P H Kurian, Principal Secretary (IT), Government of Kerala, shares with eGov magazine, his vision for the development of IT sector in Kerala. He also sheds light on different aspects of the e-Governance initiatives that are being launched in the state
Tell us about your vision for the state’s IT department.
My vision is to bring about a convergence in every governance initiative in the state into an integrated, optimised and unified framework by utilising IT. Essentially this translates into a citizen focussed approach to government services wherein the emphasis is on the benefit to citizen while technology, processes and procedures are just means to it. We are working with the desire of reinstating Kerala in its rightful position among the Top IT enabled and leveraged states of India. We have to prepare and present Kerala as the right destination for IT investors/companies and institutions across the world. There is the need for creation of an ecosystem of development that leverages the potential of Kerala in Skilled Human resources, existing IT businesses, service Industry orientation of the state and electronically enabled governance.
Tell us about initiatives that your department is taking to bring about growth in the Kerala’s IT industry.
The IT department and associated agencies like Technopark, Infopark, Cyber Park, KSITL (on IT infrastructure and IT investment promotion) Kerala State IT Mission (e-Governance initiatives) IIITMK, ICT Academy, SeMT (on human capacity building ) have been working hard to utilise the opportunities in the IT sector to bring about benefit to the state and its citizens. Technology and business incubation centre in Trivandrum and the innovation village in Kochi are major initiatives in the paradigm shift in the mindset of Kerala as such i.e. from a salaried employee concept to that of an entrepreneur. The successes in these fronts and the initiative and vigour shown by the younger generation in these ventures are laudable.
Your state has taken many new initiatives in e-Governance. How would you rate the state’s response to e-Governance?
In the State of Kerala, the introduction of ICT in Government-citizen interaction has been incremental over the years. Kerala experimented and piloted many IT initiatives like Web based services, ICT based Call Centres, mobile governance and similar newer technological advances. The need for strengthening Government to Citizen (G2C) interfaces has been the primary focus of the State and this led to the launch of “Akshaya” brand of citizen Service Centres. The State has made Strategic investments in the E-governance enabling infrastructure fronts like the State Data Centre, Kerala State Wide Area Network (KSWAN) to address the Connectivity, and Akshaya which acts as a bridge between the “digital divide” by virtue of its literacy campaigns and also through various socially oriented activities.
What are the main challenges that you face in the implementation of e-Governance projects? What are the solutions for these challenges?
The issue of interoperability of various standalone systems in government is the greatest bottle neck in any seamless roll out of electronic governance – The SSDG ( State Service Delivery Gateway) , a National Mission Mode Project currently being deployed , shall act as a solution to this. Further the Government of Kerala shall also adopt the open standards for e-Governance solutions being brought out by DeitY and this will ensure that the systems would talk to each other irrespective of their platforms/technologies. Another challenge we face is that of duplication of efforts and multiple solutions and databases for the citizen services across various departments. In this case the solution is to identify the common requirements and share the data from existing applications. The state resident Data Hub (SRDH), a pilot project being undertaken as part of the UIDAI rollout shall act as a common citizen data base and shall nullify the effects of these duplications.
What steps do you think should be taken to ensure security of online systems in the country?
Security is as much a concern for us as it is to any other government. With more and more applications going into the public domain there is significant rise in security related concerns. The state data centre and the State Network are well protected and monitored and the websites hosted in the SDC are under close surveillance for suspicious activities. However, the vulnerabilities of the solutions have been the cause of the hackings that has been reported thus far and these have been rectified immediately. Proactively it has been made mandatory that the applications are hosted only after proper security testing.
What are the main challenges being faced by officials in position of IT secretary?
Information Technology is a fast changing and highly dynamic sector and the decisions required for the successful exploitation of opportunities in this sector would have to be long term consequences. The Administrative and technical prudence of the officials should not be under radar owing to less significant and petty issues. There is also a delicate balance between the needs of a highly sophisticated sector and the real needs of a common man. IT, as one should understand, is a great enabler and the sector offers immense growth potential, but considerable effort is required to ensure equitable and inclusive development of all sections of people and this will be a major factor for sustainability of the sector in the long run.
Please shed some light on the progress of UIDAI scheme in your state.
UIDAI enrolment in the state is progressing very well. We have enrolled around 80 Lakh people and expect to cover the remaining 2.1 cr population by March 2013. Although a steep task, we are confident of attaining this target by initiating more enrolment agencies into the state. Currently we have two enrolment agencies namely Akshaya and Keltron of which Akshaya, the CSC which is spread across the state has been carrying out the bulk of the enrolments. Kerala is the second state to be identified by UIDAI to set up the State Resident data Hub (SRDH). Simultaneously, the state is gearing up to extend Aadhar based services to citizens. Welfare pensions, Kerosene subsidy distribution etc are the pilot projects that will be rolled out soon. The advantage to the citizen will be that the benefits will reach the targeted individual and the advantage to the Government will be stemming the loss to the exchequer by weeding out duplicate, fake and ghost entries.
Does Internet need regulation?
Freedom, as one should understand, comes with responsibility, so the freedom to information also comes with responsibility, responsibility on the part of the information provider, the application provider, the information seeker etc. You cannot track down all the internet users who propagate and read these contents as what is malicious to one is comic or interesting to another. There is no possibility of any regulation which would be able to control this type of propagation of unwanted content. But yes regulation will create awareness among the general public who might be unknowingly participating in the propagation of an illegal content. Personal and defamatory content creation and propagation is illegal even today and is a punishable offence.