We believe that for a state like Kerala, which has 100 percent literacy and large number of people living outside the state, high tele-density and computer literacy is a must for evolving a knowledge society, where e-Governance becomes fully successful,” says P H Kurian, IT Secretary, Kerala (India) to Anuradha Dhar of egov
What is the allocated budget for the e-Government projects in the State?
Kerala is the only state where 3 percent of the planned budget of every department is required to go in its automation. This decision was taken 4 years back. So every department is getting computerised now in some form or the other. But some departments with more public dealing, need to spend more than 3 percent, for instance, department of civil supplies, panchayats, registration, land revenue, motor vehicles. Apart from the 3 percent budget for e-Governance in all the departments, there is e-Governance annual budget of INR1800mn (US$39.11mn) annually.
What are the immediate plans of your department in e-Governance?
The immediate plan is to complete SWAN. Government offices, educational institutions and other service delivery institutions in Kerala will be linked through SWAN project. The successful e-Governance projects like e-Pay and citizen call centers would be made more broad-based. We are committed to GoI rural connectivity also – rural connectivity infrastructure, the plan has been given, we are deliberating on the technology issues. After our proposal gets the approval from the GoI, I think byMarch 2007, the rural connectivity project will be complete. Completion of computerisation of all the panchayats in the state is next pressing issue, since that is where the maximum citizen interaction takes place.
Can you briefly touch upon the major e-Government initiatives of Kerala?
We started off with providing all the services of various departments at one counter. We are working on the billing system currently such as telephone bills, electricity bill, water charges, and so on. We are adding more services one by one. Three months back we had taken a decision to expand this to all the municipalities. Municipal centers not only have the payment system but also they have the added services like the birth certificates, death certificates, and the other services of the municipalities. Now e would be gradually expanding this to panchayats also.
Our next initiative is the digital divide-bridging programme called ‘Akshaya’, under which it is visualised to have the community service centres that we are planning in the national e-Governance programme. This we started in 2002 in Malappuram district of Kerala. These centers are also converted as the service delivery centres, for government payments, for procuring government forms, submitting application forms, whichever department has the backbone in place; those services will get expanded now.
We also believe that for a state like Kerala, which has 100 percent literacy and large number of people living outside the state, high teledensity and computer literacy is a must for evolving a knowledge society, where e-Governance becomes fully successful. To achieve this, we have launched a massive programme for making at least one member in each family e-Literate. To that effect, Malappuram is complete and work in 7 districts is on now. By the end of 2006, we will have around 2800 community centres in place, which will cover 2250-2500 families per centre. By the end of 2007, the e-Literacy will be complete, and all these centres will get connected through broadband under NeGP. Out of 630 centres scattered in Malappuram, 400 odd centres are now stabilised. Now, from these community service centres some government service functions are being done. We also wanted to have the private business to happen from there. The Air India booking, mobile phone bill collection is happening in Malappuram. Then, people are getting the e-Commerce model right now.
In agriculture, we have the farmers undertaking the multi-community exchange for pricing, selling their products through community exchange.
Another of our initiative is the IT enabled link for students. We have a novel project in the Education Department called IT @ school, which aims at providing computer enabled education to all school children of the state in a period of three years. The project is to be implemented initially in the high schools in the state, both Government and private aided in Kerala.
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For college/higher education, we have the state-wide educational grid to cover all colleges and institutions of higher learning, which will facilitate the creation of subject specific e-Learning communities centering on designated institutions as resource centres for various subjects. The objective of the grid is to formulate dynamic partnership between existing institutions of higher educations and centres of excellence for upgrading the quality of course content and teaching.
What are your plans to integrate all the e-Government initiatives in Kerala?
In our Indian system, integrating all departmental functioning is not possible. In other States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, where they have instituted a separate Secretary for e-Governance, all that the Secretaries can do is to push the various departments for e-Governance (they are in the advisory role), but cannot integrate these departments.
But with National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), this is possible. When the NeGP is implemented, we will have the Mission Team. The State Programme Management Teams (PMT) will come to function in all the states. The role of e- Governance department would be to coordinate with the PMT, and then the integration I think, will be possible. Our advantage is that if the infrastructure is in place like the State Data Centres (which are already in place in Kerala), we can have all the portals housed there.
What kind of challenges you are facing in implementation?
Challenges are there – for instance, from the bureaucracy, from the political parties, from the system, it’s basically the change-management. To make the backbone connectivity is the hard part of it. The soft part is managing change, which is not easy not only in Kerala but also in India as a whole. Stakeholders, especially the public, needs to be very strong. When they become vocal, demand services, government is bound to provide the services and bound to become transparent. This is not happening now.
The Information Act has come to be in place now, so probably this would help?
Absolutely, there is no doubt about it. The departments would find it difficult to give answers in the conventional mode, by ducking it out. They would definitely have to provide information. e-Government would ease the handling of the requests. For instance, the panchayat plan – what is the name of the project, how much money is coming, and so on. If all this information is there online, then nobody needs to go to departments for information, they would go to the panchayats and avail of the schemes. Otherwise, the departments used to find it difficult to handle the information requests. Now, all the information could be there in the websites and people have to pay only the Internet charges.
Does Kerala have a State Action Plan for e-Governance?
A plan with budget and milestone is not yet in place in Kerala.
Please tell us about your plans on the capacity building aspect of government officers?
We have the modernisation of government programme – ADB funded programme, which has covered around 3000 government officials covering all the citizen interactions departments. These are all the service delivery improvement officers and International standards of delivery have been benchmarked.
How is the state performing in e-Governance as compared to the other states?
Government of India (GOI) has rated Kerala in the second best group. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra are in the first best group. However, in terms of our reach, we are not very far away. In terms of the number of departments that are digitised, almost all our departments are automated; only thing is they are not full fledged with back-end. Back-end is only there in transport department. Registration is 80% complete. Land record is something like 40% complete. Out of the 1200 panchayats and municipal boards, in 65 of them back-end is complete. As far as the number of departments covered, we are the best compared to other states. In teledensity, nobody can beat us.