by July 2, 2007 0 comments



India is a vast and diverse country with multiple ethnicities and cultures.
Different groups of people living across different geographical terrains have
their unique sets of problems and aspirations. While urban India clamors for
more power and better infrastructure, rural folks are still grappling for basic
amenities such as potable water and adequate food. Then you have farmers’
concerns over the quality of seeds, irrigation facilities and lack of technical
knowhow that hamper agriculture output; critical issues for a country with more
than a billion people to feed. On the other hand, if you look at urban India,
you’ll see the omnipresent issues of people fighting out of their skins to get
basic bits of information from corrupt babus in various government depts,
wasting months and years of productive life over trivial issues. These are but a
few examples of the enormity of tasks that stare central and state governments
in the face. You may think of central and state governments (hereinafter
referred to as government) as one large enterprise running various subsidiaries
across the length and breadth of the nation trying to get rid of the roadblocks
at the most elementary level to lead the country to progress as a single,
cohesive unit. Where does IT figure in all this? Well, it has the potential to
act as a major accelerator of this scantily oiled, bulky machinery on which lies
the onus of getting the nation moving.

Last month we carried our special story on IT implementations across various
verticals in India. We received a glut of nominations from various government
ministries and departments. A careful scrutiny of all nominations revealed many
interesting facets of the IT activity across various government depts. What came
out was that there is still a great deal of automation required in various
government depts to ensure faster movement of files and to provide information
for the benefit of the public at large. Procedural delays are one of the reasons
why citizen related queries are never answered within the stipulated time frame.

Information Technology acts as the medium to ensure efficiency and
effectiveness of governance, the two being clubbed together to coin the term
e-governance. ‘Electronic governance’ is meant to be a synonym to describe an IT
driven system of governance that improves speed, flexibility, saves on costs and
is capable of servicing citizens’ needs better. Around a decade back, the
National Task Force on IT and Software Development, appointed by the Prime
Minister, prepared a comprehensive set of recommendations in its ‘Information
Technology Action Plan,’ to further India’s position as a global IT superpower.
The benefits of e-governance as implemented through various programs can be
clubbed into the following:

1. Transparency in Government operations and Government-public interface.
2. Improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of Government’s service
delivery systems.
3. Improvement in the efficiency of administration.
4. Faster dissemination of information.
5. Improving financial management through effective monitoring at all levels and
building better regulatory mechanisms.


Salient features of RTI
1. The Right
to Information (RTI) Act came into force on 12th Oct 2005 and covers the
whole of India except J&K. It includes the right to inspect docs, records of
govt; take certified samples of materials; and obtain info in the form of
printouts or through electronic means.
2. Excluded from its purview are central intelligence and security
agencies specified in the Second Schedule like IB, R&AW, Directorate of
Revenue Intelligence, Directorate of Enforcement, NCB, BSF, CRPF, etc.
3. Each public authority is supposed to appoint a Public Information
Officer (PIO) to provide information to citizens under the Act. A person
seeking information has to apply in writing or through electronic means to
the concerned PIOand provide reasons for seeking information.
4. A department is bound to provide a suitable reply within 30 days
of application. Failure to provide the information within the specified
period is deemed refusal.
5. In case a person is not satisfied, he can appeal to the Central
Information Commission, comprising of eminent persons from law, science,
education, etc, within 90 days of the date on which a decision was given or
should have been given by the lower appellate authority.

Various phases of IT deployment
The deployment of IT in government departments began in phases. Each phase
was unique and had its own set of advantages during the concerned period. During
the first phase of deployment in the mid-80s, deployments were concentrated
around automating basic clerical operations. During this phase all those
involved, be it the IT deployers or the end users were very enthusiastic over
the prospects of using a new technology. And even though IT awareness spread
across all levels of State machinery, it created islands of IT resources,
concentrated mainly at the headquarters of various departments. There were
either little or absolutely no linkages amongst those islands and therefore they
could not include customer orientation.

Nevertheless, the success of that phase led to government departments and
agencies beginning to take a hard look at their roles in the years to come and
they were more willing to re-engineer processes through enterprise wide
information systems. Government departments now explicitly want their IT plans
to be intrinsic to the planning process, to improve efficiency and effectiveness
of service delivery systems. Once the bottlenecks in the initial phase were
over, the second stage of deployments focused on enhancing the quality of
service for the common man and increasing transparency in the day-to-day
functioning of the government. This would facilitate empowerment of people and
fulfill their right to information. This proved to be a lengthier process and
various ministries and departments needed to gauge the extent of computerization
of their core activities, infrastructure requirements and enhance IT awareness
amongst users.

This is where the role of National Informatics Center (NIC) as the nodal
agency in providing IT support to government comes to fore. Not only does the
agency look deeply into the processes of various ministries and their associated
departments, it also carries out the necessary re-engineering to bring those
processes in tune with IT requirements. This not only ensures efficiency but
also transparency. The organization has its own officials deputed at various
ministries to coordinate with the local staff and continuously develop, monitor
and maintain all of their applications. It also identifies local champions, ie,
people who have a keen eye on IT, and regularly trains them so that more and
more responsibility could be shouldered within an office.

Challenges in IT deployment


The main challenge faced by the government is to integrate disparate data
that is spread across the entire length and breadth of the country. You can
imagine the ordeal that network service providers must be facing while laying
out cables be it fiber optic or copper across the rugged terrain in far flung
areas, thereby trying to spread the usage of applications to the remotest
corners of the country. An integrated IT center for each ministry that centrally
monitors all of its remote offices is the ultimate goal that can truly establish
e-governance for the masses. To attain this, wherever possible, the government
is looking at public-private sector partnership. This is best exemplified by the
outsourcing of the backbone of most of the networks to private organizations. In
fact the ‘National IT Action Plan’, envisages the Government to encourage
private sector to become ISPs in their domain areas. The Government can even
instruct DoT and VSNL to extend optical fiber links to specific districts on
priority. Not only that even the AMC for various networks has been outsourced to
specialists.

Once e-governance applications have been rolled out, a crucial step is to
ensure that information regarding those reaches out to masses. For this, at
district level, data warehouses having local contents have been created. It is
important to note here that India is a country of diverse cultures, languages
and dialects. So, it is essential that public interface of these applications is
topped with the local flavor. This would enhance their appeal to the citizens.
The information can be made available to masses at the local administrative
centers such as block development offices, panchayats, etc through information
kiosks. Again, to spread a large network of such kiosks requires active
participation from the private sector. The government can make such partnerships
financially viable for private enterprises by charging nominal fees from the
public for services being provided.

The simplest application of e-governance is the facility to fill forms online
while applying for any service or clearance from the Government. The Government
has taken tremendous measures in this regard. We see forms related to most
municipalities, Election Commission, universities, state education boards,
regional passport offices, etc freely available on the Web. This level of
e-governance can be enhanced by online monitoring of routing processes in
various departments. e-Lekha and e-Samarth are such kind of applications that
bring about transparency in the working of Government. Further, each public
dealing department should clearly define the contact points and the level of
information interchange between it and citizens. The information kiosks would
facilitate the citizens to actually practise information interchange with the
Government. No e-governance application is complete unless it is backed by an
effective redressal mechanism. To attain speedier information flow across the
hierarchy, state-of-the-art computer network and other related communication
peripherals should be installed across all offices. Linkages between the central
network and the Statewide WANs should provide e-mail, voice, data and video
communication facility up to ministerial levels.

Next comes security. Once you have deployed applications to enable
e-governance, securing data is a primary concern. The Government should
formulate a uniform data security and privacy policy, and other legal frameworks
including cyber laws so that there is no confusion in interpretation of laws at
any stage. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is the right step in this
direction and contains provisions for authorizing electronic records. This is
important as we need to reduce paperwork to the max if we want greater
transparency and speedier transactions and monitoring of processes. A regular
monitoring of the IT utilization in various departments has also been
implemented through electronic documents.

These days, computer proficiency of a specified level has been mandated as an
essential qualification for appointments in most of the Government depts. The
‘IT Action Plan’ submitted by the IT Task Force set up by the Government of
India has suggested a proactive drive for ‘IT for all by 2008’. It has
recommended ‘OPERATION KNOWLEDGE’ to spread computer literacy and the use
computers and IT in education. The Government has already taken the lead in
establishing IT training centers for the benefit of its employees at each
district headquarters. Its personnel are regularly sent for high-end computer
training courses in India and abroad to be in touch with the latest
technologies. The Government has also established contracts with leading and
reputed IT services vendors to avail a wide range of IT consultancy, specialist
services and IT products. This way services are outsourced to specialist service
providers and government can save on infrastructure and manpower costs.

Dr N Vijayaditya, Controller of Certifying
Authorities, Govt of India, has more than 30 years of experience in handling
projects across various government depts. Prior to his current role, he was
the Director-General at the National Informatics Centre.

What is the current state of IT usage across various government
departments?
A lot of initiatives have been taken by various govt depts for introduction
of IT in their day-to-work and in providing service to the public. Some like
Ministries of External Affairs, Company Affairs, Finance and Rural Development
have made substantial progress but others still have some catching up to do.
Overall, people do believe that IT would help them get better service from the
govt.

What areas (infrastructure, ERP, workflow automation, etc) is most of the
IT deployment taking place in?
All of these are critical components of an e-governance application. Without
creating a proper infrastructure you can’t provide different services. On top of
an adequate infrastructure you need good apps. When apps have been deployed, you
need systematic procedures and processes. You might need to re-engineer them and
continuously monitor and enhance those applications. Information dissemination
to the population at large regarding various policies and schemes comes next.
For eg, if you want to apply for a passport you need to know the right
procedure. Unless you’re aware of the correct procedure, you can’t file an
application. These are the various stages of implementing an e-governance
application.

Scalability of applications is a major concern for Government. What do you
think?
It’s not easy to replicate a successful application across the length and
breadth of the country as different rules govern different states. As opposed to
private companies there is a lot more diversity in the way Govt of India
functions. However, you can use the experience of developing a project to
replicate the code further. With the passage of time you’ll find that certain
standards are set and you gradually develop uniformity as can be seen in the
case of passports, income tax returns, etc. Initially, we didn’t have good
communication networks so we had desktop based systems. However, with
improvement in communications, we were able to integrate standalone systems.
When you do that expansion of applications becomes easier.

What are the challenges while carrying out IT deployment in government
offices?
The foremost challenge is standardization. Integration with legacy
applications and capacity building are the other ones. People concerned need to
be trained, you need to create much higher bandwidth and to reach out of metros
to rural areas. You need to go down to villages with your mobile apps and create
infrastructure in rural areas which have a total of 2,40,000 panchayats. But for
implementing IT in rural areas you need adequate power supply. Then you need to
create backup procedures and security for your systems. Your systems should be
reliable, authentic and transparent and non-repudiable. With increase in volumes
the size of data centers will also increase. You need to create electronic
archival systems to retrieve your records twenty years down the line, a crucial
requirement for managing land records.

 

 

M Moni, Dy Director General, NIC
pioneered to establish District Information System of NIC (DISNIC) in
sectors such as Agriculture, Education, Industries and Rural Development
across 520 districts.

What is the state of ICT usage across various deptts?
The usage is not in a ‘holistic manner’ so as to have a profound impact on
RoI in terms of people, processes and knowledge. Government depts both in States
and Central Government are yet to announce their ‘Informatics Policy’ for
productivity increase in their subject domain. ICT Policy of many governments is
more or less related to ICT industries. e-Governance roadmaps of many government
depts, as of now, do not reflect the ‘pyramid upside down.’ G2G, G2B, G2C
components of e-Governance Framework require ‘institutional approach,’ i.e.
training, extension, development, education and research approach. They require
moving beyond ‘technology’ component.

Is lack of resources (monetary, skilled manpower, infra-structure, etc)
any constraint for effective deployment or utilization of IT?
Money is not a problem as the Central Government has earmarked 2-3% of their
annual outlay for IT components. Under the National e-Governance Programme (NeGP)
of the Department of Information Technology, an investment to the tune of about
Rs. 23000 Crore has been estimated. Regarding skilled manpower, capacity as well
as capability building programs have been undergoing, as a regular process. For
eg, government officials of the Directorates of the Department of Agriculture &
Cooperation (DAC) of the Central Ministry, were trained in the areas of office
productivity tools, data base development and data analysis, and GIS with
specialized course materials, under the DACNET Programme (http://dacnet.nic.in).
Under the AGMARKNET Programme, more than 6000 officials of the 2870 Agricultural
Wholesale Markets were trained (http://agmarknet.nic.in).

What is the level of support given to NIC by central or state governments
to carry out R&D activities in IT?
The support is tremendous for carrying out ‘developmental’ activities.
Mainstreaming ICT for sectoral productivity, which is the backbone of NIC,
requires five components: Research, Education, Development, Training and
Extension, for sustainable development. NIC’s 10th and 11th Five Year Plans
identified various ‘Centres of Excellence’ to promote R&D. Of late, NIC has
launched its own plan schemes to strengthen R&D activities in the area of
‘Informatics development.’

What does the future promise?
Future lies in ‘Rural Computing’ for all ‘last mile’ problems.It shall be
mandatory for universities, institutes of higher education to adopt ‘one
district’ each for undertaking all R&D activities related to ‘last mile’
problems in mainstreaming ICT for ‘Rural India to Smile, Shine and Roar.’
Networking of all institutions (colleges, universities, etc) located in a
district is essential. District Administration is expected to earmark to 3-5% of
their annual outlay (Central schemes, State schemes, District untied funds, etc
pooled together) for Institutional support, for ‘rural computing.’ In my
opinion, it is essential to usher in ‘e-society’ at grassroots level, for
achieving ‘India-a Knowledge Society.’ This will be the ‘C2G’ (reverse of G2C)
component of the e-Governance Framework.

 

NIC provides ICT support to the Office of
Controller General of Accounts. Its Technical Director, Dipankar Sengupta tells us how IT has regulated accounts processes & increased
transparency.

How has IT helped in automating accounts process across various
ministries?
Given the complexity and scale of all government processes, the requirement
for IT-based processes is huge. More so in offices that keep a watch on accounts
as great deal of accuracy is required. But automating a process in one office is
one thing while replicating it across thousands of diverse locations is another.
For eg, in accounts, Drawing & Disbursal Officer (DDO) is first point of contact
for an employee, and we have 8000 such DDOs across civil ministries in India.
These in turn report to 328 Pay & Accounts Offices (PAO). While the working of
all offices from the CGA to the PAOs has been almost fully automated, we could
automate only 250 of the DDOs. This is because of the geographical spread of the
DDOs, their rudimentary IT infrastructure and awareness.

What are the challenges you face while carrying out IT deployments in
government offices? Is lack of resources (monetary, skilled manpower,
infrastructure, etc) any constraint for effective deployment or utilization of
IT?
Skilled manpower, basic awareness and infrastructure at the field level
continue to remain a major constraint. Lack of funds and inherent delays in
procurement processes adds up to existing constraints. IT constitutes a very
small part of a government’s budget. NIC is the only government agency that
provides consultancy to government departments. But it works on very tight
budgets. On top of that the scalability costs for hardware and software are very
high, since our projects involve deployment across the entire country. So,
during deployments we try to work with the existing infrastructure rather than
going in for the latest equipment both in terms of hardware and software.

Accounts offices have a lot of dusty files lying stacked up in dingy
corners. What’s required to change all this?
IT is now regulated in most ministries. So, we see more and more processes
being automated to improve efficiency and transparency. Introduction of
e-payments in the forthcoming future is one step in this direction in the Civil
Accounts Organization. On similar lines, the government is planning to introduce
transparency into employee centric areas such as Pension and General Provident
Fund. Having said that, most of our applications are still de-centralized or at
best hybrid in nature as bandwidth and network security concerns need to be
addressed to spread the fruits of centralized applications across remote
locations. Popular schemes that provide information to the masses such as the
forthcoming e-samarth and the already present RTI have shot up the need for IT.

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.