August 2017

Future of e-Governance in a South Asian Sub Region

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Harshita Bhatnagar
National ICT Expert Asian Development Bank

ADB’s vision is an Asia and Pacific region free of poverty. Its mission is to help its developing member countries reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of their people. ADB is committed to reducing poverty through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration, writes Harshita Bhatnagar, National ICT Expert, Asian Development Bank, for Elets News Network (ENN).

“The South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme of ADB brings together seven countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in a project-based partnership.”

Based in Manila, ADB is owned by 67 members, including 48 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance. Currently, the Asian economy is growing at the rate of 5.9 per cent per annum. Asia is home to approximately 60 per cent of the world’s population. Collaboration in various areas is imperative for the growth of Asia.

South Asian

South Asia region is one of the fastest growing economic regions. Collaborating through ICTs in South Asia has produced good results. The large IT workforce in India and China has been instrumental in ICT advancements in the south asian region.

Regional Integration through South Asian Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).

Regional integration is one of the important ways through which ADB works to achieve its vision. It is worthwhile to introduce the efforts regional development initiative by ADB, especially in the field of ICT.

The South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme of ADB brings together seven countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in a project-based partnership. The objective of this partnership is to promote regional prosperity by improving cross-border connectivity, boosting trade among member countries, and strengthening regional economic cooperation to build a better quality of life for the people of the sub region. SASEC countries share a common vision of boosting intraregional trade and cooperation in South Asia, while also developing connectivity and trade with Southeast Asia through Myanmar, to the People’s Republic of China, and the global market. SASEC programme was launched in 2001. It has entered its 16th year of implementation this year.

SASEC Information Highway Project (SASEC IH)

Essentially, future lies in the integration between South Asian countries for social and trade development goals. To achieve this objective a futuristic Information Highway project was conceptualised by SASEC in 2011.

This project is being implemented in four of the SASEC countries, namely, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Border towns have been selected to provide high speed cross –country connectivity. Multi-Lateral Regional Government Co-Operative Network Agreements as well as bilateral infrastructure agreements were signed between the relevant ministries of these four countries. The project is being implemented through four implementation agencies with delegated powers of controlling Ministries in all four countries. Kathmandu, Dhaka, Thimpu and Siliguri are the regional hubs in participating countries.

Information Highway project has three components: Village Network(VN), Regional Network (RN), and SASEC Research and Training Network (RTN). The SASEC VN permits high speed access to rural communities through the CeCs or Community eCenters.

While VN and RTN are IT infrastructure improvement projects that have provided Optical Fiber(OF) based networks to the rural communities in four participant countries in the defined geographic region. The utility of both these networks has been fully achieved by the third component of SASEC IH project, that is, Research and Training Network (RTN). The RTN is dedicated network between four countries and resources are shared between them. RTN provides direct peering between the four countries. Thr RTN provides essential services in three areas:

  • Education through ICT
  • Rural Development and business promotion through ICT
  • Telemedicine

A set of 31 distance learning (DL) courses have been developed on open source LMS -Moodle. Students can access these courses through Citizen e-Centres or CeCs (called Common Service Centers in India) for as low as Rs 100-200 for a full course on Information Security, Basic of Farming and many more. RTN portal also offers the option of ecommerce portal- Village Bazaar to local businesses. For a small registration fee, villages can sell their products through the portal. The third and very important component of RTN is Telemedicine project.

Telemedicine Module under SASEC Research and Training Network Noteworthy features of telemedicine module under SASEC RTN are that internet access is not required, sites are connected through VPN; doctors at referral hospital can enable instruments at remote site and take readings, and the software interface is very user friendly.

Telemedicine module is a part of the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation– Information Highway (SASEC-IH) Project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme is an initiative to promote economic cooperation between Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India. Regional Training Centres ( RTC) have been created in all the four countries.

SASEC RTN component has a telemedicine project. This project is benefitting difficult to reach communities in the South Asian sub-region by providing them medical facilities. For example, in Nepal, Telemedicine System connects Dhulikhel Hospital, as referral hospital and Baluwa Outreach Center, Pachakhal, as a remote site to provide tele-health services to the villagers living around the Baluwa Outreach Center. In India, MMCH, Guwahati will be the referral hospital connected to Sualkuchi Primary Health Centre Research and Training Network.

Future Trends

SASEC Operational Plan 2016-2025 was launched last year. It is a 10-year strategic roadmap, SASEC members gather regularly to discuss and address shared interests, creating support and ownership for the program at the policy level as well as practical collaboration at the technical working level. The SASEC operational plan will adhere to the twin pillars of country ownership and partnership that have anchored the SASEC programme in the past.

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