The National Informatics Centre (NIC) designs ICT-based solutions to fulfil the vision in accordance with the Digital India framework, guides a team of professionals to prepare the technical and management plans to implement the solutions across the country and ensures that the project is implemented properly and in true spirit, says S B Singh, Deputy Director General, NIC, in an exclusive interview with Gautam Debroy of Elets News Networks (ENN)
How do you rate the success of NIC since its inception?
National Informatics Centre (NIC) was established in the mid of 70s as a UNDP project, since then it has grown with tremendous momentum to become one of India’s major Science and Technology organisations promoting informatics-led development in the country. This has helped to usher in the required transformation in government to ably meet the challenges of the new millennium. It has not only emerged as prime builder of e-Government/ e-Governance applications up to the grassroot level, but has also evolved as a promoter of digital opportunities for sustainable development.
During the last three decades, NIC has implemented many network centric application software for programme implementation in various ministries and departments, using state-of-the-art technology software tools. During 1980s and early part of 1990s, the policy thrust was on creating Management Information System (MIS) and Decision Support System (DSS) for development, planning and responsive administration in governments which led to the genesis of present day e-Governance/ e-Government. Bridging the Digital Divide, Social and Financial Inclusion through ICT 32 egov / egov.eletsonline.com / December 2015 and ‘Reaching-the-unreached’ concepts were tried and made operational in the late nineties. The 21st century saw a major shift in the Information Technology and the focus shifted to extension of government services to citizens using ICT.
Here too, NIC has been instrumental in steering e-Governance applications in government ministries/departments at the Centre, States, Districts and Blocks, facilitating improvement in delivery of government services, wider transparency, promoting decentralised planning and management, resulting in better efficiency and accountability to the people of India.
The journey from NICNET (VSAT based NIC Network) to National Knowledge Network (NKN), connecting institutions/ organisations carrying out research and development, Higher Education and Governance with speed of the order of multi Gigabytes per second and desktop-based systems to ‘Cloud Computing’ (Meghraj) and National Data Centre (NIC), has been at the forefront of Government Computerisations all these years.
Tell us about your role in digital India mission?
The Digital India programme focuses on preparing India for the knowledge- based transformation and delivering good governance to citizens by synchronised and coordinated engagement with both Central Government and State Government. It seeks to provide services to the citizens’ right at their doorstep by integrating them across departments and jurisdictions and making them available in real time for both online and on-mobile platform. It talks of extending high-speed secure Internet to the grassroot level, digital infrastructure, digital empowerment, digital literacy and availability of digital resources or services in Indian languages. It covers electronic services, products, devices, manufacturing and job opportunities and promises inclusive growth.
My role in the Digital India Framework encompasses understanding the vision of GoI and respective Ministries in terms of IT-based services to the citizens and design ICT-based solutions to fulfill the vision in accordance with the Digital India Framework. The role also includes guiding a team of professionals to prepare the technical and management plans for implementing the solutions across the country and ensureing that the project is implemented in its full potential and true spirit. As you can see, the entire Digital India concept is based on services (technology enablement, consolidation across departments & GPR) and networks. All these years, NIC has been working in these areas in the Central Ministries, State Government and with District Administration.
Tell us some of the new projects you are implementing for eGovernment and eGovernance applications?
One of the major areas I am working on currently is the Digitise India Programme through crowd sourcing. It is one of the critical eGovernance initiatives of DeitY for the Digital India Programme and has been envisioned as an end-to-end workflow based IT framework for digitisation of government records and to empower citizens, students, housewives across the country to self-identify as volunteers and contribute towards the gigantic task of digitisation of these records. It’s a fairly new concept in the country, especially in the area of Government Informatics.
The second project I am working on is to transform GoI vision of Skill India into reality through a web portal that keeps the records of both – the employable skill sets and the employer. The plan, already approved by the Ministry of Skill Development, proposes the Skill India portal as a multi-tenant and configurable platform. It will work as a national career service to provide opportunities to millions of skilled youth from various parts of the country both from the urban and rural area and will facilitate all the stakeholders to get onboard both from the supply and demand side of the labour market.
Many new IT-based programmes have been initiated for the Ministry of Tourism such as development of Hotel Cloud for accessing online classification, approval and occupancy of hotels, e–registration system for travel trade service providers and development of institute management system for online admissions, where the students aspiring for Hotel and Catering Management Degree/Certificate can apply online without any hassle. For the Ministry of Sports, we are in the process of launching a Sports Connect Conclave for celebrating success of past and current champions by bringing them together on a single podium, using the Internet to spread awareness about their achievements and stories, and connect fans with their idols. The Sports Connect Programme with creation of a single window system for information on journals, e-books, scholarships, schemes, job opportunities, sports facilities and sports news is also included. In addition, many other activities are planned such as e-museum – showcasing India’s sporting history with videos, pictures and memorabilia, ICT-enabled Talent Hunt data collection for identification of talent at the grass-root level, mandating information flow on talented individuals from schools, colleges and other institutions and creating a sports-related statistics database to house a range of data on Indian sport disciplines and sportspersons, their records, statistics, performance, match details, etc
I am also looking after the Custom Computerisation at the National level. It is a mission mode project running on a 24*7 basis at the various Sea ports, Air Cargoes, Dry Ports and Border sites across the country. Currently, ICES is operational at 134 major customs locations handling nearly 98 percent of India’s international trade in terms of import and export consignments. Internal automation of the custom house has led to a comprehensive, paperless, fully-automated customs clearance system that makes the functioning of customs clearance transparent and efficient. Online, real-time electronic interface with the trade, transporters, banks and regulatory agencies concerned with customs clearance of import and export cargo through ICEGATE is also a major component of ICES.
If we talk about rural as well as urban India (Smart City), how does NIC work? Is it able to deliver government services to the citizens?
Yes, I am proud to say that when it comes to enabling government services, NIC is one organisation which has contributed equally for the urban as well as rural areas. One of the key factors which influences it is the reach of NIC that extends to all the Ministries/ Departments of the Central Government, 35 State Governments/Union Territories, and TECH PLATFORM about 625 district administrations of India.
Another critical factor is that NIC has vast expertise and experience in the design, development and operationalisation of various eGovernment projects in the areas of public administration and governance like agriculture and food, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry and environment, industry, health, education, budget and treasury, fiscal resources, transport, water resources, court management, rural development, land records and property registration, culture and tourism, import and exports facilitation, social welfare services, micro-level planning, etc. All these constitute the building blocks of the smart city concept. Many citizen- centric services are also being rendered electronically at the district level, such as income certificate, caste certificate and residence certificate, etc., along with other services like scholarship portals, permits, passes, licenses through the applications developed by NIC.
How do you find the use of ICT in various government departments?
Some departments have done exceptionally well in adopting ICT and the best practices in their working and they are providing uninterrupted services to all the stake holders, including citizens. One of the major projects that I initiated in Uttar Pradesh as the State Informatics Officer was the eScholarship project that not only helped the students in getting scholarships directly in their bank accounts without hassle, but also helped the State Government in saving nearly Rs. 400 crores every year by limiting the bogus and fake scholarship applicants.
There are many similar cases across the country where the adoption of technology has led to a win-win situation for all stake holders. Nevertheless, a lot needs to be done and I think it’s time for integration of various services and Central and State Governments are working towards it. We have also created application repositories like eAppStore at the national level that will provide the different applications in the NIC domain to be available to all the State Governments, ministries and departments wishing to implement similar projects.