December 2013

e-Governance for better services

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Amod“The vision of e-Governance will be realised when a person does not have to visit any government office from the time of his birth or death; he should be able to conduct his business with the government virtually. In my opinion the physical interaction between the government departments and the citizens is the root cause of all the problems like corruption, favouritism, etc.,” says Amod Kumar

When you were serving as the DM of Sitapur, you launched some innovative e-Governance initiatives. Please tell us about these projects and the kind of impact they had on the lives of the people.

It was in December 2004, when I was the DM of Sitapur, that we started the Lokvani initiative. During that time the DM’s office still worked with manual typewriters. I was concerned over the poor functioning of the state apparatus, which was responsible for massive delays in delivery. Bribery was another factor. At that time the Common Service Centre model had not been developed, and I got the idea of starting Lokvani initiative, when I heard of some unsuccessful e-Governance projects that had been launched in nearby states. Lokvani was a very revolutionary concept not only because we were using the online medium to reach out to the people in an area where net penetration was quite low, and also because we planned to charge the citizens a nominal amount when they used the Lokvani system. We established the society called Lokvani which signed contracts with kiosk owners, registering them as franchisee owners. We came up with improved software to make lodging of complaints easy. The public could come to the Lokvani kendras and place their grievances e-Governance for better services Amod Kumar (IAS) Honorary Consultant to Chief Minister Government of Uttar Pradesh and queries before the government through the web platform. The vendors charged a nominal amount per transaction from each complainant. From these small amounts we covered the cost of the Lokvani cell that had been formed at the district headquarters. At the end of the day, the DM’s office used to resolve the complaints and post the solutions on the same web platform for the public to see the next day. We also placed lot of important information related to government on the Lokvani website, so that people could see it. The scheme was liked by the people and we decided to expand it across the state. The thing is that technology must be used for providing better services and relief to the citizens. We have now made the applications coming on the Tehsil Divas online, so if anyone has an application pending in Tehsil Divas, he can check its status by going online. This facility is now available across the state. In case of Tehsil Divas the user also gets an SMS alert when his application is disposed.

MSAKHI

mSakhi is an interactive mobile phone application that provides critical maternal and newborn health information to frontline health workers—accredited social health activists (ASHAs)—and serves as an interpersonal counseling tool to support ASHAs’ interaction with women and communities. Operations research on mSakhi is being conducted with 90 ASHAs in Bahraich District to test the effectiveness of the application by comparing the knowledge of 45 ASHAs and the adoption of health behaviors by 480 of their beneficiaries in an experimental group and the same number of ASHAs and beneficiaries in a control group.

You are credited with the launch of many e-Governance schemes. In 2010 you launched the system of using IVRS to audit the mid-day meal scheme in Uttar Pradesh. Tell us about it.

The idea behind the scheme was to get the confirmed figures for the numbers of students who have consumed midday meals. There are about 150000 schools in Uttar Pradesh and by evening we get the confirmed figures of students who have had mid-day meals in each school. We have the database of the mobile numbers of the teachers and the headmasters, an automatic call gets sent to each one of them, and in response to that call, they key in the numbers of the students who have had midday meals and by evening we see the number for the entire state in the website. When we launched the scheme, it was a great risk, as till then we did not have any monitoring system based on IVRS. We also needed to have an efficient system for making calls to more than 150000 teachers within a span of two hours. We were not quite sure when we launched the scheme, if we would get the accurate data or not. But eventually we were able to make the scheme a success. The system of daily audit through IVRS has reduced instances of principals overstating the number of beneficiaries, while also encouraging principals to expand or adopt the programme for fear of being criticised for inaction. After audits began, the percentage of schools without mid-day meal schemes or not in compliance has dropped to a substantial extent.

What kind of model did you use for this IVRS based midday meal audit scheme?

We finished the project by engaging a private vendor. The entire technological part of the project was outsourced to a private organisation. We did not pay the vendor for the hardware, software, maintenance or the training, we only pay the vendor for the data that he provides us. The vendor was selected by Uttar Pradesh Development Systems Corporation Limited (UPDESCO). I must say that the vendor who bid for the project also took a big risk as this project, at the time of its launch, was unproven technologically or managerially, but eventually it has worked very well.

Lot of other things have also been happening in Uttar Pradesh in the area of e-Governance. You have been using Information Technology to bring transparency to the deployment of Home Guards. Please shed light on this project .

Earlier there used to be lot of complaints and even allegations of corruption in the way the Home Guards were being deployed in the state. So now we have started using IT to automatically decide the system by which the Home Guards have to be deployed. In Uttar Pradesh, Home Guards get deployed by software that has been developed after lot of research. The system works by taking the preferences from the individual Home Guards, we feed the demand, we feed the number of personnel that are available and then the system randomly allocates the Home Guards to different locations. This has brought lot of efficiency and transparency to the system of deployment. Lot of work is being done in Uttar Pradesh in the area of e-Governance. The State Government is of the view that if services of any government department can be automated, then they should be automated. We have started with the automation in the processes of 8 critical departments. One of these departments is the revenue department; we have found that the services that are mostly required by vast majority of common people are related to the revenue department. Then there are our welfare programmes – women welfare, child welfare, minority welfare and other welfare programmes.

Currently you serve as the Project Director in Manthan. What kind of work are you doing through this organisation?

Basically Manthan is running experiments to improve maternal and neonatal health in the state and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project works closely with the state government and the private sector to increase coverage of evidence-based maternal and newborn health interventions during antenatal care, delivery, the immediate postpartum period, and neonatal period. Under this project we plan collaboratively with the state government and other stakeholders to strengthen maternal and newborn health programs. We are demonstrating and documenting strategies to expand evidence-based maternal and newborn health interventions in two districts, Jhansi and Bahraich. We are also advocating at the district, state, and national levels to promote widespread adoption and scale-up of evidence based maternal and newborn health interventions and strategies.

The Government of Uttar has also started a mobile application called mSakhi. Please tell us about it.

The mSakhi mobile is a versatile application for supporting the ASHAs in communicating with and caring for their patients. As you would know the mSakhi means mobile friend in Hindi. It is an interactive tutorial that offers several key health messages on prenatal and delivery care, postpartum mother and newborn care, immunization, postpartum family planning, and nutrition using a combination of text messages, audio, and illustrations all contextualized with localized illustrations and dialects. Currently the mSakhi project is in the pilot stage and soon it will be launched across the state. The biggest challenge in healthcare for a state like Uttar Pradesh is lack of human resources, like trained doctors, nurses. The supply chain management is also an issue. With modern technology we can try to bridge the gap to a certain extent.

The Government of Uttar Pradesh is now coming up with a system for putting all government orders online. Please tell us about it.

There is a project of this kind in Andhra Pradesh, so our plan is to replicate this project in Uttar Pradesh, if possible, in a better manner. Once this system is in place in Uttar Pradesh, people will be able to see all government orders online, instead of having to visit the government offices. If a government order is sent to someone, and he has not received it for any reason, he can just go to the government website and download the relevant order. We are trying to introduce this measure in small steps, initially a few departments are being put online and after that a few more and so on. An effort is also being made to track the movement of files by using the barcode system. We are also planning to start a public grievance portal that will enable people to post their grievances online. This will basically be a mechanism to put the person who has a complaint in touch with the person or the department that is in position to find a solution to that problem.

When it comes to promoting IT in governance and in other sectors, what is the biggest obstacle that a state like Uttar Pradesh faces?

When it comes to e-Governance, it is change management that is a big issue.How do you convince people to adopt new ways of doing things through Information Technology?How do you make people change their attitudes towards new technologies? Everyone has their own views and opinions about how things should be done, and at times it becomes difficult to engineer change through better technologies at a faster pace. It is also a fact that Uttar Pradesh is a geographically large state, there is a very large population and there is so much of diversity that has to be taken into account.

The biggest challenge in healthcare for a state like Uttar Pradesh is lack of human resources, like trained doctors, nurses

Finally, please tell us about your vision for e-Governance.

The vision of e-Governance will be realised when a person should not have to visit any government office from the time of his birth or death, he should be able to conduct his business with the government virtually. In my opinion the physical interaction between the government departments and the citizens is the root cause of all the problems like corruption, favouritism, etc. I agree that there are many situations where the physical interaction has to happen, for instance, if you need a driving licence, you need to be present at the time of giving your driving test. If some checking has to happen on the road, it has to happen physically. Even in areas where the person needs to appear physically, there are very good devices for recording these transactions to avoid any chance of malicious action. I am of the view that the interaction between the government departments and the citizens should be either virtual or it should be recorded, only then we can bring substantial improvement in our governance.

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