November 2008

The New Mantra for e-Governance

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“Education and Health are the new mantras for e-Governance in India”, says Shankar Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Government of India in a conversation with Ravi Gupta, Editor – in – Chief, egov

If we look at the last 20 years, Information and Communication Technologies have   evolved and developed but in terms of e-Governance we have only a few success stories such as the Indian Railways System and a few others. Does this imply an  imbalanced development of e-Governance services? Your Comments.

We have to accept the fact that India is a developing nation faced with various socio-economic problems. Inspite of all these drawbacks, we have been able to come this far quite satisfactorily. Today, India is globally recognised as an Information Technology (IT) expert. However, many benefi ts of IT has not percolated to the rural poor. Now we are moving into that direction of providing services to the rural poor. Today, land records in all the states are being computerised and a person can get all the details within a day by paying a nominal fee. In the past this process used to take many months for getting such details and the person was always at the mercy of the local records keeping agents such as the Patwaris. Today, one can easily access these records from a e-Kiosk.

e-Governance has been implemented in various states and departments across India. What in your opinion has been the story so far?

e-Governance is providing government services to the common man in their local areas and  in a very cost-effi cient manner. Having said that, the question arises about how to provide  these services? For this to happen, we need to put the infrastructure in place. There are two  kinds of infrastructure – one is the physical infrastructure which is the hardware under  which we have State Data Centres (SDCs), State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and the    Common Service Centres (CSCs). CSCs act as the front end machines. In addition to this, we have computing infrastructure which provides the processing of the physical  infrastructure.Then there is also a need for connectivity at the back end which is provided
horizontally and vertically across all the departments. Computing and connectivity infrastructure is generally provided by the state governments.

The second part of the infrastructure is the digital / software infrastructure. This comprises of the national portal, standards and e-Forms. The third part is the service part. Today we have a number of services. There may be instances of changes, modifi cations and addition of services. These services are provided by both the state and the central governments and there  are some integrated services both provided by the state and the centre jointly. For  example, in the integrated services, we have the Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) which are  implemented by both centre and the state. The state governments look into their operations  and do re-engineering and therefore come up with new ideas and processes. These services are   delivered in a bundled manner. Apart from this, we have another aspect which is known as the capacity building. Therefore, there are four silos in the e-Governance project of India–  physical infrastructure, digital infrastructure, services & awareness and capacity building.All these silos are to be connected without which the goal of e-Governance will not be achieved. The strategy for achieving such goals is to have a centralised planning and decentralised implementation. Centralised planning ensures strategic mapping of the project, ownership and a critical control over the architecture and technology.

Centralised planning is important in a diverse culture like India. Some of the states have a feudal history and there is a lot of vested interests in these states. Therefore, these states will take a little longer for implementing e-Governance. However, all states and all departmentshave to adopt e-Governance as this is the best possible mechanism for delivery of  government services in a cost effi cient manner.

What are the roadblocks in the implementation ofe-Readiness for e-Governance in India?

Non-availability of connectivity has been a major roadblock in making India e-Ready for  e-Governance. All the e-Governance services are to be delivered through the front end CSCs. These CSCs needs to be connected with a network and we have found that out of the one lakh  CSCs, about 25,000 CSCs will have connectivity through Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited  (BSNL). Another 25,000 villages are to be connected by BSNL through their existing towers. They will be using wireless solutions for connecting these 25,000 villages. Therefore, the total  number of CSCs which will be connected will be about 50,000. For the remaining 50,000  CSCs, we have a plan to utilise the funds available through Universal Service Obligation  (USO) Fund. By using these funds we will be able to motivate the private sector to provide  connectivity to these villages. Allocation of spectrum is another issue which has been a  roadblock in terms of connectivity. Yet another issue is that the states are not yet ready for  implementation of the MMPs. The reasons for the same are many. India is a democratic country and we have different national and regional parties in power in different states. These  MMPs will come to fruition when the state governments are taken on board. We are in  the process of enabling and educating them for making the mechanisms ready for  e-Governance.

There is also the issue of non-availability of IT personnels. The attrition rate in the IT sector  has been very high. It is very diffi cult for the state and the central governments to get qualifi  ed IT professionals as the salary structure in the private sector was extremely high.  Therefore, we are trying to develop a mechanism by which we can hire professionals at  market remuneration. It is expected that in about three months time we will be able to put  the mechanism in place and therefore, we will be able to attract a large number of IT  professionals for taking these MMPs forward both in the state and the central level.

Most of the e-Governance strategies are hardware centric and there is not much emphasis on building up applications. Since you have taken charge, do we see any improvements?

The answer lies in the fact that it is a cost of learning. Initially, it was thought that if we buy  some computers and do the computerisation of the departments, that will suffi ce everything.  However, this was not enough. Now the focus is on the delivery of the services which can be  Government to Citizen (G2C), Government to Business (G2B) and Business to Business (B2B). These services can be available only when applications are available. Therefore, our focus is to  build infrastructure on one side and to develop all these applications and databases on the other. Hence, bundled architecture is important. We can only purchase equipments when  services are being identifi ed and re-engineering has been done and we have ensured that our mechanisms have evolved for delivering these services.

There are 27 MMPs under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). Is there any priority been given to any particular MMP?

All the MMPs are equally important and no MMP has been given any priority over others by  the Department of Information Technology. However, some of them have shown tremendous  success such as the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) which has already completed its  mission. Another success story is that of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT). Recently, we  have also seen the collaboration of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) with the Ministry of External Affairs for the Passport Automation Project.Today, everybody has taken a note of  e-Governance and they have realised that if e-Governance is not promoted, G2C services will  not be provided in a cost effi cient manner. Therefore, all state governments and the line  ministries have become aware of the fact that e-Governance is inevitable for providing transparent, easy and reliable services to the citizens.

You belong to Uttar Pradesh which is the biggest state
of India with a big population and there is a big divide between the rich and poor. With your rich experience of administering such a state, what are your aspirations in making a mark at a national level in the e-Governance sphere?

Coupled with the size and population, Uttar Pradesh has myraid political and socio-economic  issues. People are poor and the infrastructure is not up to the mark. Under such circumstances  it becomes very diffi cult to provide government services to the poor.

There is also a need for encouraging the people’s participation in the process in order to give  them the benefi ts of governance. Some of the basic needs to be provided to the poor are –     employment, education, health services. I personally feel that all these facilities under e-Governance has not been provided in substantial quantity. We have only done pilots projects here and there

I believe that the poor and the marginalised people can be brought to the mainstream only  when they have access to quality education and health care services. Most importantly, they  need to be given employment opportunities. The achievements and the benefi ts of all the  development in the IT sector has primarily been enjoyed by the urban class. However, I  believe that IT has a tremendous role to play when it comes to providing good quality  education and health care services to the poor and the marginalised.

Thus, my objective would be to bring all the 27 MMPs to fruition in a cost effi cient manner  and in the quickest possible time. I would personally feel glad if we can provide people living in  rural areas with good quality education and health care.

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