Principal Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Government of West Bengal
“We are taking SWAN to the Gram Panchayats in West Bengal”
West Bengal had plans for setting up of 6,797 Common Service Centres (CSCs) across the state, when can we expect these CSCs to be functional?
So far we have been able to put in place a little over 2,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs) in the state. There are two Service Level Agencies (SLAs) – one is SREI and another is Reliance Communications. These CSCs have started providing basic services such as providing birth and death certificates. Some of them have gone to the extent of tying up with the Electricity Boards for making bill payment options available, this has happened in the Hoogli district. They have also started providing services such as reservations in the Indian Railways. So far the response from the public has been good. In the Hoogli district the pilot projects are running successfully.
The contract for West Bengal State Wide Area Network (WBSWAN) was signed way back in September 2007. How are you addressing the issue of last mile connectivity through this?
90 – 95 percent of the work on the West Bengal State Wide Area Network (WBSWAN) is complete. We would be concluding the remaining work by the end of December 2008. We would be inaugurating it in the beginning of 2009. We have a pilot project in the Bardhaman district of West Bengal. WBSWAN only provides connectivity up to the block level. Therefore, SWAN connects all the districts and an extension of it connects all the sub-division and block level But in Bardhaman, we have gone down to all the 277 Gram Panchayats. This initiative is the fi rst of it kind in the country. Now, we have plans for rolling out this pilot project in the remaining districts of the state. We have already send the proposal for the same to the Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India and they are examining the same. Since this project intends to connect all the Gram Panchayats, we would be glad if the Ministry of Panchayati Raj funds it. Another interesting thing we have done in Bardhaman is that instead of hardware based solutions for video conferencing, we have a local based company for developing the software based solution. This has reduced the cost per point from INR 2 lakh to about INR 4,000. We plan to put video conferencing softwares in all the Gram Panchayats of Bardhaman and some of them are already in place. In our interactions with the District and the Sub-Divisional Administration, we have found out that these facilities are extensively being used. Encouraged by such feedback, we plan to replicate the model in other districts also.
How is the work on State Data Centre (SDC) progressing?
The work on the State Data Centre (SDC) has been initiated. We already have the consultants and the implementing agency in place for the same. The construction of the building for the SDC has started which we expect to be functional very soon. In the meanwhile, the data is being stored in the National Informatics Centre (NIC). The data will be eventually transferred to the SDC, which we expect to be functional by May 2009. There is no delay with the development and storage of data because of the absence of the SDC right now. The SDC will be an extension of these services.
With the current threatened security scenario of our country, do you think the computerised police departments of West Bengal will act as an effective tool for checking terrorist activities in the state?
In terms of physical security in areas such as Salt Lake or Rajaghat, we are in conversation with the IT industry and the Police Departments for enabling ICT based security solutions. We have gone a step ahead of that, the IT Department of West Bengal has chosen a private entity who is developing a product for security purposes. The product which is being developed by us is a very interactive one and it enables the analysis of any movement and can take a picture which can be sent on a mobile device of the security professional. We are trying to ensure all the safety and security aspects pertaining to cybersecurity, IT industry security and how to improve public surveillance with the help of ICT tools.
What has been the major partnerships in West Bengal under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model? Apart from private sector, do you have partnerships with other agencies outside the realm of government?
In West Bengal, number of e-Governance projects has been on a PPP model such as WBSWAN and CSCs. In terms of the video-conferencing as well, we worked on a PPP model as there was a close collaboration with the private players. So far, we have had a very fruitful partnership with private players for the e-Governance projects.
West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (WEBEL) has developed a number of products which are not strictly PPP based, but they are developed in close collaboration with academic institutions such as IIT Kharagpur, IT Department, Jadavpur University. We also have the Centre for Promotion of Open Source which promotes the use of open source software which ensures that the masses have a taste of a ICT. We have developed the software called Baisakhi Linux in Bengali language for the benefit of the citizens.
What has been the key achievements in developing IT software?
It is our intention to cover most of the schools in the remote areas by providing them education through multimedia. From the very beginning, we have tried to address the people who are physically challenged. WEBEL has developed a BRAIL software in collaboration with IIT Kharagpur where people can use libraries through this software. This software is being used in 120 schools, in 22 states in 13 different languages across the country. We are already thinking about the health sector as well. We developed a tele-medicine product which is used in four projects where the lateral hospitals are connected with the nodal hospitals in West Bengal. Beyond the state, the product is used in the North-Eastern regions as well, in states such as Tripura. These two products have won all major national awards.
Department of Information Technology, GoI has emphasised that state Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) are going to be the focus for the next few years, what are the developments on this front in West Bengal?
I am a bit disillusioned. The Detail Project Report (DPR) for the Mission Mode Projects has also been prepared and we are now waiting for the funds to be released by the Government of India for rolling out these projects. Though the government processes takes a long time, the Government of India is taking a little longer to release the funds. We are waiting for these funds, so that we can start the process. It has not been done for any other state as well. If it is done for one line ministry, it will be done for all the other ones. We have been told that some development is happening under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNURM). Whichever, way it is, the MMPs can be rolled out only when the money come rolling.
In the implementation of the various e-Governance projects across West Bengal, what do you think have been the major roadblocks?
One of the major roadblocks in the implementation of e-Governance projects has been Capacity Building. Issues of convincing, orientation, training the people and how to motivate the people to be a part of the process. One very important thing in this regard is change management. To achieve this there is a need for course re-engineering and streamlining the procedures where legislative and executive policies and orders can play an effective role. There will be attitudinal problems, mental blocks and there will be a feeling of erosion of their authority. But if these are overcome, there will be more transparency and accountability in the system, which is the main objective of e-Governance.
What are the other e-Governance projects in the pipeline for the year 2009?
The WBSWAN will be completed in 2009. Our focus will be to ensure that all the CSCs are in place. We have two e- Districts which are operational right now. One is the Bankura and the other in Jalpaiguri. e-Districts are envisaged as a medium for providing seamless administration from one department to another. If this project succeeds, then I think that e-Governance will go beyond from being department specific to bring all districts together. We also expect that the State Data Centre (SDC) to be fully operational.
Would you like to give any message for our readers?
I believe that what is required in e-Governance, is to develop e-Nagriks in each and every corner of the country. My intention is not just to make a person learn how to use a computer. Rather, my intention is to make a person realise how a computer can make his / her life easier.