The role and potential of eGovernance is increasing at a rapid pace in Kerala, particularly in the Local Self Government Department (LSGD), which has set up an autonomous body called Information Kerala Mission (IKM) to strengthen local governments through ICT, tells Principal Secretary of LSGD, James Varghese to Vishwas Dass and Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN)
What are the various eGovernance initiatives undertaken by the LSGD?
The panchayat and municipal administration departments are undertaking a lot of e-governance initiatives. LSGD has a specialised agency called Information Kerala Mission (IKM) which has developed 16 crucial software, that are directly connected with people and administration. Important certificates like death, birth, marriage, pension and other documents are being issued online which even do not require e-signature of officials concerned and are valid across Kerala. Anyone can get these documents online and produce these to other departments like education, police or any other. Our database can be accessed by other government departments so that they can verify and cross check the documents. As far as registration of birth certificates is concerned, hospitals provide information to the panchayats which automatically gets registered with the municipal administration.
Similarly, marriage certificates can also be received online. Importantly, building plan approval has also been made online. People can upload their buildings plan on the urban development website and get those approved within stipulated timeframe. Thereafter, payment of taxes can also be made from centres called Akshay. Even for internal administrative matters, we are using IT. For instance, every year panchayats and municipalities are executing around 2.5 lakh small and major projects. These projects’ permissions, administrative and technical sanctions and other key permissions have been computerised so that officials from any of the offices can monitor their progress and status.
Kochi is listed in first 20 Smart Cities list. What are your views on the much-touted project? Smart Cities mission as an idea is very good, but converting a traditional city into a smart city is not an easy task and requires a lot of efforts. It is also not going to happen overnight. The scheme itself is concentrating on pan-city initiative benefiting every citizen. If one city is implementing this plan, it can be emulated by other small cities. Kochi has been chosen to be developed as smart city which is being taken very seriously by the Kerala government. Kerala has 48 per cent of urban population but unfortunately we got only one city to be transformed as smart city. A lot of cities of some states, like Gujarat and UP have made it to the list of smart city project, conceived by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Centre has added a number of statutory towns that have no importance at all. One state might have a policy by which they may declare a small area as a city, but that doesn’t mean that it is literally a city. The Centre should have shortlisted a census population and urban population criteria for choosing smart cities but unfortunately it was neglected. However, we have represented to them saying that there is a bit of lopsidedness in whole thing and we hope that the Centre would consider the above said things by next year. Even by the criteria followed now, where 50 per cent weight is given to statutory towns and remaining 50 per cent to urban population, Kerala should have got two cities in coveted smart city project.
Has the Kerala Government undertaken initiatives to develop other cities on the lines of smart city project? The state government had envisaged an ambitious project of providing potable water to every citizen in Kochi. Now you can find that potable water clause is one of the key components of the smart city project. Kerala is one state which is allocating maximum budget to the local bodies. Across the table, we are allocating 25 per cent of the state plan to the urban local bodies which is immensely huge. So, our municipalities are getting fair share of evolution. The smart city project is conspicuously an ambitious project but focus should be maintained to achieve this dream.
The state government had envisaged an ambitious project of providing potable water to every citizen in Kochi. Now you can find that potable water clause is one of the key components of the smart city project. Kerala is one state which is allocating maximum budget to the local bodies. Across the table, we are allocating 25 per cent of the state plan to the urban local bodies which is immensely huge. So, our municipalities are getting fair share of evolution. The smart city project is conspicuously an ambitious project but focus should be maintained to achieve this dream.
How strong is the community participation?
Community participation is extremely good in the rural pockets as people are well aware and keen to extend their suggestions to the government. But when it comes to the urban clusters, people become more individualistic thus diminishing possibilities of public participation on a greater extent compared to the rural parts. However, compared to other states the public participation is much better in Kerala. We are also executing a number of projects on public private partnership (PPP) mode to address the housing, infrastructure development, tourism, and other facilities of the local bodies. The thrust is on utilising the unused land in civic bodies for such purposes.