Dr Rajeev Sharma
Director General, Centre for Good Governance, Andhra Pradesh
“The e-Governance policy should be a sequel to the policy on governance reform. We should bring governance reforms in focus first and then move on to executing e-Governance to achieve those objectives.”
What was the objective behind setting up of Centre for Good Governance? How much of it has been met?
The Centre was started some eight years back; mainly with the assistance of DFID to not only act as a think tank, but also to take new initiatives and design tools and processes for implementing governance reforms.
The main issue was that in those days, there were problems involving economic restructuring, and the World Bank suggested that apart from economic reforms, the governance reforms should go hand in hand, with equal priority being given to the latter. This institution was carved out on a unique pattern where intense involvement of concerned departments in focus areas of reform was ensured.
CGG created two wings with in the institution. The first one was to provide the research part or the knowledge part of it, and the second was the IT implementation part. This is a unique model because usually in the IT sector, the technology part is given more importance than the process part comes from outside, as it requires domain knowledge. The understanding of govt. processes should actually precede IT solution and that is what we are doing here.
So, we have been fairly successful in creating reasonably good models in public service delivery in certain important areas, which can improve the functioning of government.
Can you elaborate on eJustice, which was implemented by CGG?
eJustice was a UNDP supported pilot programme to create awareness about access to justice. Its focus was women in rural and semi-urban areas. Our trained volunteers would visit villages, talk to groups of women and inform them about various laws and legal mechanisms through which they could address problems.
We also put up kiosks in specific locations in some districts, which were managed by facilitators with para-legal knowledge. They would counsel people visiting these kiosks. We also had linkages with the district legal aid societies so as to provide legal assistance in case a villager wanted to approach the court. Moreover, a help line was also established for assistance in case the facilitator could not be of much help. The details of such calls would then be forwarded to the legal aid societies.
Can you tell us about CGG’s involvement in government project management?
Project management is a very cumbersome affair in the government. We are into creating simple and relevant web enabled tools, that even provide access to beneficiaries of government programmes. In Indiramma scheme, particularly the housing programme for weaker sections, we have been able to create a good support system which not only provides MIS report to the department but also gives visibility in terms of making online actual records of the department. This tool takes you right up to the district, mandal and village level and even the beneficiaries. You can see details of funds released for the house, at what stage is the construction, how much cement has been provided, etc.
So one doesn’t have to take recourse to RTI or other information gathering mechanism as information is proactively disclosed here. Normally, MIS is available only to implementing agencies, and not those at the receiving end. Whereas, our system puts information in the public domain, thereby removing mystery surrounding the government projects.
What are the other projects being handled by CGG?
Recently we did a budgeting project for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, which involves the concept of P-budgeting or pro-poor budgeting. P-budgeting determines the proportion of budgetary allowance that has gone to the kitty of the poor.
Recently there were reports of a data operator allegedly caught siphoning nearly INR 2 crore from the Indiramma project. How can such manipulations be avoided?
In order to avoid such manipulations, you need to eventually migrate to proper security system and online financial transactions. Without security enabled features, the risk will always be there.
Tell us about the agriculture portal being developed by CGG?
The agriculture portal is an important initiative, which would give farmers inputs from allied departments concerning agricultural practices. The intention is to make it accessible to various stakeholders for their inputs. The content may then be edited and put in understandable format. A model kiosk will be set up in CGG in a month or so and we will test the pilot and then scale it up.
We are also developing a consortium, comprising allied departments like fertilizer, marketing, seri-culture, fisheries, etc, research institutions like agricultural university and ICRISAT, and so on.
Do you perceive e-Governance as a step towards administrative reforms?
I would say you need to introduce technical reforms by changing your practices, processes, manual systems and then let the transformation stabilise. Only then should you bring the ‘e’ element. It is not feasible to introduce technology and e-Governance solutions and then scratch your head to say “we made a mistake in this and that process”.
Mostly, we are in hurry to complete the project and do not devote sufficient time to study the processes and process re-engineering. The involvement of the top management in the programme formulation and analysis is very important, as projects fail to create any impact in the absence of it.
Do we need a national or a state policy on e-Governance first?
More than a state policy, we need to have a national policy framework for e-Governance. We need to go into the process of administrative reforms. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has come up with a detailed set of recommendations. We need to start with that as a basic building block and then create a policy around that and bring in ICT in terms of implementation. The e-Governance policy should be a sequel to the policy on governance reform. We should bring governance reforms in focus first and then move on to executing e-Governance to achieve those objectives. The reforms need to be multi-level and multi-sectoral and at the core of that should be the administrative reforms. I would say we should take stock of what is happening with NeGP and bring in the perspective of administrative reforms in that. At the state level, not only do we need a state policy framework but also short, mid and long term strategy for implementing e-Governance projects in departments. We should create decentralised centres of change within each departments. People should be sensitised about the need of having a paperless office. How file monitoring or public grievances can be handled with e-Governance applications?
Don’t you think availability of G2C services and opening of service outlets should go hand in hand?
Ideally both should go hand in hand. If you provide infrastructure and services do not come, then the whole effort becomes pointless, and vice versa. Very often the critical test lies in migrating from existing form of service provision to an ICT enabled system. Parallel running of both the systems does not always help as it may not be economically viable due to low transactions. Ofcourse, there is a migration period and people need to be given both the choices. But it is always ideal to set up a deadline for complete switch over.
What hampered the successful implementation of electronic land records in AP?
Continuing the age-old system with the new system won’t help. As far as services like land records are concerned, resources should be allocated and a time frame should be set for complete migration to the alternative system.
But for a mass scale change, we require a legislative framework. The US and many other countries have a legislation for e-Governance. Formal legislations and executive instructions help in successful implementation of a policy. For example, the use of PAN number has been made mandatory by law, hence its usage has increased.
Is PPP the right approach for e-Governance projects?
A PPP model certainly helps, provided it is customised to suit the given situation or project. You need to see the viability of the project and how much PPP participation is required and what should be the ratio. We should not fight shy of providing the viability gap funding or bundling it with some other services to make it viable.
Do we require a national framework for impact assessment of these projects?
Be it an e-Governance or any other infrastructure project, we need to have a regular feedback and monitoring mechanism for getting desired results. It should also lead to corrective steps, not only when the project is complete but also during its implementation.
The culture of including the monitoring and evaluation and getting a comprehensive 360 degree feedback, is not part of our functioning. For example, while running a public school, do we get feed back from the parents, do we take corrective measures, school by school? Right now we have concepts like expenditure and performance audit, but we need to have a proper assessment of the impact of the investment committed in a project.
Where do you see CGG after ten years?
In future, I see CGG as a lead institution, providing practical, affordable solution in governance reform, including e-Governance. It would have a niche area for itself, taking suo moto interventions, doing research to develop specific tools, methods and processes to improve governance. We will also strive to extend our presence in other states as well as beyond India.