In his inauguration speech at the first National Conference in Information Technology -- NCIT 97 -- held in Bhubaneswar in Dec 1997, the additional chief secretary of Orissa, Mr. P. K. Mishra, compared Orissa with Tamilnadu and Karnataka in terms of the number of engineering graduates per year. While Karnataka graduates 20,000 engineers per year and Tamilnadu graduates 25,000 engineers per year, Orissa graduates only 2,100 engineers per year. Even taking into account the populations of these states -- Orissa's population is 31.66 million while Karnataka's is 44.977m and Tamilnadu's is 55.859m -- Orissa is way behind these states. No wonder Bangalore and Chennai are the destinations for major technology companies.
This reality is disheartening. But the good news is that despite the not so good economic state of affairs of the Orissa government, in the last couple of years some major steps have been taken and several events have happened -- some with NRO initiatives -- which is very promising for Orissa.
To start with when I finished my I.Sc. in 1983 there were two established general Engineering Colleges in Orissa (REC Rourkela and UCE Burla) and one had just opened in Bhubaneswar (CET). In the next five years IGIT was established in Sarang, Talcher and the first private Engineering College, Orissa College of Engineering was established in the Bhubaneswar area.
Guess how many Engineering colleges are there in Orissa now?
Around Seventeen. About 10 of them -- all private -- have been established in the last 2 years. Some of them are: Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, C. V. Raman, Institute of Technology and Engineering Research (all in BBSR), Ajai Binay -- for Architecture, Jagannath Inst of Engg Tech (both in Cuttack), National Inst of Science and Tech and SMIT (both in Berhempur), Ghanashyam Hemalata Inst of Engg and Technology, FCI engineering college, Barapada Engineering college, Paralakhemundi Engg College, Gunpur Engg College, etc. Besides, there are already more than 10 places that offer University affiliated MCA program. Some of them are: REC, UCE, IGIT, Utkal Univ, Sambalpur Univ, Berhempur University, Ravenshaw College, Khallikote College, KIIT, Orissa Computer Academy, IISIT, etc. The last three are private institutions in Bhubaneswar. In December 1997, the Orissa govt approved another 8-10 private institutions to offer MCA, and I am aware of additional institutions that are in the planning stage.
I applaud the government for opening and encouraging the private sector to invest in higher education. On the other hand there may be some worries about the nature of operations at these new private institutions and colleges. Most of them require significant capitation fees which they use towards there operation. But they are required to set aside certain percentages -- I think 50% -- of the seats for purely merit based admission without capitation fees. Despite many critics, I consider this to be a positive development and added opportunity for us (NROs) to be involved in helping and making sure these institutions provide adequate faculty and facilities. Since they are private they are much more flexible, are more amenable to new ideas, and can incorporate them faster. For example, I was told that NIST in Berhempur has students who work as teaching assistants. Similarly, both NIST and KIIT in Bhubaneswar have good email and Internet access. In Dec-Jan 97-98 I had the opportunity to interact with some of these private institutions, their faculty and their students. In terms of facilities and vision I was impressed with KIIT, with its campus in Patia on the Nandan Kanan road. They had an excellent computer lab, a very nice and clean building -- with warning signs not to spit -- and a visionary in Dr. P. K. Mishra, who is looking for top notch visiting faculty from any where. Although I did not visit NIST in Berhempur, I met a few faculty from there and I have corresponded with its founders. One of its founders works at Lucent and the other was in US for several years. Their course structure was developed by leading NRO computer professors from US. I also met faculty and students from OEC, Orissa Computer Academy and IISIT and visited IISIT's campus. They all seemed to me in good shape.
I came to know about this recent development during my last visit to Bhubaneswar. Some of these institutions sponsored luncheons, dinners, and cultural activities at the other major event that happened in 1997, the NCIT 97 conference. Now a few words on my impression on this conference:
NCIT-97, the national conference on information technology was held in Utkal University during Dec 21-23 with active organizational help from the faculty and students of the Dept. of Computer Science and Application of the Utkal university. It brought together Computer scientists and students (mostly of Oriya origin) from universities, institutes, and companies in Orissa, India, USA and Australia, such as: IIT Guwahati, U of Hyderabad, IISc B'lore, Utkal, Berhempur, KIIT, NIST, OEC, REC, IISIT, ACE, Texas A &M, HCL, Adobe, VLSI Tech, etc. There were also participants from Orissa govt and Orissa govt enterprises such as OSEDC and OCAC.
Some of the highlights of the conference were:
* Keynote addresses by Prof. L. M. Patnaik of IISc Bangalore, one of the top computer scientists in India; and by Prof. S. K. Pal from ISI Calcutta.
* An interesting array of technical talks and panels.
* A panel session where the director of NIC and the Chief exec of OCAC outlined the procedure of how educational institutions in Orissa can get Internet access from them at minimal cost. (Since the panel, the CS and Appl. dept of Utkal has got email access.)
* A consistent attendance between 150-250 in all sessions.
* A beautiful cultural show held in the first evening at the Kalinga Inst of Industrial Tech campus in Patia, BBSR. The show had Odissi, chhau and other dances from Orissa.
* A panel on studying abroad, where many details about the procedure to study in USA and Australia were discussed.
* The formation of the Orissa Information Technology Society, with Dr. S. P. Mishra as its founding president. (Dr. Mishra has taught Physics and Mathematics in Ravenshaw college, REC RKL, Inst of Physics; and is currently also the President of Orissa Science Academy. He has been championing the use of email and Internet by scientists in all fields, by students in colleges, etc., and is the only one in BBSR who knows Latex, has a postscript printer, has LINUX installed in his PC etc. :-) )
* The announcement of a similar conference in December 1998 (which is now called ICIT 98), with Prof. L. M. Patnaik as the Conference Chair and Prof. Rabi Mohapatra -- email@example.com (Texas A & M Univ), Dr. A. K. Pujari (Chief Exec OCAC), and Prof. G. Panda (REC Rourkela) as program chairs.
The abstracts of NCIT 97 is available at http://cs.utep.edu/chitta/ncit97 and the details about ICIT'98 is available at http://www.cs.tamu.edu/cit'98. As an illustration of how an idea became a reality, I would now like to briefly describe how this conference came about. Dr. Hrushikesh Mohanty, a Reader in computer science at the University of Hyderabad was trying to organize one of the Indian computer science conferences in Orissa and in that context had discussions with Dr. Meher, HOD of the Computer Sc and Applications dept of Utkal University. The conference did not materialize, but as a result Dr. Mohanty felt strongly the need for establishing an organization which he called Orissa Computer Congress, which, among other things, would make it easier to arrange for such Computer related events in Orissa. In September of 1997, I posted a message to firstname.lastname@example.org enquiring about a friend of mine from IIT Kharagpur. Dr. Mohanty, who is also an alumnus of IIT KGP, replied to my message and we exchanged several mails enquiring about each other.
During this exchange he mentioned about Orissa Computing Congress. This idea struck a chord in me and I suggested that perhaps we should have it that December. Within a few days Dr. Mohanty took care of some of his prior plans for December and we decided to have a conference on computing in December in Bhubaneswar. We decided that we will have it in whatever scale possible and with whatever help we can get. Our first contact in Bhubaneswar was Jyoti Nanda from NIC who was known to Dr. Mohanty and who had email access at NIC. While Jyoti organized a group in Bhubaneswar, Dr. Mohanty and myself used email@example.com to spread the word in the cyberspace. Unfortunately due to a fatal scooter accident Jyoti left us before seeing his dream fulfilled. Dr. Meher and his colleagues from the Dept of Computer Sc and application at Utkal University, and Suchitra Patnaik, CEO, Tekons Services, Bhubaneswar and one of the co-founders of ORICOM -- the first private computer firm in Orissa which was established around 1986 -- took over the organizational aspects in Orissa. They also suggested to broaden the conference scope and name from `computers' to `information technology'. In the US, Dr. Rabi Mohapatra and Purna Mohanty helped in the organization, and IEDSO (International economic development society of Orissa, an organization headed by Somdutt Behura, Manas Patnaik, Gopal Mohapatra, and Purna Mohanty) and several individuals sponsored the registration fees for several students.
In the conference Dr. Mohanty, Dr. Meher and myself met each other for the first time. In other words from the conception to its occurrence much of the communication about the conference was done through Internet.
Recall that the Orissa Computing Congress was initially envisioned as an organization. Along these line, there was a business meeting during the conference where ``Orissa Information Technology Society'' was established. Here are some of the by-laws of this society:
A. The Society is named as the Orissa Information Technology Society, hereinafter referred as OITS.
B. Membership of OITS: Any professional in Information Technology or interested in the same shall be eligible to be a member of OITS.
C. Aims and Objectives of OITS is to
i. promote education and research in information
technology (IT) primarily in Orissa.
ii. promote collaboration of information technology personnel in Orissa and abroad.
iii. promote the usage of IT products in Orissa.
iv. organize annual conferences/symposia and workshops in IT areas.
v. publish periodicals and journals on IT.
vi. discuss and encourage young talents on IT.
vii. felicitate persons having outstanding contributions for education, research and technology in IT areas.
Additional information on this organization is available at http://cs.utep.edu/chitta/occ and the main contact persons are Dr. S. P. Mishra (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com@nicnet.nic.in) and myself (firstname.lastname@example.org). I consider the establishment of private engineering colleges, and MCA granting institutes, the holding of NCIT 97 and the establishment of OITS to be major events that will have a big impact on the IT infrastructure of Orissa. But, all these still leave out large part of Orissa unimpacted with information technology infrastructure. Here, I am referring to places that are not close to an university, or an engineering college or a college with post graduate programs. One other recent Orissa govt decision is aimed at this. Again, as an illustration of of going from ideas to policy, I now describe my perspective and involvement on this.
During the Invest Orissa Symposium at Houston in June-July 97, I met several Orissa ministers and bureaucrats. To provide educational opportunities in information technology all through out Orissa -- not just in a selected few places -- I suggested them that colleges offering science degrees in Orissa should offer programs in B.Sc (Hons) in Computer Science. The main importance of such a program is that it could be made available in many more colleges than programs like B.Engg or MCA which by definition can only be in engineering colleges and post graduate colleges, respectively. With positive response from them and from participants at OSA 97, and with feedback from ornet, I sent a written proposal to the Orissa govt. (This proposal is available at http://cs.utep.edu/chitta/orissa/bsc. ) When I visited Orissa in Dec 97, I met the additional Chief secretary, Secretary of Education and Secretary of Science and Technology and the Orissa govt took a decision to establish pilot programs in B.Sc (Hons) in Computer Science (together with pass options with other honours choices) in six colleges: B.J.B College, Bhubaneswar; Ravenshaw College, Cuttack; G. M. College, Sambalpur; Khallikote College, Berhempur; R. D. Women's College, Bhubaneswar; and Govt College, Rourkela. (Earlier, S.C.S college in Puri had been authorized and funded by UGC for a vocational B.Sc program -- but without honors -- in Computer Science.) Although the program is designed so as to utilize as much of the current available infrastructure as possible -- such as, retraining current science faculties in computer science and using the class rooms and offices that are already there, there is still some cost involved and the Orissa government can not afford to have this programs at too many places in one go. But, once the model is established I hope OSA members and others will pitch in to have these programs in their favorite colleges, or in colleges in places near and/or dear to them.
So far I have mostly discussed the IT infrastructure of Orissa in terms of educational opportunities, the OITS and the NCIT and ICIT conferences. Now a brief picture on the other aspects. Currently, the main national software companies with operations in Bhubaneswar are Infosys Technology and Satyam Computers. There are also several smaller companies such as ORICOM and TEKONS services. I am excited by a recent venture being planned by Prabhu Mohapatra (email@example.com). His company called ``All India On-Line'' "AIOL" envisions to Connect Indians Worldwide. Prabhu has a ISP (Internet Service Provider) company in the USA and will be taking his experience to India. Some of the other organizations in Bhubaneswar that play a big role in information technology are: Software Technology Park (STP), Xaviers School of Management (XIM), Orissa Computer Application Center (OCAC), National Informatics Center (NIC), and Orissa State Electronic Development Corporation (OSEDC). Some of the people in the Orissa govt or its subsidiaries that I have personally found very receptive of ideas from NROs are Sidhartha Pradhan (Dept of Public Enterprises, Orissa Govt), Aditya Padhi (IPICOL), G. S. Mishra (OSEDC), and S. B. Mishra (Chief Secretary). Besides the many names I have mentioned earlier in this article, some of the other individuals in Orissa that are actively involved in IT aspects and may serve as contact points are: Dr. Sanghamitra Mohanty (Utkal University), Dr. Surendra Nayak (On deputation to Dept of Sc and Technology, Orissa govt), Laxman Mohanty (ORICOM), Rakesh Agrawal (INFOSYS), Manas Ranjan Patra (Berhempur Univ), Manas Patnaik (STP), and Dr. Manoj Nayak (OUAT).
To round of the good aspects of the IT infrastructure, I would like to applaud the decision taken by the Orissa government to declare areas around Bhubaneswar as pollution free and not to allow any polluting industries in that area. I was impressed that the ministers were actively marketing this feature of Bhubaneswar to potential Info tech investors during the Houston symposium.
How can we help?
One major drawback I noticed during my visits were the low usage and awareness of Internet in Orissa. Even though NIC has facilities where by educational institutions can get free (almost) Internet access, very few institutions have taken advantage of it. Besides awareness, the major problem most institutions face is the equipment: Not the computer which many have, but the modem. One of OITS's major agenda is to change this state of affairs. I would appeal to the readers of this article to help in this. Please tell your friends, family and acquaintances about Internet. If necessary, arrange with Dr. S. P. Mishra for a demo at one of the sites where it is available. Buy a modem and/or a computer for a school or college. There are some private ISP providers in Orissa and many more will be coming within the next few months. Arrange for email access for your family and friends back home. Unless Orissa is more Internet aware we will be left behind.
I would like to arrange for cyberchats with prominent Orissans. To start with it would be great if we could have Mr. Naveen Patnaik and Mr. J. B. Patnaik (not necessarily at the same time) chat with Oriyas in the cyberspace over the Internet. I need contacts who can help me in convincing either or both of them to participate. The technology side of it can be taken care of without much difficulty.
I would urge people involved in IT aspects to help the educational institutions in Orissa, particularly the govt ones. They seem to me little behind in terms of IT infrastructure. (They normally have the best faculty and students though.) While some of the private engineering colleges now have Internet, none of the govt engineering colleges have them.
I think we can also help in terms of developing new courses, programs, and revising current courses and programs. In particular, the current MCA and B.Engg programs in Orissa (except perhaps the the B.Engg programs at Berhempur University) need a thorough revision. Also, I feel that the B.A and B.Com programs should have Hons and pass in Information Systems. I envision the B. Com (Hons) in Information Systems program to be similar to the Bachelor in Information Systems programs offered in Business schools in the USA. Any one interested in this aspect can contact me for more detailed information on how to go about it with the Orissa Universities and Orissa government. Such programs will take IT more closer to all corners of Orissa, not just to a handful of places. The UGC in India encourages new vocational courses and often funds them. For example, the initial B.Sc in computer science program at S.C.S. college in Puri came about due to a proposal submitted by S.C.S. college to UGC. We should help colleges in such endeavors. On the other hand people among us in high tech and emerging areas such as biotechnology and environmental science and engineering should help establish and/or support post graduate, Ph.D and research programs at the Orissa universities.
We can also help in establishing training institutes that train qualified people on emerging topics and help place the trained personnel. For example, I have heard of training schools in Chennai that offer training in SAP for about Rs 1 lakh and are able to place their graduates in the USA. I know of one NRO who discussed such a plan with the Orissa government. To the best of my knowledge his ideas were warmly received by the government (particularly, the chief secretary and the OSEDC MD) and he was promised all help from them.
To conclude, I hope the examples in this article on how some ideas were made realities and how the Orissa govt is receptive to good ideas from us are useful. I feel the Orissa government as a whole is now a days very forward looking and accessible to us. I can not imagine setting up an appointment with the governor or secretary of state of Texas and discussing with him on a plan to introduce a new curriculum. But, I could, with no personal contacts and relationship, do it with the Orissa deputy CM, and chief secretary. One thing we need to remember is that the state of Orissa is not flush with money. In fact their balance is in bad shape. So when we discuss something which involves a lot of financial investment from the state it may be hard to get it done. On the other hand if our plan involves help from the state in terms of `kind' (not hard cash) then the state will probably be more receptive. Hence, we should develop our ideas into plans that does not require substantial cash investment from the state.
I would like to encourage the readers to come up with additional ideas and plans, discuss them in forums such as ornet and develop them into concrete documents, contact appropriate individuals and officials in Orissa, and proceed with its implementation. I personally would be happy to help in any such endeavor. Looking forward to an IT rich Orissa. Namaskar.