Adoption of eGovernance in Uttarakhand may be a little slow, but we can move faster in mGovernance, says Chief Secretary of the hill State of Uttarakhand, N Ravi Shanker, in an interview with Gautam Debroy of Elets News Network (ENN).
Tell us how successful the Information Technology Development Agency (ITDA) is in Uttarakhand?
IT has to play a very important role in the development of Uttarakhand. Since the inception of the State some 15 years back, we look technology as the harbinger of change, and to promote the IT initiatives, ITDA has been set up. It mainly guides and monitors various projects, provides expert inputs, evaluates and executes State’s IT initiatives and projects under the National eGovernance Plan (NeGP).
There are a few challenges that hinder optimal performance of ITDA, leaving us behind some states that have already launched various IT initiatives. Even though we did go ahead with NeGP, the initial steps to attract important vendors did not fetch the desired results. It was so mainly on account of the fact that even those who quoted aggressively did not keep their promises later. It was detrimental to the development process of IT in Uttarakhand. Similarly, the State Data Centre Project has also got delayed.
However, now we have sufficient experience and we can also learn from the experiences of other states of NeGP implementation. The Government of Uttarakhand intends to harness the full potential of ICT for improving the quality of life of its citizens, bring in accelerated social and economic development, and ensure transparency in the government decisions.
What has been the adoption of IT in various government departments of the State?
The Government of Uttarakhand is now using IT in most of its departments — whether it is treasury, finance or transport, we are using IT everywhere. The government aims to accelerate IT adoption amongst various user segments — all leading to an ideal e-Society model through efficient, service-oriented, cost-effective, information-networked, eco-conscious and year-on-year growth approach.
IT has a substantial presence in the Tourism Department, because this is one of the major departments pushing our socio- economic development. Recently, we started looking into the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, which aims to provide connectivity to all the gram panchayats across the states by December 2016, by using the existing optical fibre and extending it to the uncovered areas.
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‘The Government of Uttarakhand is now using IT in most of its departments — whether it is treasury, finance or transport, we are using IT everywhere’
We are engaged with the Department of Telecom of the Government of India for the expansion of NOFN in Uttarakhand.
The NOFN project is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) built with contributions from private telecom operators. However, for end-to-end services, companies will have to set up their own infrastructure at the gram panchayat level.
Interestingly, BSNL has selected Haridwar for the NOFN implementation in the first phase. Haridwar is also important from the tourism potential angle.
Tell us about the mobile network connectivity in Uttarakhand.
Frankly speaking, most of the areas in our State are deprived of mobile network connectivity. The Telecom Department has also been requested to cover the deficit areas within the State through their universal service application mechanism. We hope the way they are doing it in the Northeast and some Naxal- affected areas, they will do it for the Himalayan states, too.
The Chardham Yatra of our State is commencing very soon, and we do hope that by that time we will have proper communications and mobile network facility.
What is the status of Common Service Centres (CSC) in Uttarakhand?
CSCs are popularly known as Devbhoomi Jan Seva Kendras in our state. Different services need to be pushed forward through these Seva Kendras. In fact, these Seva Kendras can be turned into profitable business units.
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CSC is a strategic cornerstone of the National eGovernance Plan (NeGP) and part of its commitment in the National Common Minimum Programme to introduce eGovernance on a massive scale. CSCs would provide high quality and cost-effective video, voice, data content and services for eGovernance in the areas of education, health, telemedicine, entertainment as well as other private services.
A salient feature of CSCs is that it will offer web-enabled eGovernance services in rural areas, including application forms, certificates and utility payments, such as electricity, telephone and water bills. The proposed expansion of NOFN will add further strength to the concept of CSCs in the State.
‘Information Technology has a substantial presence in the Tourism Department, because this is one of the major departments pushing our socio-economic development’
How do you see India’s transition from eGovernance to mGovernance mode?
Well, the concepts of e-mode and m-mode are basically related to the devices. When we talk about eGovernance, it is about the use of computers, desktop, laptop, etc., for governance, while in the case of mGovernance, we talk of smartphones, mobile phones and various other mobility devices. With the affordable rates of the various smart phones, mGovernance is fast gaining popularity.
If the telecom infrastructure improves across the states, the 3G facility would also get subsequently expanded. Our progression in eGovernance may be slow, but we can move faster in mGovernance. I believe mGovernance would be the order of the day in the near future.
You have initiated several foreign agencies-aided projects in Uttarakhand. What are those?
In our State, we have quite a number of externally-aided projects. Major amongst them is the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD)-funded Integrated Livelihoods Support Project (ILSP) in the area of agriculture, horticulture and allied activities of agriculture.
This project is being implemented in 41 blocks of 10 districts of the State. The overall objective of ILSP will be to reduce poverty in the hill districts of Uttarakhand. This would be achieved via more immediate development objective of “enabling rural households to take up sustainable livelihood opportunities integrated with the wider economy”.
We also have a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-funded project in the natural forest management activities in our State. Japan has agreed to cooperate with Uttarakhand in improving the health of forest. As per the loan agreement, JICA will invest `807 crore to fund a project, titled Uttarakhand Forest Resource Management Project (UFRMP), to address the problem of forest degradation in 750 Van Panchayats across the State.
As for the World Bank-funded projects, we have one by the name of the Integrated Watershed Management project. Also, conservation and proper utilisation of water is a crucial point for our geographical existence.
Then, we also have Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded projects in infrastructure sector.