatedly taunts him with this, regardless of the subject at hand. Another, more clear cut example of Microsoft retribution against educators is this teacher in Moscow who complained that his school was violating the law to force him to use Microsoft and other non free software. Microsoft’s vindictiveness is one of the reasons I use a pen name.

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