Interview

India on Fast Track for Speeding up Government Service Delivery : R Chandrashekhar, Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Government of India

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R Chandrashekhar
Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Government of India

“To identify and harmonise the services across all sectors, structuring them in single mission mode projects (MMPs) and getting the states on board and have consultation and discussion with them, the time and the complexity involved in project of this magnitude are some factors we had underestimated.”

How has been the overall development in Mission Mode Projects (MMPs), under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP)?

There has been considerable movement in terms of getting the approval for the individual Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) at the state level. In fact today, there are only about five state MMPs, which still need to be approved, and which are also at fairly advanced stages of approval. While this has taken more time, as anticipated, the fact of the matter is that lot of time is really taken for department to really appreciate the context of MMP and then configure it to needs of their sector and to mesh it with their objectives.

For example, in case of the agriculture MMP, there are many complexities and it covers several departments like agriculture, fertilizer, agriculture research and the cooperative sector. To really identify and harmonise the services across all sectors, structuring them in single MMP and getting the states on board and have consultation and discussion with them, the time and the complexity involved in project of this magnitude is something we had underestimated.

NeGP does not include health and education sector. What is the reason?

NeGP in terms of MMPs did not include health and education for  some specific reasons. In the case of health and education, the actual services being delivered are huge and substantial and where IT is just an enabler. In case of other MMPs, the information and transaction itself are the service. Like for example, filing of an income tax return or the issuance of funds, other than the exchange of information and the pay in and pay out money, there is no other physicality to the transaction, whereas in the case of health and education, there is a physical aspect to it. Therefore, it was felt that in those sectors, it is actually the execution of the programme involving a greater use of ICT rather than the e-Governance project being an MMP. The mission there is education and using ICT is a part of the goal.

In the education department, there are two different projects, one is the National Mission on Education through ICT for the higher education sector, which has been approved by the Cabinet at a cost of INR10, 000 crores, and there is another project on IT in Schools to cover the school sector, which is of similar magnitude, and which is at a fairly advanced stage of approval. As far as health is concerned, the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) already exists. There have been several discussions on how ICT can be leveraged for  the health sector. Secondly, the decision, even while the NeGP was approved by the cabinet in 2006, was that the major flagship programmes of the government should be implemented on an e-Governance platform. If you take example of NREGA, or Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and NRHM or Prime Minister Gram Sarak Yojana (PMGSY), in all these projects, the idea is that they should be implemented on an e-Governance platform and e-Governance should be seen as an integral part of the whole.

Similarly, in the recent announcement by the President of India through her speech in the Parliament, that CSCs will be repositioned as Bharat Nirman CSCs and will be taken to Panchayats .and all the Bharat Nirman type of services will not only be monitored through this but wherever possible they will be used as points of delivery. So, clearly these major development oriented programmes would be using ICT.

“The demand for  services is coming now. In a democratic country, things work because there is pressure from people. So this is the fast track method through which we feel that some of the states would achieve this level by end of end of 2010 by at least minimum number of services. In fact it can be achieved, for a substantial number of services, if a state so chooses.

Are there any linkages emerging between UID and NeGP?

As you know, the Unique ID/Multipurpose National Identity Cards (MNIC) programme, itself was recognised as one of the MMP. That’s how it originated. It will be basis of the identification for all government schemes. Therefore integration with all the social sector schemes, the developmental schemes and as well another MMPs we have talked about with UID are very much part of the design and architecture of various schemes.

We are also working closely with the Registrar General of India (RGI) and the UID authority for the purpose of viewing the logistics of collecting information. There is a lot of data, which has to be collected for the National Population Register, which has to be later digitised. Digitisation is an exercise itself. Also, when alphanumeric data is available the collection of biometric data is another monumental exercise, in fact, probably of unprecedented exercise in terms of scale and scope anywhere in the world.  In the given cases, the possibility of CSCs being used is very strong and the details are now being worked out. Primarily, when you try to do something involving a billion people, it makes sense for the system to go to people rather than to expect the billion people coming to the system. So the consequences are as decentralised as possible and for an exercise of this nature, even a ‘tehsil’ or a block is too centralised.

Mobile penetration in India is increasing, consistently.   How is DIT looking at using it for rural and urban service delivery mechanism?

I would answer this question in two parts. Firstly, the increasing proliferation of mobile phones becomes very relevant for citizens accessing different kinds of services. So weather a person wants information about the status of the application, then the possibility of making these services available on mobile is clearly a very attractive one. Already many states have started this process of experimentation of building a mobile base of service delivery.

Of course, not all the services can be delivered through mobile. There is a subset of e-Governance services that can be offered through mobile.

But if an individual wants unassisted access himself, then mobile becomes a possibility    and since mobile is based on audio, other than the written, it becomes possible for a illiterate person to use it to certain extent.

How’s concept of a citizen call centre is being looked at?

I would say that it is early days as far as the advent of call centre is concerned, through some states have started experimenting. Off course, since most of citizen services are provided at the state level, a lot of this experimentation is concerned at state level. We have been following this quite closely, though we have not come out with a scheme as such but once the data centres and the service delivery gateway, and building up of service delivery rams up to a certain extent then certainly we would have to think of a call centre and supporting them in various states.

There has to be at least starter set of information and services, before starting call centre. That is a necessity. A call centre by definition is manned by people who do not belong to a particular domain, but are able to respond to the queries based on the high level of digitised information available at their finger tips.

How do you see the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in e-Governance projects?

As far as SMEs are concerned, if you look at e-Governance, many e-Governance project tend to be quite large.  Also, it requires a lot of expertise and manpower and require considerable amount of expertise, especially in running real time operations. All these are typically not within the competence of an SMEs.

Secondly, today in government, we have just started moving from purely government executed project where every part of the project is drawn, developed and executed by a government agency- like the NIC, State PSUs or any public sector organisation- to one where projects are thrown open for bid – linked with service level agreements (SLAs). Now at this stage, the capability to handle outsourcing within the government is very limited. Therefore the preference is for a turnkey outsourcing where there is a single point responsibility, and therefore the project tend to be outsourced in a fully bundled manner. But as the competency for handling the complexities related with the outsourcing builds up in government,then multi sourcing becomes a possibility.

Things don’t happen exactly as they are planned. In case of CSC, lot of bidders made their bid very aggressively, even in negative, based on certain assumptions on revenue streams from the government services, which were actually premature.

Digitisation of government records is happening to even block levels. How do you see the role of CSC and SMEs in it?

This is an area where we are seeing beginning of a new phenomenon. The rural BPOs have just started, Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) is working on that. CSCs are being recognised as a potential element around which the rural BPOs can be built, on the lines of ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, where a number a number of CSCs along a hub constitute a rural BPO. This is certainly emerging. However, there are issues like a lot of BPO require a minimum level of uniform operations. These are sometimes the initial challenges, which have to be crossed.

If you look globally today, there is so much pressure on the margin today, that tier one locations have become very uncompetitive. Out of necessity, these activities have to be moved out of tier one cities, to tier two and tier three cities.

As the connectivity and IT infrastructure is improving , the cost and efficiency advantages of moving to rural areas is becoming very visible, for the domestic BPO sector.

The cost advantages are as high as almost 50 %, and the even the efficiency levels are higher, comparatively. The experimentation have started and since it provides good opportunity for income generation for the CSC, and for small operators, once they are able to get business from the market and they are able to demonstrate their delivering capability, then this will keep building up.

When did we expect the availability of services in these hundred thousand CSCs?

The question has always been what will come first: chicken or egg.  In NeGP, the approach has been to provide the minimum basic infrastructure to roll out services on the service delivery platform and simultaneously work for enabling services for which the MMPs are all about. Under this plan, it was assumed that there would be a little bit of phase lag between the availability of infrastructure and building up of services.  That is why in CSC programme, there is viability gap funding contemplated, primarily because the build of services will take time, two to three years.

Things don’t happen exactly as they are planned. In case of CSC, lot of bidders made their bid very aggressively, even in negative, based on certain assumptions on revenue streams from the government services, which were actually premature.  And now since the bid process has been finalised, we cannot provide any further financial assistance.

We are working on two tracks. One is the fast track strategy for speeding up government services. So while the MMPs are necessary for the entire back end to be made electronic, we are working on fast track model to make front end available in such a way that people can file application, get it registered electronically and get an acknowledgement electronically. That service request is traceable anywhere from a state just like a railway ticket with a PNR number.

But thereafter, till such time an MMP is implemented, it is then handled, manually, by that department. At least this limited functionality serves two or three important functionality. Firstly, it reduces the burden of people in the village to run to run to block and district offices, since it doesn’t require paper submission and handling.

This set of problem would certainly get addressed. However, if you did not automate your back-end systems, there is fear of again the application being converted into paper and not be acted upon. But this will put pressure on the system, at least as CSCs have put pressure on the system to deliver the services.

The demand for  services is coming now. In a democratic country, things work because there is pressure from people. So this is the fast track method through which we feel that some of the states would achieve this level by end of end of 2010 by at least minimum number of services. In fact it can be achieved, for a substantial number of services, if a state so chooses.

Where does the ownership of e-Governance project lie?

The Cabinet decision states clearly that the ownership of the e-Governance project lies with who ever is in the domain. Like for example if it is a project of income tax then the ownership would be with department of revenue. Similarly if it is a state service, then the ownership would lie with state government and the particular department within the state government.

Why does northern India lacks in adoption of e-Government model, as compared to the southern part of the country?

Since southern states are house to most of the IT companies in the country, the awareness and popularity is greater in those sates. However, even in some northern states, where e-Governance projects have been rolled out, like in Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal, it has got wide popularity and acceptance. In an ICT project in government, the most important point to be taken into consideration is that these projects are not pure IT projects. It must be backed by a clear vision of what intended to be achieved, in post implementation period.

Also, if the project has migrated the department one hundred percent into e-Governance mode like in case of Railway or MCA21, there arises no question of going back to the manual mode.

The level of acceptance and popularity are so high, that’s it almost impossible for the administration to withdraw to the earlier manual mode.

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