Interview

India has India has an opportunity to do e-Governance right : Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovationsk, India

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India has India has an opportunity to do e-Governance right

Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, is widely acknowledged the architect of India’s telecommunication revolution. He is currently driving creation of information infrastructure for delivery of services to citizens and charting a roadmap for a ‘Decade of Innovation’ to drive benefits of technology at the grassroot level. In an interview with Pratap Vikram Singh of eGov, he talks about the country’s progress so far in governance and development and the role of information and communication technologies towards open government.

How do you see the progress made by the country in governance and development after 63 years of independence?

India is indeed the world’s largest working democracy. With that come lots of challenges in terms of [difference in] perceptions, centre-state relationships, large programs, bureaucracy, politics, governance and planning. We believe that technology, especially information technology, will play a very important role in the next decade in improving governance, creating open government, bringing transparency and accountability and ultimately improving the delivery of public services.

Mahatma Gandhi had stressed upon rural empowerment, decentralisation, promotion of local industries and jobs for people. Many of these things could not happen. But I don’t think 63 years are enough for a country having a billion plus population.

We need about 100 million broadband connections, and it’s not two or five megabits; I’m talking of about 100 Mbps

The country has its own inner strengths and weaknesses. In order for us to really expedite the whole process, our founding fathers had really that foresight. Gandhiji had the dream of village empowerment and democratisation, decentralisation, local industries, while Nehru had a vision to build human capacity. We built atomic energy, space research, agriculture research, IITs and IIMs.

We didn’t have the institutions and the infrastructure that a nation of our size would require. It took couple of decades to build that capacity. Now that we have the human capacity, fortunately we have the information technology to change the whole process of governance.

Going forward, it has to be how we use IT in enabling e-Governance, to really improve productivity, efficiency, reduce costs and make sure that the benefit that is to be delivered to the poor, indeed can reach the poor.

To achieve these goals, we are just beginning to set up proper systems in place.

What is the role you see of processes re-engineering towards enabling open government?

The Knowledge Commission report on e-Governance will tell you how we thought about e-Governance in terms of scalability. First, you need to really redesign processes. You can’t really computerise the processes that [British] Raj left behind. We need to really redesign processes.

No one has ever attempted to do in terms of magnitude we have. United States has also an e-Government which is in a mess just because they have a vendor driven system. In some places it is Microsoft driven, somewhere it is Oracle, in other places it is IBM or HP. Consequentially, they have 1,200 data centres. Everybody is doing their own things. India has an opportunity to do it right. The country is just beginning the process because all that we have done so far is not good enough. So what we need to do is to rethink.

We need to look at some of the big pieces. One big piece is process re-engineering.  We need to really re-engineer the process, which is a very difficult task. So what we could do is identify 20-30 processes, which affect every citizen and then tackle those processes first. For example, these could be the processes concerning birth and death certificates, land records, police reports, employment and pension. These are some of the standard examples where people really interact with the government. 

The second task is to standardise. Everybody should have standard birth and death certificates in the country. The states can have little bit of nuances that are typical of those states, but the overall format has to be the same.

There will always be a question of autonomy. You may have to let some of the autonomy go to create efficiency and productivity.

We will set up high-level standards, which no body is doing today. So you need a political will. We know what needs to be done, but without political support these things cannot be done. We are going to meet the chief ministers and explain to them what these issues are, and then say that these are issues which are in national interest, join hands and let’s do this. This is not directed against any state. It’s not to take away the state’s autonomy; we have all the respect for it.

However, today, it’s all about spending e-Government money. Nobody knows the facts. You go and ask the consumer and he will tell you: I haven’t benefited from e-Governance yet. You pick up 100 citizens randomly. They will say: We haven’t benefited from it; except for the railway ticketing. So first we have to re-engineer processes. We need to create standards, collaborate with the states, and improve centre-state relationships.

Then comes the technical part. Fortunately, we are now a nation of a billion connected people. We never had the type of connectivity as we have today. And because of the connectivity, we have a massive optical fibre cable (OFC) network, which we need to capitalise on, to build the next generation of applications for e-Governance.

“You can’t really computerise the processes that British Raj left behind. We need to really redesign processes”

So the first thing is to really improve broadband connectivity. Today, the connectivity is predominantly for voice. We need to have that connectivity for broadband. And it’s not two or five megabits; I’m talking about 100 Mbps because with this broadband, one could see lot of videos and training material for immunisation and for teaching, all of which will happen through the electronic medium.

It is an imperative to connect the country with broadband. We need about 100 million broadband connections. That is a big challenge. There are lot of discussions around it. I wish it could happen faster.

The second challenge is what Nandan Nilekani is doing

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