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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 November, 2003, 17:33 GMT
Indian drive to bridge IT chasm
India programmers
India has a wealth of IT experience
India is to spend more than $2.5bn to help bridge a growing technological gap between its urban and rural areas.

The government says it wants to develop a low-cost computer that could take voice commands by illiterate people.

Postal workers are already piloting using handheld computers to download and deliver e-mails to villagers.

The four-year plans were announced by Secretary for Industrial Policy Rajeeva Ratna Shah at a technological fair in the southern city of Bangalore.

Widening gap

Indian cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad continue to grow fatter on the proceeds of their technological booms, says the BBC's Charles Haviland at the fair.

But critics, he says, have pointed to the widening technological gap between the cities and the countryside where more than 70% of India's people live.

This will enable us to cut corruption
Rajeeva Ratna Shah
Secretary for Industrial Policy
Mr Shah acknowledged this when announcing the measures - which have yet to gain final approval.

"You do not want to get into a situation where ICT [information, communication and technology] and its progress create social chasms and economic chasms between the haves and have-nots," Mr Shah told the gathering.

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

The plans include developing an interactive internet device which can take voice commands from villagers and operate in many languages.

It would resemble the Simputer - a handheld device launched two years ago by Indian engineers which reads web pages aloud in native Indian languages - but would also include e-mail, voicemail, text-to-speech and internet access, Mr Shah said.


In one trial project near Delhi, postal employees are already downloading e-mails on portable devices and delivering them to villagers, who can reply in the same way.

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

The Simputer - to help the illiterate
The minister also announced that India would soon launch a portal to let all corporations deal directly online with the government.

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

This is part of a wider plan to spread what is known as e-governance, or government by computer, our correspondent says.

One element which is spreading is the computerisation of land records which lets farmers see these records instantly rather than waiting for months as before.

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