Interview

Tamil Nadu sets benchmark of eGovernance in India

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Santosh K Misra

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the State governments across India have geared up their systems for remote functioning using advanced technologies. This has also strengthened the e-governance framework of the country. Highlighting the commendable initiatives taken by Tami Nadu in this regard, Santosh K Misra, Commissioner of e-Governance and CEO, Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA), Department of Information Technology, Government of Tamil Nadu interacted in an exclusive interview with Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN).

Q. What are the major e-governance measures launched by TNeGA in times of COVID-19? How are you utilising technology to ensure last-mile delivery of essential services?

Various e-governance initiatives are launched by the Government of Tamil Nadu with the help of TNeGA to manage COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the major initiatives include:

  1. TN e-Pass

The State developed a unified portal called ‘TN ePASS’ to facilitate the movement of individuals and industries within the state and beyond while adhering to the lockdown norms laid down by the Government. It was a large initiative in terms of volumes and efforts by TNeGA. It was launched on May 2, 2020. The software is customizable and fully modular. That means you can keep adding relaxation of a particular district or place or industry. This system was put in place in a very short time and was stable within a day. So far about 22 lakh passes have been processed on our portal https://tnepass.tnega.org.

  1. IVRS Solution for COVID-19 

Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) is a tool for people to self-assess vulnerability to COVID-19 and for the department to identify the people needing help. This system was designed to reach out to the population which does not use smartphones and help them in understanding the symptoms of coronavirus. This system does not require an internet connection or a smartphone and was made available in the regional language Tamil. The way it works is that anyone can give a missed call to 9499912345. The system would then call them back and ask them to respond to simple questions. Their responses are analysed and risk categorisation of the caller is done. The district administration would step in for providing appropriate assistance. As on May 19, 2020, Aarogya Setu IVRS has received around 1.75 lakh calls.

  1. TNGIS Portal for COVID-19

TNIGS is a one-stop portal for all location-based information on COVID-19 positive cases and contacts, geographical concentration and spread of the disease over a period of time.

  1. Data Analysis and Visualizations 

Another important measure by the State is collection, processing and analytics of data from field workers and health care systems and processes.

  1. COVID-19 Quarantine Monitor Application 

The mobile application is developed to monitor people who have been put under quarantine by the Department of Public Health (DPH) or Law Enforcement authorities.

  1. Citizen Engagement

Disseminating through short films & posters health and hygiene precautions to be followed by people to avoid coronavirus. Gathering positive news stories from districts and sharing in social media.

Also Read: Work from Home in Government: A Cybersecurity challenge amidst COVID Pandemic

Q. Technologies like Blockchain, AI, Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT), Drone Technology etc. are playing a major role in multiple arenas. What are the e-governance services developed and being delivered by deploying these technologies to combat the pandemic? 

TNeGA has provided applications development, data management, GIS and data analytics services to Department of Public Health (DPH) and other stakeholders like Tamil Nadu Police by providing visibility into the prevalence of COVID-19 in order to make effective resource allocation decisions. Also, various touchless applications and services are provided by TNeGA with its partners, like AI-Based Facial Recognition System for Attendance, Drone technology for maintaining Sanitation, Chatbot for Information dissemination.

Q. What is the role of data in e-governance? How are you managing such a huge data in this time of Corona crisis?

Data is the key to all the e-Governance initiatives. Analytics helps to leverage this vast information about projects and activities to effectively utilise resources for efficiency in public service delivery, transparency in governance and improving day-to-day operations.

For example, daily spread data serves as the basis for policymakers to take key decisions. For Example, the decision on how transport should be allowed could be based on data of disease spread.

Q. In the post COVID era, which are the core areas/sectors in which maximum technology would be taking place? 

COVID-19 will have a far-reaching effect on most sectors. It is easy to note that COVID-19 has made the concept of ‘work from home’ mainstream and acceptable to all sectors beyond the IT/ITES sector. Now, all entities, ranging from the Government to large and small enterprises are adopting it. This has huge implications on opportunities for engaging a more diverse workforce, enhance the participation of women in the workforce and enable businesses to tap the hinterlands and not just focus on cities or major urban centres for their operations.

Specifically, two sectors that could see radical change post-COVID-19 are health care and education. People are now comfortable to consult with doctors over a video conference, teachers & students are learning to use the online platforms effectively. While it is nobody’s case that online would become the primary norms for teaching or healthcare, it is certain that major new avenues are now wide open.

Also Read: Dr Harsh Vardhan launches “COVID KATHA” on 49th DST Foundation Day

Q. Do you agree that the adoption of technology would increase in the near future by State governments? 

Yes. This pandemic actually has introduced new opportunities for wider adoption of technology. There has always been a natural resistance whenever changes are introduced and technology is no exception. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has broken barriers at multiple levels. Many have realized the benefits of technology, its penetration in all sections of the society and the ease which it provides for all stakeholders. Internet, mobility and social media have created a ‘networked society’. It has significantly influenced our response to COVID-19. It is therefore imperative for Governments to change the way they operate and interact with people.

Use of video conferencing technology and acceptance of work-from-home is a part of this evolving scenario. For instance, our entire GIS team was stranded at different places and yet they were able to deliver on their tasks in time, every day. They collaborated using online tools and delivered on the tasks assigned to them. A large part of our workforce was using a work-from-home option for the entire period of lockdown and we did not notice much of a difference.

Thus, we probably now have a lot of new converts advocating technology within the Government. Going forward, we should see major adoption of technology at a large-scale level in Governments.

Q. How e-governance services are being delivered through Common Service Centres? 

The CSCs were mostly shut for the entire lockdown period except for the taluk headquartered ones. We had to open these to handle e-pass requests from people who were not able to access the online e-pass system. However, most of our regular e-governance services are available online. In the last few days, the numbers are going up for online applications. People are using e-governance services.

Now following the new relaxations, as many as 25 districts in Tamil Nadu have been allowed to function normally (for the most part). The district collectors are slowly opening the CSCs to resume operations.

Q. How is Tamil Nadu utilising the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in Covid-19 management? 

TNeGA is actively engaged with both start-ups and large enterprises to help manage COVID-19. It was heartening to see companies big and small, professionals and academics proactively reaching out to the Government and offer their help. Several companies, professionals and technology enthusiasts volunteered their time to help manage the pandemic. It has truly been a collaborative effort of Government and civil society in Tamil Nadu.

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