Green Blankets Get IT Cover

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Praveen S Pardeshi

Forests will no longer be dark, deep and hidden as IT sets stage to penetrate deep into them and brings out the secrets for the whole world to see, Praveen S Pardeshi tells Kartik Sharma of ENN

Tell us about the IT implementation for e-Governance in the Maharashtra Forest Department.

The vision of the Forest Department is to move away from the paper mode of working and shift towards e-Governance. The most important task for our department is to monitor the forest cover on the ground, prevent encroachment, illicit felling etc. with the staff and then undertake conservation activities like afforestation. All this is done by the forest guards, and in the course of last three years, we have provided Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to more than 2,000 guards and will provide to 8,000 more.

The motive of providing PDAs to forest guards is to GPS-enable them for referencing and for report-keeping of any forest offence like encroachment, poaching etc. So, when a forest guard on patrol comes across any such activity, he can take all the GPS coordinates and make a report of it. This approach also enables the senior officers to monitor the work done by their field staff as they are in the deep interiors of the jungle. Today, about 2,000 forest guards are recording offences through their PDAs which is connected to a central forest server where all the data related to forest offences is present.

The second thing we have done is to digitise all forest land records such as compartment boundary, dividend boundary, circle boundary etc. This has been placed on an online GIS which is accessible from each GPS available to officials at the senior level. This is done so that the data of forest offences can be recorded on these maps and proper counter-measures be decided for the same.

We also went for a massive IT infrastructure upgrade. There are many senior field officials like the Range Forest Officers (RFOs) who are in the deep interiors of the jungle where having a mobile network is impossible. We provided them with broadband Internet connections through satellite connectivity. So far, we have provided Internet connections to 800 RFOs through this initiative. The IT infrastructure is also in place.

Previously, there used to be a long process for submission of documents for major applications of infrastructure like coal mining. But now, the entire process of submission has been computerised, right down to the application maker as well.

“The motive of providing Personal Digital Assistants to forest guards is to GPS enable them for referencing and for report-keeping of any forest offence.”

What are the challenges faced by you in implementing the IT initiatives?
Last year and this year, the entire auction of timber was done through e-auction where NIC and the SBI have been our partners. So, that way, large transactions in the forest department are e-enabled. We have made the entire process of bidding electronic wherein bidders deposit their money online and they get online work orders as well.

Apart from enabling infrastructure does it bring ROI for you?
The reason why e-initiatives do not work in a department like ours is because the field agents are not connected to the output. This results in a very superficial e-processing of the output, and passes off at senior levels because of lack of knowledge of computerisation. So, the initiative of PDAs for forest guards enables the connectivity in the entire hierarchy.

What is your vision for the coming years?
What we aim to do in the next one year is to hire forest guards with intermediate qualification having science as a subject, compared to those who were previously uneducated. We aim to arm them with PDAs and then connect them with GIS. This would be a paradigm shift in the way things were being done earlier. The end result of this shift would be that senior officers would be able to monitor the movement of their guards and will be able to communicate with them. Not only will they be able to communicate, they will also get a ball by ball update of any offence the guard is reporting accurately.

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