Interview

Planning the Future India : Subas Pani, Planning Commission, India

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Subas Pani
Secretary, Planning Commission, Government of India

“In the next one year, we would like to have high speed connectivity in 6,000 blocks and 4,000 tehsils across India”

Planning Commission has played a pivotal role in creating a conducive environment for e-Development of India as a whole. What is the road ahead?

Planning Commission has an important role in the e-Governance initiatives of the country.  One of the major initiatives is to monitor the release of funds and progress of expenditure. We are trying to work out a comprehensive scheme from the Controller General of Accounts, so  that there is the minimum time lag between the release of funds for various ministries and  actual unit where the funds are utilised. This will be monitored constantly. This is an ambitious plan and the piloting is going on for the same. We hope that it will be rolled out in  the next fi nancial year. A separate dedicated team is being created for it.

The other is that for the overall programme, we are making a major initiative by assisting the state in making the overall planning and monitoring systems for all the plan and progarmmes of both the Government of India as well as the State Governments. For this we will provide number of professionals who have a background in project management in  Information and Communication Technology (ICT), evaluation and Geographical Information System (GIS). Through this programme we expect that we will be able to put a GIS unit in each district which will act as a support to the planning team. There are various other   programmes for which we are releasing funds, and we are looking into the fact that how they can be converged and be complementary to one another.

Thirdly, there are various fl agship programmes such as National Rural Employment  Guarantee Act (NREGA), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sarak Yojna. For example in the Pradhan  Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, the implementation agency is an executive engineer, in NREGA,    it is the programme offi cer in the block level. The implementing agency should be enabled to use ICT in an effective manner, so that the primary data which is originating is captured  directly and fed into the computer system and the data base is updated. This will compress the time and enable the planners to plan in a better way.

We have initiated ‘reality checks’ of all the 6000 blocks in the Rural Development  Department. Reality checks mean the checking what are the computer systems available,  whether there are trained personnels available, whether there is data connectivity, which   type of data connectivity is available – mobile unit or high speed connectivity. Fibre has been laid out in large areas, but there is the problem of last mile connectivity.

Under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), we have a component where there is an initiative for providing last mile connectivity. Is your initiate a separate endeavour?

Our initiative is complimentary, because the State Wide Area Network (SWAN) is being rolled  out in many states. They are looking more from the point of view of Common Service Centres (CSCs). But there is a lot of urgency, because we are now trying to make payment to all benefi ciaries of NREGA directly in their respective accounts in the Post Offi ce.

This cannot be done, until the block level works is completed. Reality check means, we will check what are the gaps. The most important thing is that the physical connectivity needs to be addressed.

Under NREGA, we are also proposing that there should be a Local Area Network (LAN) in  every block. We are talking about spending INR 30,000 crores on a single programme which  has to reach to about 3 crore people. There has to be high quality infrastructure and high  quality human resource. Under NREGA, Orissa has done a pioneering work in this respect by  providing two ICT professionals in every block. We have suggested that this model should be replicated in all the other places as well.

There is a huge crunch of
ICT professionals in the Government Departments of the country. How are you tackling this situation?

All the state governments has their own recruitment policies. Some of them outsource the  work, while others train their own people. Eventually, we should move to a stage where the usage of ICT should be extensive. We are trying to ensure that the actual 2 Mbps connection is available in the block head quarters.

How do you plan to address the issue of connectivity in the government offi ces?

Sometime back, when I was in the Election Commission, we made sure that every single  person was trained. There are 800,000 polling stations, everybody in one way or another way is using electronic voting machines. The percolation of technology to the lowest level is  extremely important. We want to mainstream it, make it pervasive and ubiquitous in very  single point of actual work being done.

That would require a lot of initiative for which we have included Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the Department of Information Technology and Department of Telecommunications.

We are all working together towards this ambitious programme. In the next one years time,  we would like to have high speed connectivity in 6,000 blocks, 4,000 tehsils and 10,000  units. Also in all the major buildings we would like to have a LAN connectivity for the regular  work to be carried out.

You are depending on BSNL a lot, are you also looking at other service providers also?

We are not depending upon BSNL. We are taking into consideration the Point of Presence (PoP)  of all the operators, and wherever it is available, we will utilise it. BSNL has already worked  out a large programme and the government has also supported them by funding them. We  are looking at the last mile connectivity where we are looking at the PoP. It may happen  through the SWAN, or any other means. What is important is that in the block and the tehsil,  the connection has to be there. What is to be done in that particular block or tehsil, depends  upon the local situation there.

What is the road map for Rural Health Mission?

In the health mission, we ideally want is that every Primary Health Centre (PHCs) should  have connectivity. All the fi eld units of all the major plans and programmes should be ICT  enabled. It will help the programme as well as fostering economic growth and reach in helping  certain services to the common people.

“We are one of the fastest growing economies and our fundamentals are good. We   have a very good banking sector and a reasonably good regulation which has stood the test of time. Also, the government is closely monitoring the system”

There should be a strong health team at the district level with ICT professionals which enable connectivity. The Chief District Medical Offi cer (CDMO) is the person running the  programme at the district level. These will be the tools available to them. Our idea is that whoever is the domain person there, they should be enables to use ICT to run his programme  successfully in the ground. Personally, I feel very keen and look forward to it as a major  initiative to help ICT programme monitoring.

Will India be able to continue with the current growth rate?

That is for the experts to say. There are various projections and nobody can predict what will  happen. It will be perhaps lower than what was being predicted. In a diffi cult situation like  this, India will be reasonably doing well and will have one of the best growth rates in the world.

In light of the current global economic situation, how do you see India coming up?

We are one of the fastest growing economies and our fundamentals are good. We have a very  good banking sector and a reasonably good regulation which has stood the test of time. Also,  the government is closely monitoring the system. Generally, all over the world, the current  thinking is that the public investments should be expanded. The Planning Commission is  actively working towards the same so that it provides the necessary support to the government.

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