February 2013

Bringing better governance to Every district

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Gaurav Dwivedi, Director, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Ministry of Communication and IT, Government of India

Districts are the de facto front-end of government where most Government-to- Consumer, or G2C, interactions take place. The e-District project was conceptualised to improve this experience and enhance the efficiencies of the various Departments at the district- level to enable seamless service delivery to the citizen

Many new e-Governance initiatives have been launched during the last few years. What are the special services that can be made available under the e-District programme? Please provide us with an overview of e-District.
e-District is a Mission Mode Project (MMP) under NeGP, with the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) as the Nodal Department. The project is to be implemented by state governments or their designated agencies. This MMP aims at electronic delivery of identified high volume citizen centric services, at district and sub-district level. Basically the project is an attempt to bring together various sections of the e-Governance infrastructure that has been created in the country over the last few years by the Government of India and the governments in the states and Union Territories. The MMP envisages leveraging and utilising the four pillars of infrastructure namely, State Data Centres (SDCs), State Wide Area Networks (SWANs), SSDGs and CSCs, optimally to deliver public services electronically to citizens at their doorsteps. In terms of software and middleware, we have the National Service Delivery Gateway, the State Service Delivery Gateway, the Mobile Service Delivery Gateway and much else. Some components of this infrastructure are already completed, while others are in advanced stages of completion. We also have a very extensive network of over 98,000 Common Service Centres that have been established in the rural parts of the country.

What is your view of the way by which citizens are being provided various services through e-District?
Providing of services to the citizens is a process; it cannot be a single act. It can be that a citizen approaches a government office to avail of a certain service and it can also be that some citizens are entitled to a certain kind of service. In either case, the first step is the identification of the person who is going to avail of the benefits. Every government department has its own set of guidelines to ensure that proper procedures are followed in such cases. The citizen is also informed about the service or benefit in cash or something else that has been delivered to him. It is a fairly elaborate process; just having a front end where you can avail of a certain kind of service is not enough. You have to integrate the front end with the entire backend and thereby ensure that the entire workflow of any government department has been followed accurately. The e-District project accomplishes a seamless integration between the interface through which the citizens are availing of the service, and the government department from which the service is being delivered.

The processes through which various government departments do their work is fairly complicated. Is it possible that there can be a simplification of the processes once e-District is fully implemented?
We also understand that the processes in government work are rather complicated. e-Governance initiatives are not confined to simply converting what exists today into a computerised form, it is also about simplifying these services. Instead of asking the citizens to fill forms any number of times, the government departments can simply pull the information out of the database. For instance, when someone is applying for a driving licence, the person has to submit the proof of age. Now if the government machinery is able to automatically match the citizen’s date of birth through an existing database, then the citizen only needs to give name and identification. The person does not have to provide other details. The citizen does not need to make copies and attestation of certain documents. This simplifies the job for a citizen; it also simplifies the job for the officer whose job is to provide the service to the citizen.

What kind of progress is being made under the e-District project? Is the project on track?
It was in the year 2011 that the e-District project was conceptualised and approved, with the intention of creating an enabling environment and a platform for design, development and maintenance of applications relating to various departments and for providing of services to the citizens, at the district and sub-district levels. During the implementation of the pilot phase of the project in 41 districts across the country, good number of learnings have taken place. Moreover, significant improvements have also taken place in technology, creating a great potential to improve the original architecture and implementation model of e-District. We have also come up with fairly extensive guidelines about how the various components of the infrastructure should get integrated for the achievement of the best possible results. And we are happy to note that at least two or three states would be able to provide a substantial number of services by the end of this financial year, which is March 2013. The project is doing very well in states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh is also doing well. These are states with very heavy population density. The other states also have their plans in place. According to government of India guidelines we are supposed to have all the states providing e-District services to their citizens by April 2015. We are on track to achieve that goal.

Tell us about the kind of services that will become available under the e-District project?
There are actually 10 categories of services that all states are expected to provide under e-District project. Out of these five categories of services are compulsory and five are optional. Optional, in the sense that, the states can choose kind of services they would like to have. Within each category there are, on the lower side four to five services, and on the higher side, 10 to 15 services, that the states can provide. Certificates, for instance, is a category, but within the category you have birth certificates, death certificates, domicile certificates, etc. So when we come to the number of services, each of the states have around 50 services to offer. So there are 10 categories and 50 services in each state.

A project like e-District, which is being launched at a pan India level, must have its own set of challenges. Please tell us about the challenges that you have experienced.
As far as the challenges are concerned, the biggest challenge is that of process re-engineering. Creation of an IT infrastructure, in its entirety, is only an engineering job, which is relatively simple thing to do. The more difficult thing is to look at the government processes and to identify areas where exists an element of delay exites, where the challenges occur, either for the citizens, who are trying to avail of certain service, or for the government officials, who are engaged in processing that service request. This is something that needs lot of thought and  it also needs lot of coordination between the various arms of the government. For instance, while the Department of IT is the nodal department for the implementation of IT initiatives in any state, the actual services belong to other service-providing departments. In order to achieve the best results, we need to have a good degree of coordination between the IT department and those departments. Process reengineering is the biggest challenge for the e-District project but it is also a great opportunity, as it can pave way for great achievement in e-Governance.

NeGP was approved by the Government in May 2006, with the following vision:
“Make all Government Services accessible to the common man in his locality, through common service delivery outlets and ensure efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs to realize the basic needs of the common man”.

The CSCs are going to be the front end of e-District. What are the other ways by which citizens can access e-District services?
The CSCs are one of the front ends. There is now a growing trend of people accessing government services through their computers and Internet. People are also accessing government services through Internet enabled mobile phones. But this too is restricted to the urban areas. What we are trying to ensure is that our services should be available to the citizens in all possible platforms. Whenever a citizen wants to access a particular service from the government, the person should be allowed that convenience, but it is also true that currently the broadband penetration in rural parts of the country is fairly limited. As far as rural citizens are concerned, we have come up with the CSCs, which are Internet enabled and are mostly located in rural and semi-urban areas.

Today many of the crucial services like PDS, Healthcare and others have become MMPs on their own. So do you think that in effect the e District programme is laying a wider ground work for many different departments to develop their systems and then turn into MMPs on their own??
e-District basically exists for two reasons. The first reason is that we want to bring together the various elements of the infrastructure that has already been created. The second reason is that e-District is designed to fill in the gap where the citizen is lacking any kind of service delivery. The e-District project is expected to discover the gaps and find ways of filling them. So if a particular department’s services are included in e-District, then it does not mean that the department cannot further develop services on their own. They can very well develop their own set of e-Governance programme, and once their programmes are sufficiently developed, then the e-District aspect of their programmes can be migrated to their own department. e-District is basically meant to fill all the gaps. You can say that e-District is laying the ground work for the different departments to develop their own e-Governance systems.

 

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