National Conference on Free Software, 2008 was the second one of its series. The first was held in Hyderabad on 3rd and 4th March, 2007. The same was organised by Department of History, University of Hyderabad and Swecha, an organisation working for Telugu localisation of Free Software. About 850 delegates from 9 states spread over the country have participated in that conference. Holding of the next conference in Kerala was announced in the concluding session of the Hyderabad conference in consultation with the delegates from Kerala.
The 2nd conference held in Cochin University of Science And Technology (CUSAT) was organised by CUSAT along with three others. IT@School, a project of Govt of Kerala for IT education in High Schools of Kerala which happens to be the most visible and widespread use of free software in any one education project was one among them. 3rd of the organising partner was Open Software Solutions Industrial Co-operative Society Ltd No S.Ind E-245, Kochi which was the first business organisation in Kerala, mandated by its bye law to provide services in Free Software Platforms and registered under the Co-operative Act 1969 with District Industries Centre, Ernakulam under the Department of Industries and Commerce Govt of Kerala, in the year 2000. The founding members of the society were software professionals organised themselves as part of a support team for Free Software Platform based IT projects of various Panchayaths in Ernakulam District. The 4th organisation, Appropriate Technology Promotion Society (ATPS) was a Society registered in 2001 under Travancore-Kochi Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act 1965 (Act XII of 1965). This society was formed by the voluntary resource persons of Peoples Plan Campaign of the 1996-2000 who were the formulators of the Electronics Industrial Infrastructure Development (EIID) Project as part of which the free software team was formed. ATPS has been providing necessary venture fund and technological support for OSS ICS LTD, when it lost the support from the District Panchayath on change of LDF team with UDF.
The organising committee was lead by Justice V R Krishnaiyer, Former Judge of Supreme Court as Chief Patron and Dr. Gangan Prathap, Vice-Chancellor of CUSAT, Sri. K Chandran Pillai, MP Rajya Sabha, Dr. Sebastian Paul, MP Lok Sabha, Prof. Mercy Williams, Mayor of Kochi, Sri. K V Thomas, Former Minister and MLA and Sri. A M Yusuf MLA as patrons. Sri. C M Dinesh Mani MLA and member syndicate CUSAT was the chairman of the organising committee. Sri. Chandramohanakumar, Registrar CUSAT, Smt. Arifa Teacher, Chairperson Kalamassery Municipality, Sri. Manisankar, Deputy Mayor Kochi were the Vice-chairpersons. Sri. Ignation Kunjumon, Director CIRM CUSAT and a free software activist and who was instrumental in introducing free software curriculum in Kannur university and many colleges in Kerala was the working chairman. Sri Joy Job Kulaveli, former general Secretary of All Kerala Private College Teachers Association and currently member syndicate of CUSAT was the General Convenor. Convenor was Sri. Joseph Thomas of ATPS. Joint Convenors were Sri. Jai Jacob of ILUG, Kochi and Sri. B Pradeep, General Secretary of KSEB Officers Association. Smt. Aysha Soman Secretary of OSS ICS LTD was the treasurer.
Initially, the organising committee was formed with the representatives from various organisations in the City of Kochi, the Organisations of workers of Central and State Govt employees, Education, Bank, Insurance, Telecom, Postal and other PSUs etc, CUSAT being one among them. But in the executive committee meeting immediately followed after the organisating committee formation, CUSAT team suggested the holding of the conference in the CUSAT campus. The Vice Chancellor, the Syndicate and the Registrar and various organisations inside CUSAT took the conference very seriously and mobilised the Faculty, Non-teaching staff, Research Scholars and the students as volunteers to work for the conduct of the conference. In the discussions that took place during the period, a project idea was mooted and got approved for conversion of the existing Centre for Information Resource Management of CUSAT into a FOSS based Knowledge Hub networking the free software professionals and the educational institutions in the region. This further enthused the organisers. With the declaration of this decision of the University, the conference has attracted the attention of wide spectrum of the people.
Hon. Minister for Education, Kerala Sri. M A Baby Inaugurated the Conference at 10 AM on 15th November, 2008 by lighting the ceremonial lamp. Chief Patron of the organising committee Sri. V R Krishnaiyer blessed the conference with his message throug Video Conferencing from his house, arranged by BSNL. It was his 94th birth day and was busy with visitors coming for wishing him. In his inaugural address, Hon. Minister pointed out the philosophy behind the software freedom concept and how it becomes relevant to other areas of knowledge as well. He described the free software movement as part of the general movement for the democratisation of the society as whole and socialisation of all means of production. Hon. Minister for Finance, Kerala Sri. T M Thomas Issac delivered the key note address in which he pointed out the relevance of free software and the conference aimed at reaching the benefits of the information technology to the common man. He stressed the need for democratisation of science and technology which is part of class struggle. The inaugural session chaired by Vice Chancellor Sri. Gangan Prathap was addressed by Hon. Minister for IT West Bengal and Sri. G Nagarjuna, Chairman of Free Software Foundation of India among others who dealth with various aspects of free software.
The plenary session held at 5 PM on 15-11-2008, chaired by Hon. Member of Rajya Sabha Sri. K Chandran Pillai was addressed by Hon. Member of Rajyasabha & Member Polit Bureau of CPI(M) Sri. Sitaram Yechury. Sri. Yechury in his keynote address dealt elaborately with the underlying causes of the on going global financial sector crisis. He explained that the crisis was part of the very capitalist system which creates artificial boom for over coming the crisis that follows one after the other and to ensure its survival. Each crisis is followed by an ever bigger boom and every crisis that follows the boom is more severe than the earlier one. Such dynamism is the very means of existance of capitalism. He referred to the industrial boom, the service sector boom, the IT boom and now the boom created through the repeated sale of same financial instruments called derivatives, which happened to be the epicentre of this present crisis. The crisis could erupt any where in the system. He attributed the root cause of the capitalist crisis to its exploitative character. Capital is accummulated by exploitation of labour. Balance of what is so accummulated alone is distributed among the people who are the consumers of what is produced. A portion of what is produced remains unsold. Such a situation of over production caused by the imbalance in growth of productive forces compared to the purchasing power of the people is arising out of exploitation of labour. Every period of crisis marks the destruction of a sizable portion of the productive foces, including retrenchment causing unemployment and war resulting in overall sufferings. The burden of crisis is transferred on to the shoulders of the working class by the capitalists, on to the under developed and developing world by the imperialism and so on. It is upto those who suffer at the hands of capitalist system, its boom as well as its crisis, to throw away the system and establish a new system based on equittable distribution saving the system from such repeated cycle of crisis. He also pointed out that the apitalism will move over to another period of boom, after destruction of the productive forces and then creating artificial boom somewhere, unless it is replaced by a better system of economic governance.
The 5 seminar sessions at 1 PM and 3 PM on 15th and at 9 AM, 1PM and 3 PM on 16th held in 6 parallel venues titled social, knowledge, technology, institutional, entrepreneur and software streams, 30 subjects were taken up for discussion. On an average chairman and 2 speakers initiated the discussions followed by interaction among the audience in all the 30 sessions. On an average 60 delegates took part in each session. Some of the sessions like the one on unicode font etc couldnot be discussed in full or conclusion arrived at and requires to be discussed further.
Parallel to the seminar sessions listed above, there were 17 workshops held in 3 venues on various subjects including certain commonly used free software platforms, packages and tools. On average 50 delegates participated in every such workshop.
18 open fora were also conducted in parallel to the above sessions held in 5 venues parallel. They were organised by 18 different participating organisations and there were on an average one two speakers and 45 participants.
In three sessions titled meet the personalities, Sri. Ananda Parthasarathy, well known IT journalist of Front line, Sri. Anjan Banerjee, Advisor to Govt of West Bengal and Sri. Naresh Seghal of Intel Bangalore
Poster exhibition on the theme of devastation of war, demystification of IT etc were also organised. Films on free software were exhibited. An educative exhibition was also organised from 12th to 16th of November in which more than 50 organisations including 9 public sector organisations exhibited their strengths. Some of the exhibits such as that of PSUs were on their services. Few others were on various aspects of demystification of IT among which some from higher education sector, where the use of free software is still limited, used proprietary platforms. 6 stalls of IT@School students who learn free software in their schools were attraction of every body very effective in furtherance of free software application. This disparity among the school and higher education sector underlined the need for further intervention in a massive way for the curriculum change in that sector. The display of logo on the backdrop of the main venue and an exhibition stall of NOVELL, a corporate organisation catering IT service both on free software as well as proprietary software platforms invited the protests of few free software fundamentalists alleging NOVELL collaborating with Micro-soft aginst the spirit of software freedom.
889 registered delegates participated in the two day conference. 120 invited speakers addressed various sessions. 66 faculty members of CUSAT took part in the conduct of various sessions, chairing, presenting papers, offering welcome, vote of thanks etc. 139 from organising institutions of CUSAT, IT@School, OSS ICS LTD and ATPS were engaged in the organising the conference. 300 Students including Research Scholars worked as volunteers for the smooth conduct of the conference. In all 1514 people were part of the conference. This massive participation made the conference the biggest ever mega event in the history of free software events reported hitherto.
The concluding session was addressed by the Hon. Chief Minister of Kerala Sri. V S Achuthanandan, the strongest supporter of free software movement in any Govt ever heard of. He stressed the anti-imperialist content of free software movement and requested every body to work for its wider use and application. This session was chaired by the Hon. Vice Chancellor of CUSAT Sri. Gangan Prathap. Hon. Minister for Industries Sri. Elamaram Kareem explained the relevance of free software in empowering and sustaining the PSUs and SMEs that are facing cut throat competition from MNCs and their new generation outfits. He pointed out that since Software and Information Technology acts as a tool of convergence that integrates various processes, services and even other technologies and utilities, has a wider application in providing cheap technology for Indian industries. Hon Minister for IT West Bengal Sri. Debesh Das declared the IT initiatives of the Govt of West Bengal. Sri. P Rajeev, resident editor Deshabhimani reminded the participants of the need for ensuring freedom of software in particular and knowledge in general.
This concluding session was marked with declarations of concrete programs of action that was discussed and formulated during the conference. The Hon. Vice Chancellor on behalf of the CUSAT declared the conversion of CUSAT Centre for Information Resource Management into a free software hub that will be networking the free software professionals to the local community through the educational institutions in the region. He on behalf of the vice-chancellors of participating universities of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal declared the setting up of a collaborative movement in furtherance of free software in the respective universities. Sri .. . . . . . declared the setting up a forum of university faculty for expanding the use of free software in the respective colleges on behalf of Professors from institution in the states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Sri. Easwar K, the Manager of Prajasakthi, the Telegu daily declared the resolve of his organisation to set up a free software service unit in Andhra Pradesh in collaboration with the OSS ICS LTD, one of the organisers of the conference. Sri. Anvar Sadath, Executive Director of IT@School project of Govt of Kerala declared its intent for implementing Vidyamithra, the online management system for Educational Institutions being declared a collaborative project of OSS ICS LTD and IT@School in all the schools from the next academic year onwards. Sri. Prasantha S, advocate from Kochi declared the formation of a legal experts forum to organise and support the nation wide efforts for preventing software being patented, efforts for which is on at the instance of corporate houses through the recent draft on patent law released by the Central govt. Finally, a general declaration of the conference, calling upon the Govts concerned to support the free software and the people to start using free software in preference to proprietary ones was presented by the Convenor of the Organising committee of the First conference held in Hyderabad and a Member of FSFI ever since that conference.
On account of such declarations of 6 concrete programs of action, also, this conference stood unique in the history of free software conferences. Invitation from 4 delegations of states are received for hosting the next conference. A further meeting of the representatives of the concerned states will decide upon the venue for the next conference.