In an exclusive interview to e-gov team, Chandrashekhar communicates his vision and future strategies for ensuring the success of the programme.
Government of India has recently announced National e-Governance plan. Do you think there is a need of common e-governance plan for entire country given the cultural and administrative diversity of states and government agencies?
We believe it is necessary for several reasons. First of all, the great power of ICT based governance is its ability to integrate across the silos which exist in the government whether the silos are of departments or levels of governments at central or state level and its potential to provide a level of convenience, accessibility, transparency to a citizen which has never been possible earlier. Secondly, there are certain states which are more progressive, more advanced and have devoted more energy to this and perhaps some of them also have many IT competencies within the state. So, naturally they have progressed faster whereas other states have not progressed to that extent. There is a lot that the states which are lagging behind can gain by picking up some of the examples from the successful states and then applying them under the NeGP framework. The availability of a plan like NeGP which has inbuilt in it an element to transfer such knowledge, skills and practices is beneficial in accelerating the process in these states. It is therefore clear that it is necessary to have that kind of plan, which, while providing a common framework leaves everybody with enough flexibility to plan as per their priorities. NeGP does exactly that.
India is one of the countries having maximum number of pilot projects initiated by the individual departments or so called ‘champions’. Lots of money has already been spent on these projects. What happens to these projects once NeGP is implemented?
NeGP consist of projects, which have been under implementation even before the NeGP came into picture, projects which were conceptualised earlier but have taken a shape only after NeGP and lastly, projects that are even now at a very conceptual stage. Now, the point is, that NeGP has a certain vision and a driving philosophy. It is important to understand that e-Governance is not the same as computerisation in the government. We have had computerisation in the government right from 1980s onwards but the difference is that in e-Governance, it is citizen and service orientation that requires a whole lot of other things in addition to merely applying ICT. A lot of the projects which were done in the past and which were at various stages of implementation, did not necessarily have the citizen orientation. What has been done under NeGP is to realign those projects and bring out very clearly and explicitly the citizen orientation. Therefore it is not a question of either dropping whatever was done and planning something else or what was done earlier being wasted but making certain course corrections, which make investments more effective and productive from the point of view of a citizen.
Invariably most plans have timelines of implementation as their central component. Are there definite timelines for Mission mode projects in the NeGP?
As I said NeGP is a framework and there are large number of projects under NeGP. You need to go down one or two steps from NeGP to start talking about the timeline. You cannot talk about the timeline for NeGP but there is a timeline for a particular project in NeGP or a particular service in the NeGP.
Have timelines for various mission mode projects as mentioned in NeGP been defined?
It has been defined very clearly for some of the projects, it is being defined for some of the other projects and for some projects, it is still too early to talk about the timeline where the conceptualisation is still to be completed. In NeGP, there are 25 mission mode projects – some of these are at central level and some of these are at state level. One state sector mission mode project at a national level translates into 29 state projects. The timeline in each state can be different because of different levels of development. In some states there are specific timelines and in some they are not yet in place. One needs to look at each case.
Is EAF (e-Government Assessment Framework of GoI) the only instrument to evaluate projects? If yes, are the evaluation criteria mentioned in EAF comprehensive? Who evaluates the projects under EAF?
At the moment, yes. We have evolved EAF after a lot of discussion. It has not yet been put into practice because actual process of assessment is still to take place. One of the basic features of NeGP is that all projects should have service level goal and should be independently assessed after completion with reference to the goal. We feel EAF is a good basis to start but we are also fairly certain that it will not be the final thing and it will still evolve as we start applying it and understand the limitations. But it captures what we understand best now. Now we are working out a mechanism where EAFwould be applied by independent agencies. A process has already been initiated where organisations which have the competency to undertake such assessments have been invited to carry out the assessments of different projects.
What are the plans to take citizen feedback into account while designing e-Government projects?
Well in many of the projects now there is a concept of stakeholder analysis to see who all are likely to be impacted by a project in terms of people within the government, people outside the government, institutions and so on. There are cases where certain amount of consultation has taken place, like Department of Company Affairs. Consultations were held with representatives of companies, institutions like Institute of Chartered Accountants, Company Secretaries and so on. However, the practical aspect is, in some cases it is difficult to actually speak to the citizens who are likely to be impacted. I would like to emphasise that even if the consultation with citizens is not there at the stage of design, it can be brought in later for further improvement. Secondly a lot of people in government are also users, so in most of the cases there is a popular understanding of what a citizen really wants. Initially it may be based on some subjective impression. These subjective impressions are unlikely to be totally wrong. They can be improved further based on the feedback.
Do you think the percentage of the entire budget allocated for assessment and capacity building is enough for ensuring success of NeGP?
We have envisaged about 4% of the budget for capacity building. I think this 4% needs to be understood in the right context. There is a lot of capacity building in each project and that expenditure is incurred as a part of that project cost. When I talk about budget allocation for capacity building, it is other than the capacity building in each individual project. The bulk of capacity building is actually done in and as a part of each project. Realistically speaking if you look at the total expenditure on capacity building it should be of the order between 10 to 20 %. That includes expenditure on training, continuous improvement of the staff and their capabilities, educating and making people aware of projects and so on.
Most of the long term plans are made taking into account the future needs of the users and governments. Has any study been conducted for need assessment of citizens in next ten years?
Quite frankly, I don’t think that we have tried to look very far ahead for a particular project. I think we also need to understand that the first steps are far more basic and once we have reached a certain level of e-Governance, then only you can start having a look ahead in terms of technology, demand pattern, or citizen behavior. In most of the cases I don’t think we have reached the level where we can look that far. But at the conceptual level and within the framework of NeGP, the look ahead is quite far into the future. The whole concept of integrated service delivery, concept of integrated access point, community access centers is being created looking at a timeframe of 10 years.
“…as far as e-Governance is concerned it is a little bit like economic liberalisation. People have realised certain global and national imperatives.”
How do you see the financing model of NeGP and what role private sector would play in it?
The NeGP has a part of it focussed on public-private partnership, which means it is looking at the areas which are amenable to private sector participation or which can be done more efficiently by the private partner in terms of service delivery and so on and areas which are amenable to funding by private organisations. In terms of technical resources, the NeGP has a much higher level of ambition than what we had earlier both in terms of areas being covered as well as the kind of goals that are being targeted. This requires much higher levels of technical resources and therefore we have moved away from using purely governmental technical resources for every activity.
What role Common Service Centres will play in ushering e-Governance in our country?
CSCs are a critical element of e-Government but they also pose a very unique challenge. It is a chicken and egg problem. If CSCs are not there then there are no outlets for delivery of e-Governance services in rural areas and if there are no e-Governance services then CSCs have a big problem of viability. So in a sense the challenge is to make sure that CSCs and e-Governance services come up and they support each other. The way that it has been envisaged in NeGP, CSCs will become viable by a combination of government and private sector services. This is one of the mission mode projects in NeGP and we are going to unveil soon the details of that programme. We are actively working on that program and submitting a proposal within the government for approval very soon.
Many industry players point out that at present standardisation, interoperability and security are the key concerns in implementing e-Government in India. What do you have to say about them? How will you address them?
Within the government, integration and standardisation has been looked at as a part of the NeGP. An institutional mechanism has been envisaged and is being put into place. Decisions have been taken to drive the entire standardisation process on a continuous basis. I think that aspect has been fairly understood and necessary processes have been put in place. Additionally, if there is any concern that anyone has about standardisation, there is mechanism and a forum for dealing with those issues, at least within the government.
As far as security is concerned there is no doubt that as we move into a more network and web-based architecture, security is going to be a major concern and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There is a whole body of work here and whole new organisations are coming up to look at this. Before any project migrates to a 100% digital mode, security audit is invariably being done and brought in as a regular feature in implementation.
Which are the successful e-Government projects in India that have been scaled from the pilot stage to the state/ National level?
If you take in the state sector, land records is one project where half a dozen states have them online. In registration there are at least 6 to 10 states where the entire process has been rolled out all over the state. We are also seeing that in the municipal sector some urban bodies have been fairly effective in implementing e-Governance projects. At the national level, Income tax is one project that has gone quite far with fairly ambitious goals. So there are many such areas where roll-outs have happened; and we are not talking about pilots but about a large number of locations. In government a large number would mean a few hundred or maybe a few thousand locations.
It has been seen that national e-governance plans are not successful unless backed by the highest levels in the government? Is it a fact in India too?
It is a fact all over the world that major national plans are not successful unless they are backed by political and administrative support at the highest level. In India, it is strongly supported at political and administrative level, as NeGP is a part of the National Common Minimum Programme. There is an Apex committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary at the centre and most state committees are headed by Chief Secretaries. Both at GoI and state government level typically these committees are serviced by the Department of IT. So there are systems in place, which channel the high level political and administrative support to the whole programme and it is required precisely because this programme cuts across various departments and doesn’t relate to one single department.
How will change of government at the center impact NeGP?
Any change of government has impact on every single plan of government. But as far as e-Governance is concerned it is a little bit like economic liberalisation. People have realised certain global and national imperatives. Therefore while there may be changes in priorities and focus, a little here and there and may be some refinement, the National e-Governance Plan has been accepted across the system and therefore is not something, which is subject to such fluctuation.
Does the institutional infrastructure available in the country to support this e-Governance program?
I would look at it in two ways – the institutional framework within the government and outside the government and the institutional framework to drive the program both technically and managerialy. We have identified certain deficiencies there and it is also a major area of concern. A plan of action has been formulated as the first and the highest priority in NeGP. In fact the first allocation made by Planning Commission for NeGP in the last financial year, was for capacity building and institutional capacity. So, this is something which has been well recognised and is being addressed. I won’t say it has been sorted out but it will take a certain amount of time. As far as capacity outside the government is concerned there are a lot of capacities like IITs, RECs/NITs and Indian Institutes of Management and so on, which have the competencies and capabilities. But many of them have not devoted much attention or focus on e-Governance. This is an area where we would like to see a lot more of attention and involvement. Even from the institution’s point of view there is a serious limitation of right kind of faculty and trainers. Even among those who have the interest, there are problems at several levels.
In this new framework of e-Governance, what happens to the older organisations like NIC which have been providing support?
NIC has been the premier technical organisation in the government and it will continue to be so. But as we go into new kinds of implementation like public private partnerships and also as we are getting a larger number of players, the NIC has to provide the technical support and technology input into the whole program, especially strategic. Secondly, for security or other reasons it is not possible to bring in third parties for all the technical solutions. The role of a premier organisation like NIC should shift to such core areas, while peripheral areas like project implementation activity can be done by other organisations or companies.