Uttaranchal is at fairly an advantageous position as compared to the rest of the country. All treasuries are computerised. The payroll is entirely computerised. It is the first state in the country to do that. e-Governance would be internalized in the functioning of the government, says Sanjeev Chopra, Uttaranchal IT Secretary, in conversation to Prachi Shirur of egov.
What are your plans in taking ahead e-Governance initiatives in Uttaranchal?
In Uttaranchal, as compared to the rest of the country, we are already at fairly an advantageous position. What the e-Governance projects are able to do for the rest of the country, we already have this programme with the World Bank by which we have taken up Bank’s projects which includes development of portals for instance, the social welfare portal, the health monitoring and information system, and a whole set of other services which are going to be integrated with the ‘Uttara’ portal (www.uttara.in), which is being developed. So, in a way, our rollout should be at the end of this year, we are at fairly advanced stage as compared to the rest of the country. Besides, in Uttaranchal, all treasuries are computerized. The pay roll is entirely computerized. We are the first state in the country to do that. So, we hope to internalize e-Governance in the functioning of the government. The other programme that we have is the project ‘Saksham’, each of the 55,000 government employees are going to be trained in basic skills and computer literacy.
What are the key challenges that you are facing in implementing e-Governance projects in your state?
We do not really envisage any problems as such. Our key challenge basically would be to reach out to the remotest region. It is again not an insurmountable challenge. It is a challenge because of the typical terrain that we have; it is an area of vast distances, reaching out to the remoter areas would be more difficult through the existing PPP models. I mean to say, PPP models would not work in the remoter areas, it will work very well in Dehradun, Haridwar and Nainital but not in Chamoli and other places situated high on the hills in Uttaranchal. So, we have to balance, and make sure to link some of the remote districts with the mainstream districts. We need to build the backbone of connectivity to reach out to the remote areas. This is the issue we are trying to address.
What are the initiatives in the area of capacity building and training of the government employees?
Under the project ‘Saksham’, we are taking up the basic capacity building of all our employees. All employees under government of Uttaranchal are going to be computer literate. The process is already started. As far as the computer penetration in our offices is concerned, almost all sections of the various departments are computerised. Regarding the change management, the reluctance to using computers is not there, as it exists in several other states. This is because Uttaranchal is a new state; the average age of government officers is 29-30 years as compared to 39-40 in other states. That makes the acceptance of technology quite easy. Also there is no legacy of earlier system.
Can you please elaborate on what are the other advantages of Uttaranchal as compared to other states in implementing e-Governance?
One of the biggest advantages of Uttaranchal in the government side is that there is no constraint of resources, there is no constraint of political commitment, if the Chief Minister or Chief Secretary is driving e-Governance in the state.
When do you expect Uttaranchal e-Governance roadmap to be ready?
The work is already going on in this regard. Our IT policy has been put up for wider consultation with the stakeholder groups. But the fact that IT policy is still under preparation does not mean that we are not working on the IT side. Our strategy is to make Uttaranchal not just e-Governed; we are looking at IT as one of the main drivers of employment.
Under our project ‘Aarohi’ every child in the school, in all the government schools of Uttaranchal, including Madrasas and Ashram padhatis (traditional educational systems of Muslims and Hindus respectively), will be taught computers. Uttaranchal is the only state in the country where all Madrasas and Ashrams have computers. So the next generation of children is going to come out of school are going to be totally computer literate.
Then, we are implementing the project ‘Shikhar’ for students in the degree college levels. The objective of this project is to impart world class and job oriented IT education to the students of the degree colleges – both governmental and aided – at an affordable cost. Under this project, interested students can do MCA equivalent degrees at a very reasonable cost. So, we hope to roll out a large number of MCA professionals.
Uttaranchal government has entered into collaboration with CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) to set up training for BPO centers, there are about 10-15 BPO training centers here, and 26 BPO call centers which are here for the past 3 years.
We are looking at IT as one of the main drivers for e-Governance, BPO, back office support, trainings- CAT, accounting, legal services and so on.
Uttaranchal is going to be the knowledge center; we already have 9 industries in the state. IT and knowledge go together, that’s how we are looking at a really developing state. So, IT is going to be a very important component in the state’s development plan.
Regarding the e-Governance roadmap being in place, we are very clear about what we want to do. Also, the Government of India’s plans, whether it is SWAN (State Wide Area Network) or CSCs (Common Service Centres), it is very clearly laid out. We already had our meetings as far as the CSCs are concerned. In fact, we already have about 100 CSCs running through the Kisan Soochana Kendras (Information Centres). We have the additional 66 such centres being run at the primary agricultural societies through the IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertilizers Cooperative Limited. We have about 21 Janadhar Soochana Kutirs (Information Centres) that are running under the UNDP programme. So we have already 200 CSCs already operational in Uttaranchal.
In many ways we are more advanced than the roll out plan of the government of India. The latter’s target is to have CSCs by 2007, but we would be able to do it by the end of 2006.
You mentioned introduction of IT in schools of the various religious groups such as Madrasas and Ashrams. Please tell us about what has been their acceptance level?
Their acceptance has been pretty good. The training of the Madrasas’ teachers started by reciting from Quran and went on to computer education. It has been very positive and ambitious experience for all of us because the acceptance of computers and computer learning has to be there. We made the Muslim Education Board the stakeholders in this mission; the Board has been very very proactive. The results have been very very successful.
As far as the acceptance by the Ashram based schools is concerned, the very fact that there is a Haridwar (religious place of Hindus) portal shows that acceptance for IT is definitely there.
What is the allocated budget to the State of Uttaranchal for e-Governance?
This year we spent INR500mn (US$10.75mn) on IT. Next year we plan to double up the expenditures on IT and IT related services and infrastructure. But the important thing is not how much you spend, but how well you spend. Another point that needs to be kept in mind while talking about the IT budget of the state is that the budget comes from various departments and not just from IT department. For instance, the budget for the computer literacy programme comes from the schools; transport department has a lot of computerisation, and the budget comes from transport department. If we calculate the amount spent on IT by different departments other than IT, the amount would be much higher. But let me say this that funds are not a constraint so far as the implementation and development of IT is concerned.
What is your opinion regarding public-private partnership, can it add value to e-Governance?
Definitely yes. I am very clear on this. We need this collaboration; we need this partnership to leverage the strength of both. There are certain very strong advantages, which the government has, and certain advantages of the private sector; if these two work in tandem it is a win-win situation for both. The kind of investments we are talking about, those investments cannot be generated by the private sector, and those have to come from government budgets. And yet resource efficiency, competitive models, planning, customer care, designing systems, that is definitely areas that private sectors have their strengths. Leveraging the strengths of both – public and private sectors – is something, which is very relevant for our country. Ultimately, it is India that must win. And if India is to win, the private, public and the citizens have to go together.