“The e-District project that we are launching proposes to deliver around 50 services online at the district level and its subordinate offices,” says J&K IT Secretary Bipul Pathak
The central government as well as most state governments in the country have been taking major initiatives for the implementation of e-Governance policies. What steps have been taken by the State of Jammu & Kashmir in this direction? Tell us about the major e-Governance initiatives that have been taken by your department.
e-Governance is one of the key focus areas for the government in Jammu & Kashmir. While it is true that we have been behind many other states when it comes to deployment of ICT infrastructure, we have been taking many new steps to strengthen our infrastructure. There were a few flip-flops in the State Wide Area Network (SWAN) tendering process. But now we have finalised the tendering process and we hope that in the next six to eight months, SWAN will be up and running up to an extent of 70 percent. This SWAN project will provide a major boost to connectivity in Jammu & Kashmir. Also, three data centres are now about to be ready. All this represents a major boost to the e-Governance infrastructure in the state. Then there is the State Service Delivery Gateway (SSDG) project, for which we have been developing a number of applications. There has already been a soft launch of five or six applications. We are now waiting for the feedback, which will enable us to further fine tune the nature of the applications. The full-fledged launch of all these services could happen by the final days of December. These services will be test case for us to check our preparedness in terms of e-Governance and G2C delivery. We are in the process of launching e-District project for which we have already got approval from the Government of India. We are now going ahead with formation of district level infrastructure and e-Governance societies.
The e-District Project could lead to lot of benefits flowing down directly to the people in the rural areas. Please provide us with the complete details of the project. According to you what are the key features of the project?
You see, the e-District is all about delivery of e-Services to the citizens at district and rural levels. Many states around the country have launched their version of the e-District project, and lot of good is being done from such projects. The e-District project that we are launching in Jammu & Kashmir, proposes to deliver around 50 services online at the district level and its subordinate offices. Through automation of workflow, back-end digitisation, integration and process design, e-District will ensure online delivery of citizen services at the district level.
With such interesting e-Governance projects in the pipeline, an obvious question that arises is about the level of broadband penetration in the state. After all, no e-Governance project can be successful unless there is deep broadband penetration. What is the status of broadband penetration in J&K?
The level of broadband penetration is limited in certain mountainous areas of the state. But otherwise the penetration of optical fibre is pretty good at block levels across the state. There are a few blocks where optical fibre is not available. But under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) plan, every panchayat is to be connected and our SWAN will be connected to block level headquarters at state headquarter. Once the SWAN is functional, our immediate challenge will be over. Once the NOFN comes to the panchayat level, it will be an additional redundancy available to us.
These days many citizens in the country have started using their mobile phones to access e-Governance services. In many ways, e-Governance is transforming into m-Governance. What is the situation of mobile connectivity in J&K? Is it as easy for citizens in J&K to own mobile phones as it is in other parts of the country?
For the security reasons, proper documentation is needed in J&K for availing prepaid mobile services. However, the system for getting post-paid connections is quite simple. In my opinion, the mobile phone penetration is very high in the state. Seamless connection is available through multiple private telecom operators. BSNL is also there. I do not find any reason why connectivity should be a problem. Though cases of call drops and other such issues are rampant, but they are service delivery issues of telecom operators, rather than connectivity issue.
Many states in South India have made deep strides in the field of IT. IT is leading to the creation of many new jobs. What steps are being taken to make J&K a good investment destination for IT companies?
We understand that we are not Bengaluru or Hyderabad, and we don’t have the advantages that those regions possess. So we are trying to focus on certain key areas where we have competitive advantage. We have a huge talent pool of human resources available. There is no dearth of young people who can turn out to be world class professionals in IT. The state government’s vision is to come up with policies that will lead to rapid development of IT industry in the state. We are motivated by the idea of giving boost to the local IT industry. In J&K, tourism is the biggest industry, and we are taking necessary steps to ensure that our tourism industry is updated with latest technologies that can lead to saving of costs and bring efficiency.
What is the vision for the IT industry in J&K by 2020?
Our vision is that by 2020, the IT industry in J&K should be able to get itself engaged in electronic and hardware manufacturing in the Jammu area, and high-end semiconductor manufacturing in the Kashmir valley. For climatic reasons, the valley is more suitable for high-end semiconductor manufacturing. First of all, as an IT Secretary, one has to be well informed of the latest technological issues. We also need to be informed of the needs of the other departments. The structure of the IT department in J&K is very lean and thin. We are not a heavily bureaucratised kind of department, this helps in many ways. Speaking of my own team at J&K, I would say that in the department we understand that we are only the enablers. We need to take initiatives while keeping in mind the needs of the other departments. However, we can only provide the platform and the technology; we can’t enforce them to adopt certain technologies. But ultimately it is the other departments that have to implement them. And there lies the real challenge. We are trying our level best to bring that kind of skill for implementing the technologies in various departments. The government has allocated one to three percent of plan fund for every department to implement IT project in their respective departments. That shows the intent of the J&K government that IT is the way to go.
The phenomenon of digital divide is a major cause of worry in the country. How do you ensure that rural people have training to access e-Governance applications?
I think this is a great fallacy in the minds of urban people that rural people do not understand technology. It is possible that in some cases, they may not understand technology as it is, but they do know about the practical applications of technology. I think digital divide is much lesser in J&K, as compared to other states of the country. Because of high mobile phone penetration, there virtually does not exist any digital divide. People are using Smartphones to access e-Governance services. The thing is that technologies are now-a-days highly user-friendly.
The Common Service Centres are providing good degree of online services to people in rural areas. Tell us about the kind of services that are being provided by CSCs in the state’s rural areas.
The CSC is a strategic cornerstone of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). It offers web-enabled e-governance services in rural areas, including application forms, certificates, and utility payments such as electricity, telephone and water bills. The CSC movement in J&K has proven to be quite successful. In rural areas, we are providing all kinds of online documentation and payment related services through the CSCs. The payments are routed through the J&K Bank. However, in urban areas the CSCs have not been able to penetrate. We are now trying to take the CSC movement forward by having more outlets in rural and urban areas.
Also, I would like to tell you that the State IT Department, in collaboration with the NIC Unit of J&K, plans to establish videoconferencing in all major government offices of the state. As a step towards this, the facility of videoconferencing is being established in the office of the District Development Commissioners in all districts in the state.
The Jammu and Kashmir e-Governance Agency (JaKeGA) was formed under the Information Technology Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir to function as an intrinsic arm of the Government with a mandate to drive e-Governance in the State. With the members of Board of Governors, the Jammu and Kashmir e-Governance Agency has been registered under the Jammu and Kashmir Societies Registration Act-1998 for the Registration of Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies. The primary objective of the Jammu & Kashmir e-Governance Agency (JaKeGA) is to design, deliver and administer E-Governance projects by providing the necessary administrative, financial, legal and technical framework in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. JaKeGA will also facilitate establishment of e-service centres throughout the State through suitable public-private partnerships to ensure that the public gets the desired information and e-services literally at their doorsteps
JAKEGA is handling following Projects
• State Wide Area Network ( SWAN) @ Tender Stage
• State Data Centre(SDC) @ Implementation Stage
• e-District @ DPR ,RFP Stage
• e-Treasury @ Implementation Stage
• SSDG @ Implementation Stage
• CSC @ Rollout Stage
• e-PDS @ Digitization Stage
• CPIS @ RFP for Digitization Stage
• WiFi @ Implementation Stage