Recognising the important fact that IT is a major vehicle for process change and an effective tool to transform the entire governance, the western Indian State of Maharashtra has embarked on an ambitious plan to prepare a roadmap that would put e-Governance in place by 2009, says Ajay Bhushan Pandey in a tête-à-tête with Anuradha Dhar of egov
What are the major e-Governance initiatives in Maharashtra?
Maharashtra embarked on e-Governance initiative in 1999 when we brought in the IT policy. We recognize that Information Technology (IT) is a major vehicle for process change, which will deliver government efficiency and provide better facilities to the citizens. So, IT is a tool to transform the entire governance.
The major works undertaken include land records registration. We have a project called ‘Sarita’, which is a system where any property registration — sale and purchase transaction — with the registrar office is done. The document is ready (with fingerprints and photographs) within 30 minutes. In the earlier system, the time taken in this process was too much, and even after spending such a long time after completing the transaction, one would not even get any written document. Thus, the whole system was so non-transparent to the general public. This system of ‘Sarita’ is currently operating in 400 centres across Maharashtra, at every taluka [A taluka or tehsil is an administrative subdivision or tier found in several South Asian countries] level since more than last 3 years.
The other initiative is land records, which too has been fully computerized. It is not only one time data entry of the past records, but is dynamic. The new transactions are being regularly entered and updated. This is also a fully functional project operational in every taluka. We are also trying to put the entire land records on the Internet so that people can visit the website, key in the survey number of their land, and find out the current owner of the land. So, this is the major advantage to the general public. We are ready to upload, but at the same time also trying to sort out with the government matters relating to privacy etc. We hope to finalise and open the website for the public in a month or so.
Within the government itself, we have a system in which we are able to track every file of the ministry. This is a major step at bringing accountability within the government. We have started this initiative right from the top ministry level — from the chief minister, secretaries, and right up to the level of desk officers. Every file in the ministries is being tracked. Currently, there are some 7-8 lakh files in our database that are being tracked. In this system, any citizen enters a file number. For instance, to know the status of your application for a particular thing, you could know at what level of ministry and officer is your file currently lying and how long will it take in decision-making. How many files are pending with a particular officer and for how long — this information too could be tracked. This system is called Document Journey Management System (DJMS). The Chief Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry has made it mandatory that unless a file does not pass through DJMS, it would not be accepted. That is how this fully functional system is being implemented for the past 2 years.
We have been recently been awarded a project of INR135crores (US$30.36mn) for e-Sales-tax whereby every return filed is being entered in the system. We have about 5 lakh dealers registered for sales tax in Maharashtra. In one year the number of returns filed is about 30 lakhs. The department can also track revenue from each company, and see whether their payment is coming on time or the payment is too less or more than what is fixed for them, and so on. This will help in tax monitoring as well as tax planning.
Another major initiative that we have taken on our own is facility management — of maintaining the backend systems. Every department cannot have a full-fledged IT department to manage the backend. Also, the backends cannot lie in isolation. They need to be integrated. Besides, we already have creativity infrastructure. We are now going to have statewide data network or the ‘state-data-centre’, where the servers and entire security solutions will be at one place. Pricewater Coopers (PwC) is our consultant for this purpose.
What are your e-Governance initiatives in the area of village panchayats?
In the area of panchayats, we have prepared a plan for putting a panchayat portal for the entire 30,000 village panchayats. Each of these panchayats will have a sub-portal, which will go into the district portal, then to the state-panchayat portal and finally into the national panchayat portal. We have prepared a plan and in fact, shortly, we are coming up with a very comprehensive RFP (Request for Proposals), which will invite partners from the industry for its implementation.
What about the issue of content? Who is uploading the content in the panchayat portal?
I am glad that you have asked this question. On this very issue we have been struggling for the past one-and-a-half months because creating a one-time portal is meaningless. The information becomes outdated in 4-5 months. It needs constant updating. Panchayat [A Panchayat is the smallest unit of community-based management of local affairs at the village level] portal does not only mean name of the village, area, population and so forth. It also requires information regarding all the schemes, what is the progress, how much money is being invested etc. All of this is very dynamic information. Somebody has to collect the data and upload it. In our proposal we have kept it as a requirement that in one area, in each district the vendor will have to keep two persons exclusively for content gathering and updation in the database in order to get uploaded in the portal.
What about initiatives in municipalities and transport department?
Maharashtra had a very successful e-Governance project in municipality — KDMC (Kalyan Dombivili Municipality Department). Maharashtra government has recently issued a formal order that all urban bodies will compulsorily implement KDMC model. Also, the Maharashtra government has bought the KDMC software for INR2crores (US$449,741). We have issued orders to all urban bodies not to buy any other software except that of the KDMC. Now, we are trying to work with the various partners on how to rollout of the various corporations. We are working on this.
Regarding the transport department, we have a project called Saarthi. For the entire vehicle registration, we are developing an application in collaboration with the NIC (National Informatics Centre). A private partner has been identified for implementing this project, which is in very advanced stage and would soon be rolled out in the entire state of Maharashtra. Already, certain centres in Pune and Kolhapur cities of the State are using this application. So, it is only the case of its replication.
Do you have any feedback mechanism in place? Have you reviewed it and identified any gap areas?
We believe that any system that we bring in should not be static. We continuously review our existing system and try to make certain improvements. For that we have continuous dialogue with the users of the system, and we are constantly changing/modifying the system as per their suggestions.
What challenges did you face while implementing e-Government projects in Maharashtra?
There are large challenges. The biggest challenge is that the government is a large monolithic structure. If you are trying to change anything, you have to initiate dialogue with the various interests groups — there are various players and interest groups, and there is a need for consensus between all of these. That is where I find a major challenge.
For successful implementation of any e-Government project, government officers need to change their mindset to adopt to new technologies. Did you take any specific initiative in this regard?
We initially faced a lot of resistance from our employees in not moving the files through DJMS. They used to cite a number of reasons. The number one reason was related to the hardware and technology. They would say that there is neither hardware or computers or connectivity, and that the server is also slow. All these things have been taken care of. The training part was also an issue. Now, I am glad to say that every employee in the mantralaya (ministry) is well trained, user-interface is simple, sending a file electronically from one table to another is also very simple; it is just like sending email. However, the problem is that in the entire chain even if 5% employees are not using the system then the chain gets affected. So, here you need to take a lot of meetings and persuasions. But, what I believe really made a difference is making it mandatory by the finance ministry (since most files have to go the finance department) that all files need to come through DJMS. Thus, all employees had to perforce enter files in the DJMS. So, I think when you are making this change, you have to think of the critical element and certain amount of compulsion, training and facilitation. We have to work out all combinations.
Is the Maharashtra government making some kind of an e-Government action framework?
Yes. We have an e-Government vision plan regarding what will be in 2009. In fact this vision plan (or roadmap) is being further redefined. We have employed NISG (National Institute of Smart Government) for preparing the e-Governance roadmap for Maharashtra. By this month-end we expect a report. Then we will discuss with the government and will come up with the roadmap.
How are you encouraging public-private partnerships?
What we want in the entire model of e-Governance is that wherever possible, instead of government putting in the money in terms of hardwares, softwares and then providing civil services, there should also be a private stakeholder who will ensure that this is done in a very useful way. In any Maharashtra e-Government project, we first try to examine whether there could be a PPP (public-private partnership) – sustainable, feasible financial model. In case we do not get any such model, only then we say that this is exclusively in the government domain. One very successful model has been the ‘Sarita’ model, which is completely public-private partnership model. Wherever, we have to provide services to citizens we go in for public-private partnership model.
Can you tell something about your city project?
City project is like the common service centre. In every district and every taluka we have a city centre, where the citizens go and give their applications for the various certificates and services they want from the collector office or tehsildar office, and they get the certificates within the given time frame. So they do not have to run around from one desk to another to do that. These city centres have been running for the last 3 years in Maharashtra, and it is quite successful.
What is the allocated budget for e-Government in Maharashtra?
It is a little difficult question to answer since there are three things involved. One is the public-private partnership, where the private sector will spend a lot of money. So that money does not come in the state budget. Then, there are various departments; they are spending a lot of money in their projects. For example, video conferencing, the jails and the courts are getting video conferencing, where the police and the judicial department is spending money for their own network. So each individual department is spending quite substantial amount of money. Besides, the municipal corpora-tions have their own budget. Then in our IT department, we basically spend money on two things: creating common infra-structure and supporting setting up of new individual infrastructures or pilots. So, for this infrastructure and for regular maintenance work our total budget, both planned and un-planned, together could be to the tune of INR10 crores (US$2.24mn) per year. But if you sum total the other departments’ IT budget and private sector budget, it would be huge.
Do different department in state initiate e-Government project on their own or the IT department has the task to convince other departments to start the automation and e-Government projects?
I would say that both these models exist. Sometimes, it has happened that the departments have taken the initiative and have come to us. There have also been instances that the IT department, based on what is happening across the country, have suggested to certain departments that their counterparts in such and such state is doing this. So we have both models. But we also believe that in any IT initiative, the ownership has to be of the concerned department. To be sustainable initiative, it involves a very deep involvement of the concerned department.
Are we reducing the cost of operations in any way through such initiatives?
Definitely. Again, I will give the example of Sarita. In this project we are offering very good services. There is a sudden jump in the quality of service that we are offering, and the citizens are paying for this. So naturally, the government does not have to spend any money. Not only that, the private partner is also giving to the government certain amount of money. Your will be surprised to know that every year the government gets INR160mn (US$3.59mn) of money from Sarita project. So, first of all government did not spend money for this project and secondly, with the same staff, we are handling much higher volume of work. So there is a saving there.
Does e-Government create job opportunity?
e-Government creating job opportunity is a good question. For example, all our city centres which are at the taluka level; so in the remote taluka places, our tehsildar office is one place where you will find the latest computers, latest networking, and few engineers there trying to maintain the system and run the system. Now that is like a nucleus for the IT growth in the taluka. It has created some kind of job opportunity in the city centre, and in the registration department. Now, when we have these kiosks (or common service centres) in the country, we can just imagine the job opportunity created in each village.
How do you think the India e-Government scenario is progressing as a whole? Any specific observations you have?
I am quite optimistic. Considering the challenges we face within the government, the kind of progress we are making particularly in terms of creating the basic infrastructure, like common service centres, we are taking steps in the right direction. But there is always something more to do. Personally, I would not be very much satisfied with what we have done. We need to do much more. We have islands of successes and somewhere integration has to take place. In order to integrate, we require the basic infrastructure for connectivity. Till last year, the term connectivity did not exist in India; it is now we are using this term. That way I am optimistic.