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Boost for mobile tech ventures churning out e-governance solutions

BANGALORE: The government is planning to set up a dedicated fund to provide grants for mobile technology ventures that develop solutions for e-governance. The fund, to be carved out from Rs 700 crore allocated forthe national e-governance plan in this year's annual budget, is the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at fostering the growth of startups across the country.

"The fund will be created and managed by the department of information technology for a minimum of three years," said a government official who did not want to be identified. The size of the fund size is yet to be finalised, he said.

Grants will be awarded for mobile applications that help authenticate Aadhaar or unique identification numbers, provide a birth or death certificate or alert the police in an emergency. By March next year, the government expects to have a number of such applications available on the mobile service delivery gateway, the official e-governance platform.

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the government also launched an e-governance app store last week. The virtual store houses 20 apps, hosted by the National Informatics Centre, which is responsible for maintaining government websites.

Union minister for communications and IT Kapil Sibal, who launched the store, said "the app stores will help citizens receive services in a more streamlined manner and improve transparency in governance."

In recent months, the government has taken an active interest in backing emerging ventures. On the anvil are plans for a 200-crore fund to scale up scientific innovations, announced byfinance minister P Chidambaram in his budget speech. Investors have also committed up to 400 crore for the India Inclusive Innovation Fund that will back ventures that address the needs of low-income communities. The government expects the size of the fund to eventually expand to at least 5,000 crore. It will receive Cabinet approval later this year.

Entrepreneurs say they are enthused by this show of support from the government. "Mobile governance has the potential to change the delivery of citizen services in India," said Sanjay Swamy, partner at startup incubator AngelPrime who volunteered as an adviser at the Unique Identification Authority of India. "For instance, a change in address in Aadhaar system can automatically reflect in the driving licence of a citizen."

Many startups are also hoping rising interest from the government will help them cut through the red tape surrounding grant of government contracts. Mobile application developer AppStudioz, which has a portfolio of over 750 applications, is now keen to move into developing mobile apps for the government. "Though we want to participate in m-governance at our own cost, startups like ours are often not eligible for government tenders as we do not have the requisite turnover," said Saurabh Singh, founder of the Noida-based company.

"It is easier to develop apps for foreign governments than our own," said Singh, whose company is currently developing mobile app solutions for the Qatar government.

However, this is expected to change as the government increasingly turns to technology to improve the quality of governance. Some units, such as Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, have already developed citizen-friendly apps, among them those that can be used to include names in electoral rolls or obtain a new water connection by linking to the Aadhaar number. By 2014, nearly 700 million Indians are expected to have an Aadhaar number.

"The Aadhaar authentication system is already in place and it can easily be applied to other systems," said Swamy of AngelPrime.