Additional Secretary, Information Technology Government of Uttarakhand
Ravinath Raman, a 2004 IAS officer, of Uttarakhand Cadre, is presently posted as Additional Secretary, Information Technology, Government of Uttarakhand. Other than IT Department, he is also looking after Food & Civil Supplies and Medical Education Departments
“In order to provide useful services and solutions to other departments, the IT Secretary should have an adequate understanding of the workings of every department in the State,” says Ravinath Raman
Please provide us with an overview of the IT initiatives that you are taking in Uttarakhand.
Uttarakhand, as you know is known as Dev-Bhoomi, or the Land of Gods; the State has a very salubrious climate, and we have a strong power sector. The State also has a substantial English speaking population, and in view of all these aspects, we can say that the State is ideal for IT industry. We have a Chief Minister, who is very IT oriented. Under the leadership of the Chief Minister, the government is coming up with new policies to bring growth to the IT Industry. We are having a major expansion of the IT Park in Dehradun. Very soon we will have a very vibrant and functioning IT sector in Uttarakhand.
As you said Uttarakhand is the Dev- Bhoomi. What are the ways by which the Dev-Bhoomi can benefit from IT?
IT has a tremendous potential in Uttarakhand, particularly from employment perspective. It is also important because Uttarakhand is a hilly State. The geographical distances are large, and due to the hilly terrain, it is difficult to reach certain areas. It is also a state that is very prone to natural disasters. The rainy seasons bring lot of big and small disasters in their wake. Between July and September, when there are very heavy rains, the road connectivity is cut off at many places. There is huge damage to crops and there are unfortunate losses of life and property. In such a scenario, IT can play a very critical role. The IT initiatives that are currently being undertaken by the State Government and the Central Government are steps in right direction.
What kind of basic infrastructure are you creating in Uttarakhand to serve as a backbone for all your e-Governance initiatives?
We are working on several fronts. The creation of State Data Centre is progressing at a fast pace. We are also coming up with our own building in the IT Park in Dehradun; here the offices of the State IT Department will be located. The foundation laying ceremony for the building has already been done by the Hon’ble Chief Minister. In all probability the building will be up within a year. We plan to house the State NIC, the IT Directorate, and the State Data Centre within the same building. This will bring efficiency in our operations, as the most important arms of the IT infrastructure will be located in close proximity. We have budgetary provisions for setting up a temporary data centre, till the time that we have a full fledged State Data Centre. I would also like to tell you about the website of the State of Uttarakhand. The website is designed to provide lot of necessary information on e-tendering, various departments, etc. The RTI related information is also being provided on the website. The Government of Uttarakhand has mandated that various departments should must suo moto provide all the necessary information through their online platforms. The SWAN is already in place; we are having connectivity from the State headquarters, right up to the tehsil and block levels. The connectivity is being provided by BSNL. We are also working on the aspect of horizontal connectivity between various departments.
The e-District project is expected to take ultimate fruits of various e-Governance initiatives to people in all parts of the country. What kind of progress is e-District making in Uttarakhand?
Earlier there had been some problems in the e-District project due to lack of manpower, but now we have sufficient manpower and the project is progressing at a healthy pace. Under NeGP, the Central Government has provided us with a very strong team of consultants. We are using the services of the consultants to implement the various aspects of the NeGP project. We are working with various other government departments in the State to develop the legal framework under which we can provide online services under the e-District project. Initially we have around identified 25 services that we can provide under the e-District. For instance, under the revenue department, we will be providing the caste certificates, the domicile certificates, the income certificates, the solvency certificates, etc. Then we have the old age pension, the widow pension and the handicapped pension. Under the Ministry of Urban Development, we have the services like birth and death registration. There are several other services; under the Panchayati Raj Ministry, you have the family register service. Under the Food & Civil Supplies department, you have the Ration Card service. Right now the respective departments are charting out the modalities under which the e-Governance services will be rolled out; the fees structure that can be charged by the Common Service Centres is also being decided. Once all the policy level decisions have been taken, we will be in a position to roll out the e-District project with the help of NIC or other private vendors.
The success of e-District project is also linked to the presence of large number of Common Services Centres (CSCs). What is the state of CSCs in the state?
Currently there are two companies that are providing us with the CSC related facilities – one is Reliance (ADAG) and other is Comat Technologies. Comat Technologies was responsible for four districts and for the remaining nine districts, Reliance was responsible. Reliance seems to have done a good job; all the CSCs that are related to Reliance are doing well. But Comat Technologies has not been able to give us good results, so their contract has now been terminated and we are going for another vendor. The tendering process for picking up new vendor has already started. However, the success of the CSCs also depends on the legal framework under which online e-Governance services can be provided. Even if you have good backend integration with the CSCs, and all the technological systems are there, you can’t provide actual services to the end consumers until the legal framework under which the services are being provided has been decided. Even if the caste certificate or any other certificate gets issued by the CSCs, they won’t amount to much, until such certificates are given a legal validity. In case of Reliance CSCs, they were not taking any money from the government. The only economic interest of the company affiliated CSCs lies in providing of G2C services to the citizens. The fee structure had already been decided. The CSCs would be charging Rs. 10, out of which they would pay Rs. 5 to the government. But because of the fact that adequate number of services are yet to be rolled out, this business model is not working. Even though few CSCs are present on the ground, they have been forced to venture into B2C kind of services like paying utility bills, insurance premium, etc. The CSCs will become economically viable once all the services of the e-District project have been rolled out and are available to the general public through the CSCs.
What about the urban areas? How are the CSCs faring in the urban areas?
In urban areas the CSCs are doing much better. Even though the G2C services are not available, the CSCs are providing services like railway bookings, airline bookings, paying utility bills, insurance premiums, etc. They are more economically viable in the urban areas. But to my mind, the real challenge is to make them economically viable in the rural areas. The population in Uttarakhand is very sparse, so ideally one CSC would not be serving a very large section of the population. It will only be serving a very small pocket of population.
In a hilly state like Uttarakhand it must be difficult to manage the information related to all the ration cards and Fair Price Shops. What kind of solutions are you developing for Food & Civil Supplies Department?
Under the Food & Civil Supplies department, we are mandated to computerise the entire PDS scheme within the State. We already have an alpha version of PDS solution from NIC. Now we are working with NIC to further improve it. We have completed the process of mapping the entire database of the godowns that are there in the State. All the data related to the Fair Price Shops have also been captured. The data is now being verified by the district administrations. Very soon we will be able to roll out the allocation. The allocation will be fully automated. In fact, we plan an e-allocation, which can be rolled out as early as April this year. The computerisation of all the ration card holders will take some time, as being a hilly state, where many areas are difficult to reach, it is not that easy to capture the data of all the ration card holders. We are also planning to link the ration cards with Aadhaar.
What is the progress of Aadhaar in Uttarakhand?
The Government of India has mandated that Uttarakhand is going to be a NPR State. Currently the registration process for Aadhaar is on in the State. We have done the pilot project in a place called Purola, in district Uttarkashi. The results of the pilot project are very encouraging. The number of redundancies and bogus ration card holders that have been identified is very less. Now the process of computerising the ration cards has been started in Dehradun also. Very soon we will be able to take it to all the districts of the State.
“IT has a tremendous potential in Uttarakhand, particularly from employment perspective”
Uttarakhand is especially known for its places of pilgrimage and tourism. What special initiatives are being planned by the IT department to make it more convenient for tourists and pilgrims to come to the State?
Tourism is a very important sector for Uttarakhand; the Char Dham Yatra is of particular importance. We have two corporations that look after the tourism space in the two divisions of Uttarakhand. We have the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam in Garhwal and the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam in Kumaon. They have their own online booking system, online information system, etc. But it needs some further technological inputs. Presently the payment gateway is working through a small group of banks; we plan to roll it out with all the other banks.
What about the security area? What kind of working is being done in CCTNS?
The RFP is in finalisation stage for CCTNS. Very soon the RFP will get rolled out and after that CCTNS will progress very fast.
Being in the IT department, you must have a very precise view of the kind of e-Governance initiatives that need to be undertaken urgently. Can you point out some e-Governance ideas that most urgently need to be implemented in Uttarakhand?
I am personally working on two projects that have to do with education and health. You see, there is a huge dearth of teachers and doctors in the hills where substantial part of the State’s population resides. The doctors and teachers do not want to work in the hilly areas. In my opinion, the IT department can do a lot for bridging the gap that exists between the demand and supply of trained doctors and teachers in the remote areas. For education we are developing e-learning solutions. We will also have solutions for online monitoring of attendance. It will become possible to monitor online how many students are attending the school, and how many teachers are reporting to the school. This kind of attendance system has an impact on other departments also. For instance, if the attendance of the students is bogus, then that implies that there is diversion of funds in the Midday Meal Scheme also. Then there is the
area of telemedicine. As good quality doctors cannot be available everywhere, we can provide good medical consultations to people in all parts of the state through telemedicine.
The IT department in any state has to provide IT related services and solutions to every other department. What kind of sensibilities should an IT Secretary have in order to be able to deal with the pulls and pressures that can be there when you are dealing with so many departments?
You have raised a very important issue. The first thing is that in order to provide useful services and solutions to other departments, the IT Secretary should have an adequate understanding of the workings of every department in the State. He has to be someone who is fairly senior and very experienced. He should have had the opportunity to have worked in many other departments before coming into the IT department. Fortunately we have Principal Secretary IT, who is very senior and who has a tremendous knowledge of IT and also a very good interest in IT. I also have a background in IT, so I feel that I am the right person for doing this job.