‘J&K Steady on IT Path’

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Bipul Pathak

Career Glimpse

Born: 23 – 02 – 1969
Service: IAS
Cadre: Jammu & Kashmir
Allotment Year: 1992
Bipul Pathak currently holds the position of Commissioner Secretary (IT) in the Government of Jammu & Kashmir. Earlier he has served the state government in the capacity of Additional Secretary in the Home Department and as the Deputy Commissioner in Srinagar. He also held the position of Managing Director in the Jammu & Kashmir Power Development Corporation. Pathak has served Government of India in the capacity of the Director in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and also as the Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment

The PPP model fails when officers in public departments treat the private partners as contractors, says Bipul Pathak, Commissioner cum-Secretary, IT and Science & Technology, Government of J&K.

What all is happening in the field of ICT in your state?
There are two-three things currently happening here. One is the expansion of the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, which BSNL is doing in J&K, to improve telecom connectivity penetration in rural areas. That is going to be a major boost on the connectivity front in future.

In J&K, we are in the process of reformulating the industrial IT policy to stay attuned to the current market trends and contemporary requirements of the country. We have undertaken an initiative in which the Government of India is supporting us in imparting training in electronic systems design and manufacturing segment (ESDM). Although we don’t have much of electronic manufacturing in J&K, we are working in the area of solar photovoltaic technology, where we plan to trigger manufacturing in the coming years. But for that we non would require lots of people in maintenance and manufacturing field. We are starting this with the training of our engineers, and the people who are in polytechnic and ITI in the field of solar photovoltaic technology besides industrial electronics.

We have also initiated several projects for improving governance via e-governance systems in J&K. Under e-Assembly project, where the assembly proceedings, question-answers, interactions between officers, departments and citizens will be mostly online, and lots of paperwork will be reduced. This will also enhance efficiency and public information. We are also in the process of e-enablement of all the prisons, so that over a period of time it is integrated with the e-court system. This will be a huge improvement in the criminal justice system, and lots of money, time and resources – which can be mostly handled through electronic mode – will be saved. We will cover all the prisons under the plan in a phased manner.

Also, there are small projects which are going on. In 2012 we launched mobile-based project monitoring system. It is being rolled out now in departments like Public Health Engineering Department, Public Works Department and Power Development Department. It is also successful in the existing border area development programmes, and the J&K Government is keen for rolling it out in all the departments for online monitoring of projects.

Employment in IT field can be generated in the state by setting up companies, attracting outside firms, or expanding the existing ones. Any thoughts there?
We have initiated setting up of an IT Park and we are in the process of discussing it with couple of private sector partners to bring in investment and develop it, so that it is available to the IT entrepreneurs to set up small- and mid-size companies. Also, it will be available to the existing IT companies to expand their entities. This process is ongoing. Although the progress is a little slow, it is happening, and let’s see whether in the current year we will be in a position to attract some investment to help boost both development and investment by local entrepreneurs into the sector.

Any move there to encourage them or bring them in the national IT main stream?
We have initiated some steps with the Government of India and a taskforce for setting up small, medium and micro enterprises in the IT sector is in place. Some initial steps have been taken by the taskforce to take local industry people to bigger industry partners, so that they are in regular touch with all the players in the industry, whether domestic or multinational or even foreign companies. They can exchange and build their capacity to do bigger projects. I am sure in couple of months’ time this will be rolled out fully.

There is a big talk at the level of DeitY about the government Cloud – ‘MeghRaj’- for e-governance and it’s also being talked about outside India. Any thinking in the state government on how to use the Cloud?
Cloud is going to be the future; no doubts there. But much will depend on connectivity. The Government of India and all stakeholders must understand that connectivity is a huge problem in most of the states, barring a few where big cities are very well connected. They have very good Internet speed and other requisites, while many areas of the country are moving at the snail’s pace in terms of connectivity as well as speed. Cloud will, of course, help in the future, and we are also trying to utilize the power of this platform for ICT enablement, but it will take time for states like J&K where connectivity is still a challenge to actually reap the benefits of Cloud fully.

How has been the implementation of CSC plan in the state?
CSC is a project which we have been able to reenergize, and around 1,000 ‘Khidmat Centres’ have been set up in J&K. They are doing lots of business-to-business activities, and for the financial inclusion part also they have been playing a key role in the rural areas. The state government has already framed the electronic service delivery rules. Through these rules, we have been able to bring transparency in the functioning of these centres. In the last parliamentary elections, we rolled out many services of the Election Department through the Khidmat Centers that also fetched them some revenue.

Many other state government services under various other departments are also available through these centres. Has the e-District project taken off in J&K? J&K doesn’t have the Statewide Area Network (SWAN) as yet, and e-District project is fully dependent on this, as it depends upon connectivity. We are in the process of finalizing partners for the JKSWAN project, and simultaneously, we will also initiate the e-District project so that both happen in tandem

 A lot has been talked about the Right to Services Act. Some of the states have already implemented it, while some are trying to link it with the IT CSC’s e-governance. What’s the scene like in J&K?
Most of the people are not aware that J&K was probably the first state which implemented the Public Service Guarantee Act. Under this Act, most of the services like land records are already guaranteed to the citizens within particular time frames. But to make them more and more efficient, the IT and e-governance practices have to be introduced in these departments.

Incidentally, the J&K Government has already adopted e-gov practices in one of the departments – we are distributing the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension totally electronically into the accounts of the beneficiaries for the last five months, and it is nonwould Aadhaar based. We have not yet used Aadhaar numbers, as the department’s backend is totally electronic.

Large number of services in many states are done manually by the department and delivered electronically through the CSC centres. But we are not going that way. We think, if the service has to be delivered, it has to be managed at the backend fully electronically to bring in total transparency. This initiative of the IT Department, along with the Social Welfare Department in J&K has been very successful and we are now going ahead with many other similar applications.

“NeGP 2.0 should not have any schemes attached to it, rather NeGP 2.0 itself should be the scheme, with funding from the Government of India. It should invite projects of IT enablement and e-gov from states and allot them funds, and then leave it to the state government to implement”

It’s almost a decade since NeGP was rolled out and people are now talking about NeGP2.0. In such a scenario, you have lower tools and technologies. Even SWAN was formulated long back. Don’t you think it’s time to jump straight to SWAN 2.0 rather than SWAN 1.0?
JKSWAN, which we are going to implement, is more or less 2.0 in the sense that it will have the latest industry standards and it will not be old standards besides many other things, which happened on account of technology up-gradation in the last five-six years. It will be near-SWAN2.0 also because there is no alternate technology available in J&K that could make us leapfrog into an entirely new domain of wide area network creation due to connectivity issues. However, although we will be using the old methodology to a large extent, the standards will be the latest.

What do you think about SWAN and NOFN? How do they converge?
They will converge in the sense that SWAN is a dedicated gateway, whereas NOFN will be sort of backbone available to everybody, including government as well as private people. Even the Panchayati Raj institutions can use the end point for getting connected to the web or to the wide area networks. Wherever we will face difficulties with our SWAN, we will be utilizing the services of NOFN, if available and reliable. In the end the reliable connectivity will work as the wide area network.

Digitisation of data has to happen in the government departments first.In fact, G2G has to happen before it’s over to G2C. Then why it is not emphasized to the required extent?
I think this is a major problem as the Government of India measures the performance of projects in terms of delivery to citizens and transaction counts…but what about the way it’s done? Are these transactions fully electronic? The current system is doing good service no doubt but the real benefit of e-governance is not flowing due to weak or partial electronic backend.

In J&K Government, we are focusing on the government process re-engineering. Once you are in mode of managing your department electronically, then delivery of e-governance services will be easy. Front-end can be developed and built any time, if your backend is fully electronic. If equipped with a fully electronic backend, manipulations in individual application can be kept away. That is how it is happening in J&K, though it may seem way behind others in terms of transactions. We may be slow but then whatever has happened will stay forever…that is our motto.

Why pvt telcos left out?
The Government of India thinks it is a consortium of three public sector companies – PGCIL, Railtel and BSNL. If the public sector companies are regulated and licensed as telecom companies, then why not private companies? Similar level of funding can be given to the private sector companies as well to penetrate up to the panchayat level

If you had to make some suggestions for NeGP2.0, what would you say?
I would say NeGP2.0 should not have any schemes attached to it; rather NeGP2.0 itself should be the scheme. It should have funding from the Government of India, and it should invite projects for IT enablement and e-governance from states and allot them funds. It should also force the state governments to send a minimum number of projects and look at the type of projects in terms of diversity across the board. Once the projects are sanctioned, it should be left to the state governments to implement. Confining the projects to a particular type of scheme has not been very beneficial except in the State Data Centre scheme.

The classification of states for funding by DeitY is also a limiting factor in rapid penetration of e-governance system. For example, they have formulated e-District with multiple services. But all the state governments are different from one another in terms of delivery of services… I may be able to deliver certain services in a particular department with more efficiency, while other state governments may have their strong areas of action. So, I think it would be desirable to have a generic scheme of NeGP2.0 with broad guidelines and broad structures sanctioning projects from the states, and allowing them to develop their own systems and process. There should also be no limit on the project cost if the project is good.

 Do you feel private companies should be targeted better for higher telecom penetration?
The Government of India created a consortium of three public sector companies – PGCIL, Railtel and BSNL – for NOFN. If the public sector companies are regulated and licensed as private telecom companies, then why not private companies! You have private telecom operators who have a huge operation in several parts across the country. Similar level of funding can be given to the private sector companies as well to ensure penetration up to the panchayat level. It would create much rapid NOFN rollout. Moreover, this will also allow the government to compare the performance of public sector companies and private companies in terms of rollout.

How would you react to the present state of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model in India. Is it headed for failure? What does the PPP model says?
If government behaves like an owner and you treat the private partners as contractors, then it will never work. That is why the PPP model is failing. Until and unless the government representatives change their mindset, the PPP model is never going to succeed. While selecting the Private Partner, proper due diligence should be done. But once the partner has been selected, then it should be treated like a partner, and any legitimate help extended by the government to the selected partner in the interest of the project should not be seen with unnecessary suspicion.

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