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e-Governance and more

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Clearly more than one of the administrators from the IT field of the government (as well as the private) had drawn inspiration from Van Gogh. The Department of Information Technology, and the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public grievances, Government of India (GOI) along with the Department of Information Technology, Government of Orissa organised the Eighth National Conference on e-Governance in Bhubaneswar in the first week of February 2005. The theme for the 3-day conference (3-5 February) was ‘Capacity building for e-Governance’.

 

The conference was set rolling by the Union Communications & Information Technology Minister, Dayanidhi Maran, who reiterated the Central Government’s commitment to e-Governance in the National Common Minimum Programme in his inaugural address. The Chief Minister of Orissa, Naveen Pattnaik and the Minister for IT, Energy & Tourism, Orissa, Surjya Narayan Patro, echoed a similar sense of support and determination, with an open mind to nurturing collaboration with the private sector. The who’s who from government and the private sector was present at the packed event that was organised at the SwostiPlaza inBhubaneswar. The profile of the participants was largely government (bureaucrats, administrators), and the next large grouping was of private (systems/service providers) players.

As an annual event the Government of India has organised conferences in collaboration with state governments in the past,aimed at building the capacity of various stakeholders – government agencies, private partners, academia, media, and other interested groups. The Orissa conference was an opportune moment for all participants to disseminate/share success stories (or lessons learnt from failures) of e-Governance initiatives in states. It doubled up as a platform to recognise and appreciate successful implementers, and a forum for private players involved with e-Governance initiatives to expand business opportunities with emphasis on opportunities for the IT industry for fostering public-private partnerships (PPPs) in this area. The overall purpose was to facilitate learning from all public-private experiences, which could help states and organisations to formulate their own implementation plans towards a citizen-centric system of Governance.

Following the formal inauguration the event saw interesting presentations from the government and private sector over the course of three days. Brijesh Kumar, Secy. IT, Government of India, outlined the road travelled thus far in the area of e-Government and the ‘islands of successes’ that were functional. He outlined the vision and approach of the National e-Governance Action Plan (NEGAP), ably supplemented by R. Chandrasekhar, Joint Secretary (e-Governance), Department of IT, Government of India in a subsequent presentation that looked at NEGAP in detail. Chandrashekhar stressed the importance of focussing (at the project and programme level) on the importance of building capacity for e-Governance with attention to change management, technology, financial management, project/programme management, and project formulation and appraisal.

Other presentations from the government either showcased the ‘islands’ of success (Income Tax Office-CBDT, Central Board for Excise and Customs, e-Mitra Case, Governments of Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, West Godavari District Eluru – Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Centre for Railway Information Systems), or focussed on successful intervening agencies (National academy of administration Mussoorie, Centre for Good Governance, Hyderabad, NIC, C-DAC, Software Technology Parks of India).

Relevant observations

• The case study on the computerised processing of returns in the Income tax department highlighted the increase in returns processed (in 2004-05) through such an exercise as amounting to 1,16,23,167 (compared to 14,83,872 in 2001-02). It also discussed the benefits to the government department in terms of savings to the exchequer in the interest payable on delayed refunds, and improved overall productivity.

• The presentation from Indian Railways highlighted the advantages of CRIS (the Internal IT Service Provider for Indian Railways)-aided automation of rail services that includes the Freight operations information systems, Passenger reservation systems, the Unreserved ticketing system enabling e-Reservation, e-Payment of Freight, and the National Train Enquiry System, among other services.

The launch issue of e-Gov magazine being released by Dayanidhi Maran, Minister of IT, Government of India, and Naveen Patnaik, CM of Orissa

• The Presentation from the ELCOT-supported RASI (Rural Access to Services through the Internet; started as a pilot at Melur in Madurai) programme in Tamil Nadu described the role that RASI has been able to play with the support of all local players in providing services to rural citizens at proximate locations and lower costs. The outcome has been dissemination of valuable information and empowerment of rural women eventually reflecting in improved rural economic performances.

• From intervening agencies, such as the Centre for Good Governance, the lack of strong domain knowledge, the need for clarified settlement and organisation of ownership and coordination issues in the government, need for data standards, Meta data standards and service delivery definitions (important for inter-operability), and the importance of back-end overhauling were highlighted. Given the resistance to the use of IT in the government sector the need to address this mindset with the involvement of all key stakeholders with well-designed ‘Change Management Programmes’ was also stressed. Also underlined was the need for efforts to promote general ICT literacy with local language content and application.

• The presentation from the government of Rajasthan highlighted the strengthening of the e-Mitra initiative in the state, which involves the integration of the existing LokMitra (Payment of electricity, water bills, online bus ticketing, issuance of Births and Death certificates, among other services) and JanMitra services (Public grievance redressal, online submission of application forms, access to Land & Revenue Records (ROR) and other Government information, among other services).

• The presentation on the Tiruvarur District e-Governance initiative, Government of Tamil Nadu, focussed on the district’s continued successful functioning with the services of Land record administration, National Old Age Pension scheme, Widow pension scheme, Distress & Accident Relief Scheme, Driving license & Vehicle Driving license & Vehicle registration, Birth and death registration – issue of certificates of certificates, and HR administration across all 7 Taluk offices, 10 Block offices, Collectorate and the DRDA. It set the tone and precedence for sustained and targeted use of resources (personnel and material) for projects across the country.

• The presentation on the rural e-Seva initiative in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh captured the delivery of various G2C and C2C services to citizens through computerised centres in the villages on a district wide network linked through a portal. The star feature of the services has been their ability to leverage the case of women self-help groups to enable them to become ‘information leaders’. A commendable 1.8 million transactions have been completed till date.

• The presentation on Panchayati Raj Institutions in Orissa highlighted the relevance (for rural citizens) of the e-Panchayat initiatives to inform, interact, and transact business on the Internet. The three-tier PRIs are inter-linked electronically with the Directorate and Secretariat with automated Fund flow, Financial accounting, Project monitoring, and Beneficiaries monitoring.

• The NISG presentation looked at key issues (and challenges therein) of Project Development (Creativity, Research and Analysis, Consultation, High-end Resources) and Project Management (Planning Ability, Field Work, Coordination, Medium Resources), which were identified as the pillars for e-Governance initiatives. The scope for resolving the lacuna under each activity was also discussed along with a discussion on Open Standards and Interoperability.

Private sector representation put up the case for successful private participation (actual or intended) through presentations by IBM, Tata Consultancy Services, Oracle India, Wipro Infotech, Intel Solution Services, CISCO, Network Appliance, HP India Ltd., Oracle Corporation, Newgen Software Technologies Limited, Red Hat India Pvt. Ltd, Storage Networking Industry Association, CMS Computers Ltd, among others. Private partner presentations focussed on collaborative service delivery models, sustainable revenue models/ Business models, achievable implementation schedules, automation of Workflow in Government, and the reduced cost over-runs that would be the outcome of public-private partnership.

Private players thematically outlined the issue-area of e-Governance, with several service providers focussing on promoting innovative public private partnership models by offering:
• Application technologies for managing government finance (treasury; public expenditure management, etc)
• Architectural Framework supports
• Elaborate systems of information management
• Knowledge management supports
• Backend Processing Systems
• Infrastructure and capacity-building supports (Network Infrastructure (SWAN))
• Interoperability Standards supports
• Open Source software options and Open Standards for Storage & Networking
• Integrated Admin and Control Systems supports
• Storage solutions

In all, private participation stressed on their role as key players for project planning, execution and management. As mentioned earlier, several others pitched in for the efficacy of their solutions in the field. Over the three days of deliberations, discussions and presentations, the strategy for implementing e-Governance initiatives was outlined to remain rooted in people, processes and technology in place of the misunderstood e-Governance = technology equation. The need to stress on Project Management right from conceptualisation to implementation stage and beyond was accorded critical importance in the various public-private presentations. Also understood was the need to realign governance processes with due attention to change management, and leadership commitment for administrative and legal reforms. The government was also forthcoming in understanding the need for PPPs at various levels (particularly to address process reengineering issues and scalable solution frameworks).

The final day of the Eighth National Conference was marked by a discussion on the achievement of the United Nations system’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by Subas Pani, Chief Secretary, Orissa, Shekhar Dasgupta (Oracle), Pradeep Gupta (Cybermedia), and Javed Tapia (Red Hat India Pvt. Ltd). The three-day event was aptly summarised by R. Chandrashekhar to bring out relevant segments from the earlier days. Several speakers suggested the need to ‘Standardise, Localise and Replicate’ (localisation framework for e-Gov-ernance), and the need for an IT backbone in the form of the indispensable infrastructural pillars of:

• Connectivity through State Wide Area Networks (SWANs)/NICNET
• National Data Bank/ State Data Centres (SDCs), and
• Common Service Centres (CSCs) as primary mode of delivery

The presentations underlined the need for single presence of the government that would allow  shared personalised data, integrated workflows, and cross-agency integration. Some relevant observations stressed on at the meet included:
• Importance of champions in initiating and following through e-Government initiatives
•The need to utilise existing infrastructure and to create Government call centres
•Need for law to keep pace with technology in the context of e-Government, and vice versa
• Need for citizen-centric approaches in e-Governance as opposed to a myopic department-centric view.
• Need for interoperable framework and standards
• Need for systematic assessment and evaluation of projects
• Need to address local language issues
• Need to replicate successful projects, and create institutional capacities
• Need for states to work out specific projects, goals, timelines, capacity gaps

The valedictory note from Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Government of India, enthralled the audience with anecdotal references to emperor Ashoka whom he described as the finest of administrators with a literal sense of transparency as could be made out from the carvings on several of the rocks in erstwhile Kalinga. The occasion was also utilised to felicitate the winners of the National Essay Contest.

Was the event a success? The event was successful to the extent that it allowed implementers and decision makers to assess what was on offer and to build collaborative networks. It is only when a lot of the interest generated by the conference translates to ease in access to public information and services that any such effort could be deemed a complete success. Until then the glass is either half-full or half-empty.

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