January 2015

IT Man of the Year: R S Sharma

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As we were picking and choosing the personalities to feature in eGov magazine’s Annual Leaders’ Special Issue, one name that figured repeatedly is that of Ram Sewak Sharma, IAS. Sharma was one of the two key persons responsible for the rollout of Aadhaar cards, and now the Biometric Attendance System for the central government employees. Nirmal Anshu Ranjan of Elets News Network (ENN) profiles the bureaucrat, for whom digital coding has been a favourite pastime

beach wedding dressesThe genius of Sharma saw its first public display in 1986, when he wrote a programme in DBASE, a programming language, to keep a record of stolen firearms in a district. As soon as a firearm would be found, the programme would run a search query among thousands of age-old records. To one’s surprise, as many as 22 firearms theft cases were solved barely over a period of a month. His colleagues say, he can chalk out eloquent policies to make better use of technology in governance like nobody else can.

Initial Days

Born in 1955 in a small village in Agra district of Uttar Pradesh, Sharma’s early education took place in Firozabad and he did his graduation from the University of Allahabad in 1974. After completing his Masters in Mathematics from IIT, Kanpur in 1976, he joined the Indian

Administrative Service (IAS) in 1978. Later, in 2000, he also went for doing his Masters in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside.

Prior to his current assignment, the Jharkhand cadre IAS officer played memorable innings in the state as its Chief Secretary; Director General, UIDAI; Principal Secretary, Jharkhand (Public Health and Engineering); Secretary-IT, Human Resource Development, Panchayati Raj, Personnel and Drinking Water & Sanitation; Principal Secretary to the Governor; Deputy Development Commissioner in Saharsa; District Collector in Begusarai, Purnea and Dhanbad; Joint Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Finance; and Nodal Officer for the IMF, MIGA and GEF.

The attendance.gov.in website is already up and currently keeping a track of the log-in and log-out data of almost 50,000 government employees in real-time

Days in Jharkhand

Talking about his key initiatives as the then Chief Secretary, he said, ‘‘The Jharkhand Government recognises the power and potential of new technologies. We understand how new technologies can lead to improvement in the quality of people’s lives. We believe that the developments in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be effectively leveraged to deliver a variety of information and services to the citizens effectively and efficiently.”

Sharma also did a remarkable job during 2003-2006, The attendance.gov.in website is already up and currently keeping a track of the log-in and log-out data of almost 50,000 government employees in real-time as the then Secretary, Department of Information Technology in Jharkhand. Under his able leadership, Jharkhand was the first state in the country to commence State-Wide Area Network (SWAN). Way back in June 2006, he had told eGov magazine: “In the context of SWAN, we are the first state in the entire country, which has already appointed an operator and consultant. SWAN commenced operations in February this year. So, we are way ahead than many states in India.”

It was for these very achievements that Sharma was honoured with the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration in 2008. That says a lot about the calibre of the ‘IT Sewak of India’, as eGov magazine described him sometime back.

Unlike the routine practice of shifting bureaucrats when a new government takes over, the NDA Government chose to retain the DeiTY Secretary appointed during the previous regime. Currently he is spearheading some key policies, which are part of the Narendra Modi-led Government’s ambitious Digital India initiative. Sharma has earned this confidence through years of dedication to and innovation in his work, which few can boast of.

Biometric Attendance

The latest feather in the cap of the silver-haired Sharma, exuberating a young-forever persona, is the Aadhaar platform- based attendance system in the central government offices. The cheap and publicly-available-on-the-Internet tool is set to revolutionise governance in the country as far as punctuality of the officials and staff is concerned. The attendance.gov.in website is already online and currently keeping a track of the log-in and log-out data of almost 50,000 government employees in real-time. The public reporting of the data is sure to pressure supervisors to ensure compliance.

The system can be searched, down to the names of individual employees, and all the data is available for download. With this single step, the visionary IAS officer has introduced a level of accountability and transparency that India’s sprawling bureaucracy has conventionally not been used to. Although the system cannot track people leaving in-between the check-in and check-out time, it can certainly track habitual late comers.

However, what remains most interesting aspect of the biometric attendance system is that it saw its origin not in the national capital, but in the state of Jharkhand, which Sharma served as the Chief Secretary after being relieved from the Aadhaar project in 2013-14.

As he returned to his home cadre, Sharma decided to set right the late-coming habit of both officers and staff — a chronic administrative problem that almost all government offices in the country have to deal with. The worked on a solution, in close association with two UIDAI officials there, and got the code crafted.

The idea clicked and the government employees, who already had their Aadhaar numbers, would use their fingerprints—captured during the enrolment process— to register their attendance. The inexpensive biometric scanners would read their finger prints, send the data to the UIDAI’s servers to authenticate them, confirm the match to the employee and, finally, the attendance was displayed on a website on attendance. jharkhand.gov.in in January 2014. Ans it all happened within seconds.

J’khand Model Replicated

In May 2014, when Sharma was brought back in New Delhi as the DeiTY Secretary, he and his department made a presentation to the Prime Minister. As the Jharkhand prototype synced well with the new government’s Digital India programme, it was decided to introduce the system in all central government offices in New Delhi by October 2014. And, thus it went on a roll.

The system can have broader application. “In Jharkhand, it has already been taken to the district level and can be even expanded to government-run hospitals and schools. It can also be used, for instance, to track the number of mid-day meal beneficiaries in government schools and then compare that with the actual spending on the programme to ascertain leakages… This can become an extremely powerful tool for governance,” Sharma told a news agency recently.

As he returned to Jharkhand in 2013, Sharma decided to set right the late-coming habit of both officers and staff — a chronic administrative problem that almost all government offices in the country have to deal with.. They worked on a solution, in close association with two UIDAI officials there, and got the code crafted

Landmark Achievements

Some of the other major IT initiatives Sharma had been closely associated with are: Aadhaar-based Public Distribution System (PDS) in Jharkhand; ambitious Digital Locker project of DeiTY; revamping of MMPs; e-Bhasha – a platform to promote use of Indian languages in ICT; Mobile Seva – an initiative aimed to give boost to mobile governance in the country; MyGov.in – a digital platform to promote participative governance; Jeevan Praman – digital life certificate for pensioners; SMS-based weather alert system, .bharat domain in Gujarati and Bangla, apart from other languages; Time Stamping of Digital Signature; Integrated Indian Languages Virtual Keyboard for Android; PARAM Shavak (Super Computer in box solution); and Gyansetu – an internet-based real-time ICT system to provide e-Services to the rural population of India.

Besides, he is also closely associated with probably the world’s largest-ever Rs 113,000-crore project e-Kranti (E-revolution) under next phase of the National e-Governance Plan – NeGP 2.0. It will roll out broadband to all villages and digitise all records in government offices and shift them to the globally accessible online storage space using the Cloud Computing.

One hopes that R S Sharma has much more up his sleeves to stun the nation and serve the people of India with. To use his own words, as he left Ranchi for New Delhi to take over as the DeiTY Secretary, “A new journey. But for me, every day, every assignment is an exciting challenge.” We wish him all success in every ‘exciting challenge’!

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