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e-Governance is for the people, by the people, of the people

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Bipul Pathak
Commissioner/ Secretary, Science & Technology and Information Technology Department,
Government of Jammu & Kashmir

“Through the Knowledge Management Portal government departments will be able to share knowledge for mutual benefit”

What is the status of the State Data Centre project in Jammu & Kashmir?
The State Data Centre (SDC) in Jammu & Kashmir is complete. The final acceptance testing has also happened and now the data centre is ready for hosting the applications of various government departments. Some government departments have already migrated their applications to the data centre; these applications have been used as a part of the testing process. The other departments are in the process of migrating their applications to the data centre, because it requires a certain amount of testing to be done before all the applications can be made fully functional. This can only be done over a period of time. In my opinion, in near future, we will be migrating all the government applications belonging to various departments into the State Data Centre. As the CCTNS project is on verge of starting, we plan to host it directly in our State Data Centre. We believe that e-Governance is for the people, by the people and of the people. For its effective implementation basic infrastructure like SDC is a must.

Many times it has been found that the SDC is ready but we don’t have enough applications to run on it. What steps are you taking to ensure that the SDC is fully utilised.
To address this situation we are tracking different departments in the state, because many departments continue to do their work on their own infrastructure. At times, they host their applications on multiple data centres, sometimes they use the NIC data centre, sometimes they create their own data centre, or they work on servers. Now our team is going around and speaking to different government departments. We have made them aware that the data centre is now available and they can use it to host all their applications in a safe and secure way. We would assure them of good connectivity all the time. The uptime of their applications hosted in the SDC would be much higher in the state-of-the- art data centre that has now become available. The good thing is that majority of the government departments in the state are now realising the benefits that can come from the SDC and they are eager to have their applications migrated to it.

The benefits of SDC cannot be fully reaped if the State Wide Area Network is not commissioned. What is the status of State Wide Area Network?
In case of State Wide Area Network, somehow in Jammu & Kashmir, the process of bidding started in 2010, but it had to be called off because at that point of time it was thought that it is better if the System Integrator and the Bandwidth provider are integrated in the same Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP was redesigned and floated last year and now we have already closed the bid process and the evaluation has also been done. Now the competent authorities within J&K are about to approve of that bidding process and then we will have to approach the government of India for final funding. So we are at the last stage of selecting the vendor and getting the work on SWAN started. In my view, the final approval of the Government of India should come in the month of end of April 2013. After that the process of implementation of State Wide Area Network will take off, and in not more than 6 months time, SWAN should be operational at the DHQ and the State Headquarters level and at many of the blocks also, that are easily accessible. You are aware that many of the Blocks are situated in remote areas, and the state of J&K is mountainous. Also some of the areas are located close to the line of control. So we require certain special measures for implementing the SWAN.

It also becomes costly for our private partner to implement in those areas. In such areas we are envisaging that a little bit of more time would be required to establish the point of presence up to block level of these areas. But in all probability, by December 2013 we are hopeful that about 80 percent of the area in the State will be covered by the State Wide Area Network. This will help us a lot in starting G2C kind of services, because the data centre is ready by now and with SWAN we are going to have a very seamless kind of integration for providing of several landmark services.

We are having the system of two capitals in the Jammu & Kashmir. Srinagar is capital city for six months and Jammu for six months every year. If we had e-Governance in all the departments the important papers of the government could be stored online and they would not have to be transferred physically from one city to another. Don’t you think this will result in huge cost saving for the government? It will. We are now endeavouring to create aculture of online work in the State. In IT Department we have already taken the initiative of archiving the records electronically. A pilot project in this regard is already on in the IT Department. In the Higher Education Department also we have started this kind of project for archiving of the records. This way we will beable to save lot of costs that are involved in transporting all those files from one place to another physically.

Many of these files do not need to be kept in the physical form, as these are only for archival purposes. The electronic records kept in an authenticated way are as good as physical files. Please also remember that in Jammu & Kashmir we have already issued the Electronic Service Delivery rules, and under these rules we can also mandate that if the digital files are authenticated under the digital signature of an officer of a particular rank, then those files are as good as physical files. As the process of digitising the files has just started, it will take some time to fully develop it.

You have also started a Knowledge Management Portal for the government. Please tell us about it.
This is the Knowledge Management Portal for the government of J&K. You see many times the government departments do significant amount of research and analysis work in any particular area. At that point of time, the work might seem of lesser importance, but the outcomes of that work might play a significant role in some other areas of the project. If we can take full advantage of the knowledge that we keep on generating, there can be significant impact on the functioning of the government policies and procedures. So through this Knowledge Management Portal government departments will be able to share knowledge for mutual benefit. The knowledge will be shared between officers who are working in the field, in the various departments, in the secretariat or elsewhere.

This knowledge sharing online, document sharing online, will surely lead to better understanding amongst the departments. It will improve their understanding of one another and facilitate a smoother functioning in thegovernment. We have already started work on this portal, and we are sure that in six month’s it will be up and running. This project will also serve the purpose of putting the spotlight on the successful projects of any particular department so that it can be replicated in other departments. If implemented properly, the Knowledge Management Portal can be a game changer for e-Governance in the state.

When you are putting so much of government data online, then you also have to be concerned about the issue of cyber security. What kind of cyber security measures are you implementing to ensure that government data that is being put online is safeguarded from malicious attacks?
Cyber security related concerns are there all over the world, but many advanced countries have already moved their work in the online space. Even in our own country, a large number of states have started using IT systems in a big way. The standards for secure transactions and security have been set by the Government of India. Online transactions are now fairly common in government departments, banks, private companies and the end users. Of course, we need to have adequate cyber security systems in place, while we continue to bring more and more of our work in the online domain. The systems that are being developed in Jammu & Kashmir will have the same level of security that the government departments in other states presently have. The State Data Centre and other hardware facilities are completely secure.

What is the level of digital literacy in Jammu & Kashmir? Are you taking adequate capacity building measures to ensure that there is sufficient digital experience for e-Governance to really take off?
For e-Governance to succeed there are two levels of digital literacy that are required. One is that the government departments should have sufficient digitally trained manpower to run the applications and provide the necessary services to the citizens. The second level of digital literacy has to do with the training of the citizens in computers and Internet. After all, it is the citizens who are going to use the onlineservices from the government, so if they are digitally literate, they will be in a better position to take advantage of all the measures that are being taken. In my opinion the perception that the people in Jammu & Kashmir are less digitally literate, is a mere fallacy. People in this state, especially the younger generation, are well versed in the use of computers and Internet. Even in remote and rural areas you will find large number of people who are digitally literate. The only problem is that we have not been able to penetrate all areas of the State in terms of the State Data Centre, the SWAN and connectivity related issues. Once these facilities are fully operational, you will find e-Governance gaining popularity in the state within no time. To give you an example, we are now implementing many online services in the management of electoral rolls and generation of voter ID cards. Once they are rolled out, there is going to be huge number of takers for these services.

One way by which we can measure the popularity of e-Governance in any state is by taking a look at the Khidmat Service Centres. How popular are the CSCs in Jammu & Kashmir?
In Jammu & Kashmir, the Common Services Centres are called the Khidmat Service Centres. A large number of these Khidmat Service Centres are viable because of the extra B2C services that have already been rolled out. We are yet to roll out any G2C service through these Khidmat Service Centres. We are now close to rolling out five to six G2C services. I would also like to inform you that the Village Level Entrepreneurs, who are running these Khidmat Service Centres, are eagerly waiting for these G2C services to get rolled out. The real purpose of these Khidmat Service Centres will be achieved when G2C services are being offered through them to the common citizens of the state. But the thing is that many of these Khidmat Service Centres are making reasonable sums of money through B2C services that have to do with payment of utility bills and few other things.

How long will it take for the bulk of G2C services to get launched in Jammu & Kashmir?
Most of the G2C services will start operating once SWAN is in place. But currently with alternate sources of communication we are trying to launch several applications for health department, elections department, employment department, labour department and few others.

e-Tendering is known to bring a lot of transparency in the functioning of the government. What kind of work are you doing in the area of e-Tendering?
e-Tendering is one of the most successful e-Governance projects in Jammu & Kashmir. Unfortunately the success that we have achieved in e-Tendering is not well known to people outside the state. Most departments in the state are now using the e-Tendering system. The Urban Development Department, the Public Works Department, the Irrigation Department, and many other departments are tendering through e-Tendering. This is resulting in lot of transparency and is also bringing substantial reduction in the operating costs of these departments. Participation in tendering through e-Tendering in the state is now universal. No one can be stopped from participating in a government tender, because it is an e-tender.

In Jammu & Kashmir in particular we have had some issues regarding Facebook. At times government departments have to block some malicious links on this social network. In your opinion should government departments get involved in blocking Facebook pages, or should just ignore the few malicious links that crop up?
These social media platforms have the power to work like dominos. Any wrong information posted in these social networking sites can lead to a lot of law and order problems in sensitive states like Jammu & Kashmir. Blocking of certain pages on Facebook is not confined to India only. Many countries in the world have been blocking Facebook pages from time to time to guard their national interests. Malicious comments posted in Facebook can hurt the religious sentiments of certain group of people. In such cases, there is no alternative except for blocking of these pages. Ultimately we are living in a society where we can’t grant anyone to enjoy total freedom of expression for abusing anybody. In public interest, certain curbs have to be placed on freedom of expression. The freedom of expression means that people have the right to express themselves in a civilised manner

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