The State has some inherent strengths, like a skilled English speaking population with developed education infrastructure, salubrious climate and a government, which is focused to IT, D P Wahlang, IT Secretary, Government of Meghalaya, tells Gautam Debroy of Elets News Netwoks (ENN)
What are the new IT initiatives that you have undertaken in Meghalaya?
In Meghalaya, we have been trying to leverage IT in as many sectors as possible to enhance efficiency and maximise the government’s reach to its citizens. To accomplish our goals, we have been consciously approaching the issue in a planned manner. So, we started off by building up our core IT infrastructure like the State Wide Area Network (SWAN), State Data Centre (SDC), State Portal and the Common Services Centres to bring government services closer to citizens. Side by side, we developed citizen centric applications that will help government departments provide quality and timely services to its citizens and stakeholders. The Commercial Tax, Meghalaya Public Service Commission, Electricity Billing systems are only few such applications that have been well received by citizens and stakeholders alike.
However, the one project that we anticipate will bring large-scale changes in the way government departments work and benefit citizens in a major way is the e-District project, on which work is going on. In a couple of month’s time, we expect to roll out at least half a dozen services to citizens. These services range from issuance of various certificates to disbursement of social welfare assistance to the target population. The aim of e-District project is to provide end-to-end services to citizens. This means that they can apply for various services using the internet and receive the desired service again through it.
The State has also taken IT initiatives for students and teachers. Under the Student Digital Learning Aid scheme, in the last two years (2013-14 and 2014-15), about 50,000 mobile tablets have been distributed to students of Class-XII. This year onwards, we will be extending it to Class-XI as well. Further, tablets for teachers of higher secondary schools are also provisioned from this year. As a pilot basis, three schools in the State are ready with Digital Classrooms to be launched during the upcoming Digital India Week.
In Meghalaya, we will take planned and phased approach for mGovernance on the lines of eGovernance projects. To reap the benefits of mGovernance, we intend to make it an integral part of eGovernance
Do you think that your initiatives really reach all, even those living in the remotest area of the State?
As per 2011 census, mobile penetration in Meghalaya was 50.68 per cent, whereas as per TRAI report in September 2013, nearly 38.1 per cent villages in Meghalaya have no telecom coverage. Since reaching citizens in the remotest part of the state is indeed our ultimate objective, we do need to intervene in certain areas to mitigate challenges like poor connectivity and low telecom penetration, which severely impact the citizens’ ability to access eGovernance services. The government is, therefore, taking pro-active measures to facilitate projects like the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN), wherein about 2,400 villages in the State will be connected by broadband in a couple of year’s time.
What is the success rate of National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) in Meghalaya?
Meghalaya has speedily implemented important projects under NeGP, immediately after its inception. As a result, today all the core IT infrastructures are operational in the State. We are proud that our SWAN and SDC are fully functional for the last four years. We have 225 vibrant Community Service Centers (CSCs), popularly called as Rainbow Centers by our rural folks. The State Service Delivery Gateway (SSDG) is also operational which helps in integrating various eGovernance services seamlessly through the Meghalaya State Portal. Various other Mission Mode Projects like Commercial Tax, eProcurement, Treasury Computerisation, etc., have also been implemented. Other MMPs in the pipeline are e-District and CCTNS, among others. We are indeed happy that all of the NeGP projects have been by and large been successful.
Simultaneously, we have stressed on Capacity Building of the State Government employees. Meghalaya was one of the few states in the country, which had undertaken Capacity Building trainings till district levels under the Capacity Building scheme of NeGP. Apart from IT trainings, we also emphasised on project management trainings.
How do you find the transition from eGovernance to mGovernance?
The transition from eGovernance to mGovernance is inevitable given the proliferation of smartphones and mobile devices that are affordable and reliable. However, as I said earlier, states like ours where the telecom penetration is just about 50 per cent (compared to the national average of 75 per cent) need to focus on connectivity by taking a pro-active role in projects like NOFN.
In Meghalaya, we will take planned and phased approach for mGovernance on the lines of eGovernance projects. To reap the benefits of mGovernance, we intend to make it an integral part of eGovernance. The first step in this direction is our proposed e-District project, wherein Mobile number is mandatory for citizens, so that status and information related to the applications may be sent through SMS. For citizens, who may not have mobile number, the number of the nearest CSC operator (VLE) may be provided.
Also, we intend to use mGovernance for increasing awareness about major government schemes and other initiatives, so that citizens may easily benefit from them. Attendance of teachers using mobile devices is also planned on an experimental basis. This application will help boost discipline in the educational institutions.
What is the status of Aadhaar implementation in Meghalaya?
Aadhaar has taken the country by storm because of its usefulness as a single source of truth for authentication of a person’s identity. However, implementation of Aadhaar in states like Assam and Meghalaya with long international border needs to be approached with utmost care because of the demographic and historical issues related to influx and the wrong perception of the common people that Aadhaar confers citizenship to such people. We are confident that the general population will see the merit of enrolling themselves in Aadhaar and take advantage of the various Aadhaar-related applications like Digital Locker, e-Sign, etc.
What is your take on Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ campaign?
The concept of transforming the country into a digital society has been captured well by our PM in two simple words – Digital India. The coverage of the programme is all encompassing, and if planned and executed properly, it will truly bring about a revolution in our land. Meghalaya has already put in place the core IT infrastructure like SWAN, SDC, CSC and SSDG. We have also taken necessary initiatives that will now be part and parcel of the Digital India programme. The State of Meghalaya is indeed ready to ride the Digital India wave driving the country towards a better tomorrow.
Tell us something about your IT Vision 2020.
I feel that IT in Meghalaya in the next five years will be more of ‘Technopreneurship’. The upcoming Technology Park in Shillong will be an opportune landmark for the budding minds to venture out and flourish in the NE region.
IT in Meghalaya in the next five years will be more of ‘Technopreneurship’. The upcoming Technology Park in Shillong will be an opportune landmark for the budding minds to venture out and flourish in the NE region
What is the difference between State’s IT Policy 2014 and the Government of India’s IT Act 2000?
Fundamentally, the Central Government’s IT Act 2000 is a statutory law, providing legal status to electronic documents, digital signatures, offences and contravention, and justice dispensation system for cyber crimes.
On the other hand, the State’s IT Policy 2004 is a formal document outlining the intentions and strategies of the State in the IT sector. It is also supplemented by the State’s Industrial Policy 1997, wherein special incentives are provisioned for IT-enabled industries. In view of the upcoming Technology Park in Shillong and the special emphasis for NE states in the Centre’s IT Policy, we are currently revisiting the State’s IT Policy.
Some people often misuse the social media. Do you think that the Meghalaya Cyber Café Rules 2012would be able to stop its?
The Meghalaya Cyber Café Rules 2012 had been drafted at a time when the social media was yet to gain the rage that it has become today. Its provisions are limited in scope and intent. Further, the fact needs to be appreciated that in March this year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act 2000, as the provisions were ‘open-ended’ and ‘undefined’. The Court termed Section 66A arbitrary. For monitoring the social media, I think first priority should be given to the existing provisions of the IT Act 2000 and its amendments.
What is the scope of IT industry in Meghalaya?
For a State that has been seriously looking to adopt IT in all sectors in the past two decades, we have indeed come a long way. We have learnt along the way how to implement projects and successfully manage their operation and maintenance. On-boarding the right kind of partners did help us in the long run.
The State has some inherent strengths like a skilled English-speaking population with developed education infrastructure, salubrious climate and a government, which is focused to IT. Through careful planning, strategy and sustained effort, these strengths can be leveraged to attract investors to the State to generate wealth for themselves and create employment for the local youths.
Realising this, the State Government had allotted 80 acres of land in New Shillong Township to build a Technology Park. The IT Department appointed a consultant to prepare a DPR and to chalk out strategy for implementation. Our leadership is committed to make the Technology Park a dream come true for the young people of our State and the region.