Interview

Towards Electronic Governance at Village Level – e-Panchayats : Rajwant Sandhu, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development

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Rajwant Sandhu, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development

Please share with our readers on Government’s e-Panchayat initiative.

e-Panchayat involves tremendous investment in terms of the hardware, software to be used  for various services to be provided, and the manpower. The project is going to be funded by the  Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is a partner with the  Ministry of Panchayti Raj in e-Panchayat initiative. e-Panchayat, which is one of the Mission  Mode Projects of Government’s e-Governance initiative has yet not taken off. But of course an  expert committee has been constituted to give its recommendations on what kind of systems to  be used. There is a debate on the software to be used whether it would be proprietary or open software.

How do you see the role of the states?

It is very interesting to see that the states are not sitting by. They are not waiting for the  center to come and start e-Panchayat. For example in the state of Gujarat we have around 13,000 panchayats which are having hardware and software in place as also trained  manpower, all of them connected, and sustainable.

What is your take on the factor of subsidies and
sustainability?

Again talking of Gujarat, I have seen that in areas with high population some center operators  are earning upto INR 5000 per month, which is fair enough. The state is also  thinking to give INR 1500 as subsidy to the center operator. So, I feel the systems are going to  be sustainable but systems dependent on subsidies alone may not be successful in long run.

How the capacity need is being planned to be addressed
in this and what are the challenges involved in this?

National Capacity Building Framework of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has several  components. It takes care of infrastructure at the fi eld/village including building structure required, functional staff of at least one per panchayat, hardware and software needs, and  above all the capacity building. Training of panchayat representatives is very important.  They are very often not even aware of their role and responsibilities. And this happens more  likely in the reserved seats where a women is just pushed for the village election without  having any or no idea about her work. The training ofpachayat’s representatives and other  functional staff requires trainers which, in itself not there. We fi rst need to train the      available trainers. We are partnering with Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) for this. Then we also take care of the content, which has to be language specifi c depending upon the state in question. Another important issue here is of the fi ve year term of the elected representatives and the taking over of new representatives after the elections. Thus, the whole process of training has to be ongoing. But the best part is that we are not alone, some of the states are very enthusiastic and coming forward very fast.

How do you fi nd the role of other stakeholders like civil society organisations and private sector in this process?

The training process can not be just for once and for all. We have to impart training to the  same set of individuals time and again till they become comfortable enough on their job. And  for this we need to reach at the fi eld level, which of course can not be done by the government  at its own. We have to outsource this huge task and we are looking at NGOs,  academic oriented organisations but not the private companies at the moment.

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