e-Districts going Strong : S. Abbasi, Ministry of Communication and IT, India

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e-Districts are right now in a pilot phase. Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) has more or less completed it, the other schemes will be sanctioned only in March 2009

S. Abbasi

Director, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and IT, Government of India

 “e-Districts are right now in a pilot phase. Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) has more or less completed it, the other schemes will be sanctioned only in March 2009, and then there will be a eighteen month time frame for the pilot phase of the rest of the chosen states which are around twelve in number”

How has been the journey of National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) so far?

For the NeGP as a whole, the core infrastructure should be ready by the end of 2009. Most of the Common Service Centres (CSCs), States Wide Area Network (SWAN) and State Data Centre (SDC) should be functional by the end of 2009 in most of the states. Though it may vary from one state to another. If one looks at the Central Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) such as Income Tax or Customs and Excise, the picture seems pretty good. These are the two MMPs where the project is more or less completed. Moreover, we are coming up with the Passport Seva Project.

Further, there is Ministry of Corporate Affairs-21 (MCA- 21) which has been completed. It is just the state Mission Mode Projects where we are facing a some problems in getting off the ground, and there is still some work left to be completed.

The e-Courts project ( an integrated project), which has implications for the state level also, is already under implementation. Further, Land Records phase II, Municipalities has been sanctioned as well. I believe, these services should take another three to four years to get implemented across the country for all the states.

What was the vision behind e-District and what is the time frame for the completion of the project?

While there are Mission Mode Projects (MMPs), it is possible that there are certain services which fall between the crack. The idea behind the e-Districts project was to address this issue. The idea was to see whether the services which were being delivered traditionally can be digitised and be delivered using the common infrastructure like the Common Service Centres(CSCs), State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and State Data Centres (SDC). For certain other services like birth and death certificates, old-age pension, we were wondering if  these processses can be streamlined, and their delivery made speedier. These services do not require a whole host of back-end computerisation process because once the computerisation happens at the back-end these services can be easily delivered through CSCs. So the entire process is relatively simple. And as most of these services are delivered at the district level so they came to be termed as e-Districts.

e-Districts are right now in a pilot phase. Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) has more or less completed it, the other schemes will be sanctioned only in March 2009, and then there will be a eighteen month time frame for the pilot phase of the rest of the chosen states which are around twelve in number. There is a host of learnings from U.P. alone which we plan to use in formulating a national level scheme in the next six to seven months. But I think we will start sanctioning the funds to states only after their pilot projects have been implemented. As per my estimates, the country-wide implementation across all districts of this project will take at least three years. So as of now we have a detailed time-line for the pilot projects only. U.P., Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are some of the states which are already leading the way for e-Districts but in the next four to five months we can expect to see much more action in the arena of this e-District project in all the states across India.

What is the linkage between e-Districts, CSCs and SWAN?

As far as linkages are concerned, if you want to have a centralised architecture through which you can deliver services then you have to web-enable them. This web enablement in the case of government is done through State Wide Area Network (SWAN). The State Data Centre (SDC) will be the point that the Common Service Centre (CSC) operator will access in order to provide the requested services by the citizens. CSC is simply a front-end through which the person or the citizen will make the request. 

Unless the back-end of a department is computerised, the services  of that department targeted through an e-District cannot be delivered even if CSCs, SWAN, and SDCs are in place because the department cannot process it. So all these (CSCs, SWAN, SDCs etc.) are various items that are required to ensure that various services are delivered to the citizens as seamlessly as possible.

How do you plan to address the issue of connectivity of data centres and e-Districts?

The point is that you already have a state government data centre  and these data centres have their Points of Presence (PoP) in the district. So under e-District what we ensure is that whichever departments we are planning to cover is included under the PoP through the e-District project, so that the funds for it can come through the e-District project. This is the way of providing connectivity as far as the government part is concerned.

Then comes the question of connecting the citizens at a CSC. This is generally done through the Internet provided through VSAT or broadband. Meanwhile, Department of Information Technology (DIT) is also doing partial funding of the BSNL’s plan to provide broadband connections to the rural areas. We are hopeful that broadband services will be made available in the rural areas significantly over the next one year.

Do you think the current recession will impact the e-Governance  projects which are working on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model.

If the economy goes under the impact of recession, government also suffers because the tax collection goes down, thereby bringing down the capacity to spend even for the government. But during the time of recession, having government project is definitely a matter of greater credibility for any private player. So for private players in these times of recession, government projects becomes the best bet.This induces a lot of interest amongst private players to get involved in government projects like National e-Governance Plan (NeGP).

As you mentioned, Uttar Pradesh has successfully implemented the e-District project, so what were the major challenges that you faced there?

Actually speaking, the challenges have been faced in reality by the state governments. But speaking from the central government perspective, the first challenge has been faced in the area of bringing about changes in the traditional ways of the governmental functioning, as and when demanded by the learnings carried forward from implementation elsewhere. Second challenge relates to regulatory issues, for example regulating the rates of digitisation of data in different districts. And finally the biggest challenge is that of sheer co-ordination of a national-level project of this kind.

In the year 2009 which are the states in which e-District project will see implementation?

Certain states are already moving fast towards the implementation of e-District like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and other states of South India. But truly speaking work is being done all across the country. So I am pretty sure that in 2009 you will be see not only the already established states doing well, but even new states will be joining the club of those states which are successfully implementing e-Districts. So it would not be right for me to pin-point any one state or district at this point of time as the only one doing well.

Do you have any personal targets for the year 2009?

We already have 23,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs) already up and running. Well, by March 2009 we are planning to come up with at least 40,000 to 50,000 CSCs. And I think this is an achievable target because already a lot of ground work is going on though it might not be getting reflected on the books or accounts.

Do you think there is a need for the tendering process to be re-defined?

I do not think the government processes in terms of e-Tendering needs to be re-defined for it adequately provides  emphasis on the needed degree of quality or quantity as might be demanded by the situation.

In the current threatened security scenario do you think we should fasten our pace towards a e-Governed nation?

Obviously, because e-Governance is the best way of keeping a check on people as well as various kinds of other data. So, in a e-Governed nations, not only will the security issue get addressed but even harassment of general public will stop. So advancing towards a e-Governed nation is of utmost importance to us as a nation.

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