Interview

Automated Jharkhand government to be more transparent, responsive : Ram Sewak Sharma, IT Secretary, Jharkhand, India

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“Our government has taken the decision that the entire internal functioning of the government has to be automated so that can bring about transparency and responsiveness. We have learnt lessons from the e-Government projects of other states also. I see a great future in terms of the easy access to technology. And I see a great future for e-Governance,” says Ram Sewak Sharma, IT Secretary, Jharkhand, in a candid confession to Anuradha Dhar of egov

Could you briefly tell us about the major achievements of Jharkhand government in e-Government initiatives?
The strategy that has been followed for e-Government initiatives is how much interface we have in the public. There are some departments that have no interface in the public; there are some, which have. For example, the transport department, registration of documents and commercial taxing department have tremendous public interface. So, basically we are changing those departments that have the maximum public interface. And, we have begun the computerisation and e-Governance there. In that respect, we have already covered 10 departments, which are registration, transport, commercial taxation, municipal corporation, employment exchange, consumer forum, land record computerisation, and so on. These are some of the departments which we have computerised and which have very good service delivery.

What is the current status of these e-Government projects? Are they already in the implementation stage?
A number of these projects are in the delivery stage, some in the implementation stage, and some in the pilot stage, which are to be replicated quite soon. So they are at various stages of implementation. We have learnt lessons from the e-Government projects of other states also.

Apart from the departments you mentioned earlier, what is the plan of action for other departments?
Our government has taken the decision that the entire internal functioning of the government has to be automated so that can bring about transparency and responsiveness. For example, the
file-tracking system is already being put in place. We are having the land records computerisation, then natural resource information system and GIS is being used in a big way. Each department is being studied and we are trying to find out what are the niche areas where we can computerise. For example, we have taken the public distribution system, the welfare department, scholarship, the integrated child development scheme, the law department, the examination board, the courts at the district level, revenue department, and the gram panchayats [Panchayats are the smallest unit of community-based management of local affairs at the village level].

We have already digitised the entire panchayat maps; we call it e-panchayat application, where one can see the boundary of each panchayat. We are putting in place what are the facilities available at each panchayat in terms of communities, hand pumps, and how many of the hand pumps are functioning and how many are non-functional. We are doing these kinds of information collectively.

We have created Jharkhand as a geo-spatial station. It is fully functional and has very qualified people. They are collecting the data and actually putting them on the GIS.

For example, there is cadastral map digitisation taking place. There are number of GIS applications that we have taken up which are indirectly related to e-Governance. For instance, for building the resource map of the state, the underground water utilisation, remote sensing, and so on.

What according to you are the key issues that need to be addressed in implementing the e-Government projects?
Putting all the stakeholders, convincing them and actually making them active partners is an issue. For example, the different e-Government initiatives are happening at different departments of the government. But in these departments, the entire hierarchy has to be brought on board and they have to be convinced.

IT department is doing this. We are organising conferences, seminars, and trying to convince the different stakeholders. It is not enough that the Secretary of the department is convinced, what is required is that the hierarchy down to the lower level is convinced. For example, in a telemedicine project unless the health department and the various functionaries at various levels get motivated, you cannot really make it happen.

Finance and political support is not an issue. Politicians are keen into the applications of IT for delivering better governance. There are no major issues. Of course, there is the issue of process change. Process change is a huge task. What we are tempted to do is that whatever we do manually, we want to translate that into computers. e-Governance is not translation, it is transformation. We need to transform the processes. People are generally not willing to do this, they feel that the previous processes are time-tested and therefore, we should not fiddle with them. Again, attitude of the government employees are a big stumbling block. When I said that we have to convince people, this is part of attitude building.

What is the allocated budget for e-Governance in the State of Jharkhand?
The allocated budget is INR500mn (US$11.18mn) this year and next year it is going to be INR17.5bn (US$3.91bn). It began 2-3 years back by INR140mn (US$3.12mn), then it was INR380mn (US$8.48mn), this year it is INR500mn (US$11.15mn), so it is progressively increasing. Money is not at all an issue. And we are on the right path, hopefully.

How are you engaging in the private-public partnership? Are you satisfied with the performance of your partners?
I would say that we have had not many experiences of private-public partnership. We are right now in the process of doing it.

How do you see India as a whole in their performance in e-Governance compared to other Asian countries?
I think we have a baggage of colonial administrative system, so that is coming in the way. But I am very sure and very optimistic about the way things have changed, the way administrators have realised about reforming the governance and basically going to the cost of
delivery. I see a great future in terms of the easy access to technology.

There is no reason why we should not be much more efficient in terms of delivery of the government services. Development of the private sector is also acting as a pressure for the government to perform better because now there is competition. And I see a great future for e-Governance.

Are you creating the e-Government roadmap for Jharkhand?
Yes, we are doing that. We already have engaged consultants for that. They have prepared a draft, which is under discussion and finalisation.

We expect this to be final by the end of this month. Because the basic preliminary work is done by them, they have collected inputs from all the departments.

How do you see your State performing in comparison with the other States?
Many States are doing very good work in e-Governance. No doubt about it. Each State has its own peculiarity. India is a very vast and diverse country. You cannot really compare one State with the other.

You are undertaking so many initiatives. How are these initiatives helping the government?
Lets talk about the computerisation of treasuries. This will basically enable us to get the accounts of expenditure or other accounts instantaneously. So now I know my account position on the daily basis. So when I have to draw an overdraft from the Reserve Bank of India on which I have to pay some interest, I can be a little more careful since I can refer to my expenditures. So in terms of fiscal planning, I can plan better.

What is your approach in capacity building and training?
We are doing capacity building. We are building institutions for the same, like Jharkhand State Educational Centre for the promotion of IT. We are hiring professionals for capacity building.

What about generating public awareness on e-Governance?
Many a times we are not able to publicise what we are doing. So generally, people think that nothing is being done. So we need to make people aware of what we are doing, so that people can ask questions and people can demand services from the government. This is necessary.

What about SWAN (state-wide area network) in Jharkhand?
In the context of SWAN, we are the first state in the entire country, which has already appointed an operator and consul-tant. SWAN commenced operations in February this year. So we are way ahead than many states in India.

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