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Rail tickets, weather report on SMS soon

November 13, 2006 10:41 IST

Want to know the latest weather report or vegetable prices, or book a railway ticket? Well, all you may need to do is send an SMS.

With over 130 million mobile subscribers in the country, governance initiatives through mobiles -- M-governance, which is already practised in many countries -- may soon see the light of day in India.

"Farmers can send an SMS to the tehsil and get agriculture-related information like prices of crops, fertilisers and weather reports," a Trai official said.

He said though the services would have to be commercially viable for service providers, the government could encourage them by giving them subsidies.

Some SMS-based governance applications already practised in foreign countries include payment of parking fines or checking of CPF accounts, sending of reminders to citizens on court summons, informing parents of their children's academic performance and on payment of fees and delivering of news in times of emergency.

With the coming of the third-generation mobile services and WIMAX, which will allow fast internet and data services and wireless broadband internet, the platform is set for web-based governance applications through mobile phones. An instance of mobile governance was seen during the recent dengue outbreak in the capital.

The department of telecom (DoT), on a request from the health ministry, disseminated awareness information to mobile subscribers. "We requested service operators to spread information regarding the epidemic," a DoT official said.

Industry is also trying to promote the initiative. Vikram Tiwathia, chief information officer of CII, said, "CII is actively taking up the use of mobile communications to provide e-governance applications for the benefit of all users, particularly in rural areas." Railway officials said they were looking at ticket bookings through SMS.

Vishal Bajaj, CEO of Value First that has ventured into the governance sector, said, "Since India is a mobile-centric country, users can register with a service centre and get district-specific weather reports or keep themselves updated on market prices through SMS."

For the Kumbh Mela, the company is working on disaster management initiatives with Microsoft for emergency alerts, accidents, and change in plans.

The company has also been exploring various e-governance initiatives with state governments and the National Bureau of Crime Reports and Registrar of Companies.

In Singapore, citizens can pay parking fines or check CPF accounts through mobiles, while the Australian government has been running a pilot programme to remind people through SMS of court summons.

South African schools send text messages to parents for outstanding fees, while New Zealand is taking a trial on messaging parents for payment of child support.

The French embassy in Lebanon sent SMSes to all its citizens three or four times a day to keep them updated during their evacuation on account of Israeli operations.

Khomba Singh in New Delhi
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