Dr Rajendra Kumar
Joint Secretary, Department of Electronics & Information Technology
(DeitY), Ministry of Communications & Information Technology
In a candid conversation with eGov magazine, Dr Rajendra Kumar provides his views on how e-Governance projects in the country are shaping up to keep pace with the rising expectations of the citizens
The tagline for the NeGP is “Public Service Closer to Home.” Is the agenda of bringing public services closer to the citizens being fully implemented through National e-Governance Plan (NeGP)? Please provide us with your view on status of e-Governance in the country.
If you see the e-Governance domain at a macro level, then you reach the conclusion that as a country we have done quite well during the last decade. We have been able to reach out to the citizens directly and in a more systematic manner through electronic mode. Now many more departments are able to offer their services to the citizens through electronic means. The processing times for various services sought by the citizens have reduced drastically and there is more transparency as well as accountability. However, despite all the successes that we have had, we also realise that e-Governance continues to be a work in progress. We are currently working to develop new e-Governance systems that will get launched in the near future and we are also engineering further improvements in the systems that have already been rolled out. I believe that e-Governance can enable disintermediation of governance, the idea is to enable people to access the services directly, and on this count, the e-Governance systems launched in the country have been a success story.
Most of the projects that were initially conceived under the NeGP have by now been largely implemented. The SDCs and SWAN infrastructure is in place. So now there is the talk of NeGP 2.0. What kind of initiatives can we expect under NeGP 2.0?
The NeGP 2.0 is now in the very initial stages of conceptualisation. The next phase of e-Governance in the country should focus on ensuring the speedy availability of electronic services through devices like mobile phones and tablets that are already popular with citizens. The penetration of mobile phones in the country is much higher as compared to the penetration of computers and Internet. We have close to one billion mobile phones in the country, so if we can bring e-Governance services on the mobile platform, we will enable a very large section of the population to access these services. We have already launched the Mobile Service Delivery Gateway (MSDG) and mobile based services under a new initiative called “Mobile Seva”. The system is already operational and the details can be seen at our website: http://mgov.gov.in.The SMS gateway and Mobile App Store are already fully operational. About 150 departments from both Centre and the States are using the SMS gateway, developed by DeitY through C-DAC, to reach out to the citizens. Over two lakh SMS messages are being sent to the citizens every day for actual transactions and this number is increasing at a rapid pace. During the last one year, from January 2012 to December 2012, around 2 crore push SMSs have been sent. Our Mobile App Store already has 26 live and 50 demo applications which can be downloaded by the citizens for availing a range of government services.
The other aspect of the next phase of NeGP focuses on the development of an integrated information infrastructure. For instance, we are now focusing on cloud enabled data centres and integrated network connectivity. We are also aiming at rapid replication, under which the successful projects of one state can be replicated in other states with the necessary customisation. For rapid replication, we will be using the cloud platform in a major way. Once applications are developed and hosted on the cloud platform, then any other state or department can make use of it with the necessary customisations. This would save substantial costs and time.
Are there plans for a national rollout of the Mobile Service Delivery Gateway?
Yes, that is being done. This will lead to scaling up of the infrastructure, thus enabling many more departments, from both the centre and the states, to start using this as a common infrastructure. So the departments need not invest their own funds in creating their own infrastructure separately. This will lead to substantial savings in time and efforts. As I mentioned earlier, we have also developed a mobile App Store on the Android platform. The apps have been fully integrated with the back-ends of the government departments. There are apps that allow users to apply for a copy of duplicate birth certificate, submit a grievance for redressal, check the status of UID enrolment, etc. All the apps are free. There are many other requests that can be made through the mobile phone itself using the SMS pull service. The details can be seen at http://mgov.gov.in.
The Android platform is an open platform; anyone can add apps or make changes in it. So what about the security aspect of the e-Governance apps that are being created on the Android platform? What is being done to ensure that these apps are not tampered by hackers?
Actually, the main strength of the Android platform is that it is Open Source. There exists a large community of developers who are supporting the Android platform and making improvements in it on a regular basis. These developments help in making the platform more robust with passage of time. As it is Open Source, all the latest developments in the source code are available to our technical team for developing new applications. Our team is also following the relevant best practices to ensure security of the applications and
the Mobile Seva platform.
Many of the e-Governance initiatives can prove to be much more fruitful if we had a foolproof system of online authentication. What kind of initiatives are you taking in this area?
Electronic authentication is of crucial importance for success of e-Governance initiatives. At present,there is no uniform system for online authentication of users of e-governance services. For accessing most services, people have to physically present themselves with a paper based identity proof at a government office. As a consequence, very few government services are truly electronic from end to end. To address this issue, we are working on a system for introducing online authentication which will allow government departments to authenticate the identity of a user electronically. DeitY has recently notified the policy framework for this initiative, which has been named as “e-Pramaan”. The process of authentication would be completely electronic and would incorporate the Aadhaar based authentication mechanisms. Different government departments will be able to use e-Praman as a service to authenticate the identity of their users. The details of this initiative can be seen at the website: http://epramaan.gov.in.
“The key objective is to ensure that the projects are rolled out and services are delivered to the citizens”
Many citizens in the country are unable to access e-Governance services as they are digitally illiterate or they lack access to computers or Internet. As mobile telephones are available to most people these days, the SMS services that you have mentioned can be tools for empowerment. Can you provide us with more details of the SMS service that you have launched?
Our Mobile Seva provides a host of SMS based services. In case of the departments that are integrated, the citizens can send an SMS and track the status of any request. For instance, if you have applied for a new ration card, you can track the status of your application at the ration card department through SMS. The Mobile Seva portal also provides a very easy and automated process for government departments to integrate their services and start offering them to the citizens. The details can be seen at the portal mentioned above. We are expanding at a rapid rate, so within a short span of time you are going to witness a large number of new services being launched under the Mobile Seva platform.
So how does the user start using the e-Praman website? Does he have to present himself at any government office to get a user ID and password?
No, the system is being developed in such a way that the entire process is online. The user needs to register at the e-Praman website, by providing his/her identification details like name, address, Aadhaar number, PAN number, ration card number, etc. In the background, the e-Praman gateway will do the verification electronically through the respective electronic databases. Once the verification is done, the user becomes a verified entity. Even those who are yet to get their Aadhaar numbers or those who don’t have PAN card, ration card, etc. can also join in and register. They will also get a user ID and password. Once you are registered, you can do a single sign-on for accessing various services from different departments that are part of the e-Praman gateway. This service is not only secure; it also allows the users to avoid the hassle of logging in separately to each department’s portal.
Under the Capacity Building Scheme, we have set-up State e-Governance Mission Team (SeMT) and done much else. Is that proving to be effective enough?
Capacity Building is a work in continuous progress. People have to be constantly trained so that they can make efficient usage of new technologies. National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) envisions establishment of an institutional framework for state-level decision-making including setting-up of State e-Mission Teams (SeMTs) having relevant expertise and experience to provide technical and professional support to the States and Union Territories. These SeMTs have been playing a very vital role in strengthening the capacities of different states for implementing e-Governance initiatives. Now states are capable of implementing more e-governance initiatives and have better knowledge of various aspects of e-governance projects. With every passing year, we are building a bigger and bigger pool of trained resources.
In your opinion what are the key challenges that are being faced in the implementation of e-Governance ideas in the country?
The key challenges, according to me, are to build capacities across central and state departments and ensure optimal usage of the entire core ICT infrastructure that we have created under the NeGP. We need to avoid any duplication in creating the infrastructure. The key objective is to ensure that the projects are rolled out and services are delivered to the citizens. Recently, we have also started focusing on outcomes and transactions to judge the success of any e-Governance project. Transaction approach basically means that the number of transactions delivered to the citizens must be taken as a key indicator of the success of any e-governance project. The challenge is to ensure that the projects are delivering actual services to the citizens.
The CSCs in the country are expected to curb the incidences of digital divide, but now questions are being raised about the financial viability of these centres. How do we tackle the problem of financial viability?
With rising popularity of e-Governance services, and also due to the fact that CSCs are also offering B2C (business to citizen) kind of services, the CSCs have started doing reasonably well. The number of CSCs that are operational in the country has also gone up substantially during the last year. The CSCs are playing a vital role in the success of e-governance in the country; most of them are located in rural areas, where people don’t have access to computers and internet and rely on the CSCs for accessing government services. The B2C services being offered by CSCs are gaining maturity, and the VLEs who are enterprising are able to make reasonable profits.