January 2013

“e-Governance has gained momentum in the country”

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Unassuming yet perky, demure yet skittish, reticent yet eloquent—the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) Additional Secretary Rajeev Gauba—in an interview with Anoop Verma discusses the current scene and future plans for making e-Governance vibrant in India.

Unassuming yet perky, demure yet skittish, reticent yet eloquent—the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) Additional Secretary Rajiv Gauba—in an interview with Anoop Verma discusses the current scene and future plans for making e-Governance vibrant in India.

Rajiv Gauba is a 1982-batch IAS officer of Jharkhand Cadre. He has more than 25 years of experience in Central and the State Governments, at the District level and in  multilateral financial institutions. He has worked in the Ministry of Environment & Forests as Director in-Charge of Policy & Law. He has also worked in the International Monetary Fund for four years. Before becoming the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Communications & IT, Rajiv Gauba served as the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Environment & Forests. Here he was looking after the work of Hazardous Substances Management Division and the National River Conservation Directorate

How do you see the development of e-Governance ecosystem in the country?

e-Governance has already acquired considerable amount of momentum in the country. There is a healthy competition in the states to implement new e-Governance ideas in every area where there is an interface between citizens and the government. There is now a growing realisation in the government circles that the ability of the government departments to deliver is being acutely tested.

There is so much pressure due to rising population and increase in the general expectations of the people that despite the best efforts, there is a mismatch between the capacity to deliver and the expectations. And this gap between the general expectations from the rising population and the capacity of the government to deliver can be bridged only through modern technology and e-Governance.

It is during the last five to seven years that e-Governance has really gathered momentum. Many new initiatives have been launched and have been well received by the public. Can you name some e-Governance projects that you think have brought maximum benefits?

The point is that different departments, states and ministries are involved in the creation of these e-Governance projects. Each of them has its own set of priorities and aims. Different e-Governance projects are serving different sections of the population and so it is not desirable that we compare them. Many states are doing exceedingly well in providing benefits to the common man through the electronic route. Now we are trying to encourage the states that rather than reinventing the wheel every time, they should try to replicate the successful models  from other states.

So now we are having many successful e-Governance projects getting replicated across different states. While implementing tried and tested applications, with some minor customisation, you can avoid the risk of creating something that might not be as useful as expected. For instance, there is the e-Pass project from Andhra Pradesh that is going to be implemented in a number of other states that have shown interest. Similarly the Human Resource Management, application developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), is being tried out and implemented in a number of states.

Vision for Year 2013
“Our vision for 2013 consists of successful implementation of the e-District project, successful implementation of pilot projects for taking advantage of NOFN project and the rapid replication of successful e-Governance projects”

Is there a move being made to put the successful e-Governance projects on some kind of app store, from where the interested states can access them in an easy manner?

Precisely. We are working with the idea of creating an e-Governance app store. Different states will be able to access the app store and pick up the apps that are most suitable for the specific needs of their population.

What kind of growth can we expect in e-Governance systems in the country?

Now e-Governance has acquired considerable amount of acceptability with the public and the governance circles. I see e-Governance as something that has now acquired a critical mass and in the coming years we can expect a quantum jump in the number of initiatives being launched. A larger proportion of services will be delivered through e-Governance systems. In the central ministries, a large number of e-Governance projects have already been implemented under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP); a number of other ministries are in the process of implementing their own e-Governance systems. e-Governance will gain even more momentum by the fact that it will soon acquire a statuary backing.

In a number of states the Electronic Delivery of Services (EDS) rules have been notified. Model EDS rules have already been circulated. Some  states have already notified these rules; others are in the process of doing so. This will make it mandatory for government departments to deliver services through the electronic mode. At the Centre also the EDS Bill has already been examined by the Standing Committee of the Parliament. Its recommendations have been received, have been processed and the revised Bill could soon go to the Parliament.

The UIDAI project has now advanced across India and there is no doubt that this project will lead to the flowering of a large number of new e-Governance initiatives. But we have not yet been able to develop sufficient number of applications that will work on the Aadhaar based identification systems. What can we do to facilitate better usage of the UIDAI platform?

I would say that Aadhaar is now on its way to playing a central role in the delivery of services. In fact, Aadhaar is going to be the mainstay behind the direct transfer of funds scheme. A number of pilot projects are also being tried in different states for using Aadhaar for providing benefits directly to the citizens. The Public Distribution System and many other departments will soon start making extensive usage of Aadhaar. There is no doubt that UIDAI is a very secure method of identifying the beneficiaries, but eventually it depends on the concerned ministries and departments to decide what method of identification they are going to use for their e-Governance systems.

We have a substantial amount of digital divide in the country because of which educated people residing in urban areas are taking advantage of the e-Governance systems, while those living in rural areas are unable to do so. How do we ensure that the digitally illiterate sections of our population are also able to access the e-Governance initiatives?

You see, every citizen in the country has the right to receive better e-Governance facilities. It does not matter if he is educated and urban, or digitally illiterate and poor. Each and every citizen in the country must enjoy easy access to public services conveniently, without having to run to various government departments. Whether he is living in rural area or in urban area, he must have access to the government services from his doorstep. This is the vision of the NeGP.

However, I agree that those who are more affluent and have access to personal devices can take better advantage of e-Governance systems. And there is also the issue of digital illiteracy.  All these issues need to be addressed and that is why the NeGP thought of the Common Service Centres (CSCs).

Today the CSCs have spread all across the country. Currently we are having close to one lakh CSCs, and the idea is to gradually increase their number to 2.5 lakh, in which case we will have one CSC operating in every Panchayat in the country. So the CSCs are rendering digital services in the rural areas also. Of course, in rural areas we are also facing issues like connectivity, power supply, but these issues are also being addressed.

Some of the CSCs are not proving to be financially viable. There is lot of talk about increasing the scope of the  services that are being provided by the CSCs. Please tell us about it.

Now under the new flagship programme, the e-District, the CSCs are going to play a very important role. Under e-District, the CSCs will become the front end for delivery of a very large volume of benefits and services. As far as the financial viability of the CSCs is concerned, I would say that it is a circle. If the CSCs render more services, they become more financially viable. It also depends upon how many essential services are being made available through them.

It depends on the back-end digitisation and the creation of other infrastructure by the state. Once the CSCs become popular, they become viable also. Even in the project for direct transfer of financial benefits, it has been decided that the CSCs will be an important vehicle. Hence they are being appointed as Business Correspondents for such transactions. This can give them a new impetus and significantly improve their viability.

Healthcare and education are the two areas of concern in the country. Many sections of our population find it difficult to access quality healthcare and education. What is your vision for improving these critical areas through the use of ICT?

A lot of work is being done for improving the healthcare and education sector through the use of modern digital technologies. We have  telemedicine in healthcare sector and digital education systems in education sector. Many states have already started using digital  means to monitor the general healthcare parameters; they are using it to keep a track of the health of patients, of pregnant mothers, etc. Digital tools are also being used for distribution of medicines at subsidised rates or for free. Similarly, modern education is being revolutionised through the usage of modern technology. The payroll management of teachers, the monitoring of presence of teachers in classrooms located in remote areas or even the evaluation of the students is being done digitally.

What are the main challenges in the path of e-Governance in the country? How do you plan to overcome these challenges?

Of course, there are difficulties to be faced in everything that you do. Many of these initiatives require a dedicated team. But the  departments where the e-Governance initiatives are being launched are already overburdened with existing work. So what we have felt is that unless there are dedicated mission teams and empowered mission leaders, the project implementation suffers. That is an important element; the other element is that of capacity building. The success of e-Governance is dependent upon the government officials in the department being fully comfortable with the digital technologies. These challenges are already well-recognised and a number of steps are being taken to encourage the creation of  dedicated teams and capacity building. A committee has recently been set up by the Hon’ble Prime Minister under Nandan Nilekani to look at the entire issue of creating a human resource for e-Governance projects.

The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is now being laid down to provide connectivity to all the panchayats in the country. What kind of impact will this system have on e-Governance systems in the country?

NOFN is a very ambitious project, as it plans to connect all the 2,50,000 panchayats in the country through high-speed network. At present Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) connectivity is available in all state capitals, districts, headquarters and up to the block level. NOFN will achieve its objectives by utilising existing fibres of PSUs (BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid) and laying incremental fibre to connect to panchayats wherever necessary. Thus, connectivity gap between panchayats and blocks will be filled. Up to the panchayat level, we will be having high-speed broadband, but ultimately it will depend on the users to find out the ways by which this kind of connectivity is to be put to use. So it is the different Ministries and the States that will have to take advantage of the NOFN by providing services through a process of connecting all their offices to the panchayats. Currently, we are trying to demonstrate how this high-speed network can  be put to good use through pilot projects, which are on in three states, namely – Andhra Pradesh,Rajasthan and Tripura. We are also trying to convince various state governments that by December 2013, when the NOFN is expected to be completed, they should have enough applications to take advantage of the high-speed connectivityto the panchayat level.

In a linguistically diverse country like India, many people find it difficult to access e-Governance systems, which are mostly in English. Should we be having laws to ensure that the e-Governance systems are also accessible in local languages?

Language is certainly a barrier for large sections of our population. There is a division in the Ministry that is currently looking at the issue and a lot of work is being done to ensure that the same services are also available in regional languages.

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