B V Selvaraj
Administrator, Union Territory of Lakshadweep
“We have adopted VSAT technology due to problems with the availability of bandwidth from BSNL“
The Lakshadweep administration plans to introduce an ambitious Universal State Wide Area Network (USWAN) for digitally interconnecting each and every government office in the territory which will be first of its kind in the country. Kindly elaborate upon such plans and the possible roll out of the projects.
The Union Territory (UT) of Lakshadweep is a group of islands, out of which ten are inhabited and randomly scattered in the India Ocean. Geographical isolation has hampered the developmental programmes in this territory over the years. Proper connectivity – both physical as well as in terms of communication are a high priority as islands are cut off from the main mother country. We aim that all these islands will be connected with the implementation of Universal State Wide Area Network (U-SWAN). There are around 230 subordinate offices in various islands of the UT of Lakshadweep. There will be at least 45-50 nodes in an office. Altogether, 9,900 to 11,000 desktops will be connected/networked at a time, leading to a mega Wide Area Network which will have a much larger bandwidth.
The functioning of most citizen centric e-Governance projects such as Total Digitization of Employment Services, Medicine and Appliances Stock and Cargo Movement System, the “EverAlert”, Electricity Consumer Management System and Advanced Ship Ticket Reservation System (Portnet) will be more smooth as more bandwidth speed will be available at Kavaratti. There will be a bandwidth of 16 Mbps in Kavaratti, Head Quarters and 4 Mbps each in Minicoy and at Agathi (the remotest, southern most islands), the gateway of Lakshadweep. The remaining islands will have a speed of 2 Mbps. Many other e-Governance plans are on the anvil, which will be launched once the U-SWAN is implemented / executed.
Can you tell us about the hurdles faced while rolling out video conferencing in the government departments of Lakshadweep?
The main hurdle which we are still confronting is the non-availability of required bandwidth. The sole Internet Service Provider in Lakshadweep is Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). Their existing capability does not support the required bandwidth for the web-based programmes. This narrow bandwidth affects our Video Conferencing and we aspire for better bandwidth with the launch of the U-SWAN. The U-SWAN will definitely be the panacea for these disconnected islands of Lakshadweep.
You have a digitally integrated Electricity Department which is connected through NICNET-VSAT. What are the benefits of such technology over others?
We have adopted VSAT technology due to problems with the availability of bandwidth. When BSNL was not able to provide us the minimum required bandwidth, we had to go ahead with the VSAT technology, considering the peculiar geographical situation prevailed over this territory. Minimum level of stabilised and reliable connectivity is made available with VSAT over NICNET of the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
Lakshadweep is the first Union Territory in India to fully digitise its employment exchange. Tell us how did your administration achieved such a feat?
The Total Digitization of Employment Services is a good relief to the people of Lakshadweep. The one and only Employment Exchange in this territory is situated at Kavaratti. Earlier people had to come to Kavaratti for mere registration and for appending any training or higher educational qualification which required a lot of traveling. Now, with the digitisation process, there is no chaotic queue in front of the Exchange which was a common and unavoidable scene in earlier days.
This was possible with the bold decision taken from the apex authority and consistent efforts, without relenting to any tactics. The project entailed re-entering of all the details of Live Register in the Exchange which consisted of around 15,000 candidates with varied qualifications and types of details.
The Sub Divisional Officer/Deputy Collector in all the islands, except Kavaratti, is designated as Additional Employment Officer in their respective jurisdiction island with powers of issue of registration cards against the registrants and adding newly acquired educational qualification creating other 9 Virtual Employment Exchanges without any additional manpower. All these offices have been provided with adequate ICT tools for this purpose. The entire staff for this project in all the islands have been trained properly.
Now a native of Lakshadweep can register his / her name with the Employment Exchange of Lakshadweep from any part of the world. This has been a great relief for the youths of Lakshadweep who pursue their education in various parts of the country. This initiative has brought transparency in the system.
The islands and islets of Lakshadweep are interconnected through web enabled ship ticket reservation and booking system (PORTNET). How successful and popular is this system amongst the masses and is there a possibility of replicating in other states as well?
The web enabled ship ticket reservation and booking system (PORTNET) has immensely helped the entire population of Lakshadweep. Shipping is the lifeline of the ethnic people of Lakshadweep.
PORTNET has made it possible for them to plan their journey among the islands as well as to the mainland, which was once unimaginable. The students who study in the other parts of the country can come home without much difficulty as they can book their ship tickets through advanced reservation system.
The information on ship schedules, berths and cabins availability in all the ships plying in Lakshadweep waters is provided on the website which can be accessed from any where.
Ship ticket advance reservation counters are also available in all the islands as well as in Kochi, Kozhikode and Mangalore. We are also considering e-Payment for ticket booking to further ease the services. However, entry into Lakshadweep islands is restricted and it is possible only when permission is granted by the concerned authority. Therefore, considering such sensitive reasons, e-Payment for obtaining ship tickets to Lakshadweep has been kept on hold.
How far is the political will responsible for the success of e-Governance initiatives in Lakshadweep?
Lakshadweep is a UT without legislation. However, the leaders of all political entities have taken us into confidence and took all the initiatives forward.
In the light of the given framework of e-Governance in the Indian plains and the islands; do you think the challenges are different in the two areas?
Here, in Lakshadweep everything is unique. The peculiar geographical isolation of the UT has its uniqueness in all walks of life. This isolation really is a challenge for any activity in Lakshadweep where everything becomes a challenge. Execution of work is really tough owing to this peculiar isolation which can be bridged with cautious and judicious planning. Without proper and reliable connectivity, development in Lakshadweep is not wise to envisage.
The most ambitious plan of USWAN will be a solution for the digital integration of islands with the provision of the right bandwidth.
With much optimism, we took up the ICT initiatives and are able to derive the benefits to the citizens.
All deliverables from each project should reach the unreached which is the main moral and prime theme of all the premium e-Governance initiatives implemented in this remotest territory of the country.