Aiming to integrate Bangla into computing and information technology, the Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) undertook a Tk159 crore worth project that made little headway in seven years despite the extension of the deadline on two occasions.
A total of 16 software were planned to be developed by 2019 under the project – "Enhancement of Bangla Language in ICT through Research and Development" – launched in 2016.
"Dhwani", a Bangla to International Phonetic Alphabet converter, released last February, is the only software that has been developed so far. Ten other software are currently in various development stages while the BCC could not initiate tender processes for the remaining five.
With the slow pace, it has become uncertain when the project will actually finish.
According to Planning Commission officials, IPA Converter, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Sentiment Analysis and Spell Checker, Text to Speech (TTS), Speech to Text (STT), Machine Translation, StyleGuide, ScreenReader, Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR), new fonts, font converter, sign recognition and introduction of the new keyboard were supposed to be completed by 2019.
The term has been extended for two years in the first phase as no work has been started on time. In fact, the project was extended for another three years until June 2024. The ICT Ministry has recently sent a proposal to the Planning Commission to reduce allocations in key sectors such as software development under the project as well as increase expenditure in the operating sector.
Initially, the deadline was extended two years and due to the slow progress, it was further extended to June 2024. Recently, the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology has sent a proposal to the Planning Commission to slash allocation on areas including software development and increase funds for operational cost.
Data from the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the planning ministry shows, so far Tk14.93 crore has been spent on the project, in other words, the financial progress is only 10.65%, while the overall progress is 40%.
According to the project proposal, the main objective of the project is to establish digital Bangladesh by introducing Bangla as a computing language. To make computer management in Bangla language easier, especially for relatively less educated people.
The proposal claimed that after the completion of the project, disabled people, especially the blind will be able to receive technology services through computers.
The BCC blames various complications and challenges in the implementation phase for the slow pace of the project. They also said that they had to float tender multiple times as the project consultants could not work.
Project dossiers mention that the allocation was slashed in the 2019-20 fiscal year when the project was under third category in the priority list. Because of this, it took extra time to make payments including the consultants bill and expenses related to software development.
It further states that successful application of software depends on complex topics such as research, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. For all these reasons, the work was not completed on time.
As the deadline was extended, expenses increased in all areas – Tk53 lakh in wages and allowances, Tk45 lakh in electricity bills, Tk23 lakh for remunerations in events, Tk2.91 crore in publicity and Tk2.53 crore for cloud storage.
The added cost was decided to be adjusted from the allocation for software development. For this, the software development allocation of Tk148.32 crore was revised down to Tk132.73 crore and later further trimmed to Tk119.12 crore.
Speaking about the project's pace, Mohammad Mahbub Karim, acting project director said that the need for an extended time is very natural for a project of this nature that requires intensive research.
"It is hard to predict when research work will finish," he commented.
Further clarifying his reasoning, he said that the project includes certain types of software which are developed by tech giants like Google.
"Developing such software is time-consuming," he added.
Asked why easily available software like font converters and screen readers are being developed, he responded by saying, "There are many flaws in freely available software."