Secretary, Department of school Education, Andhra Pradesh
(At the time of giving the Interview Suresh Chanda was Secretary, Department of IT & C, Andhra Pradesh)
“Since India is a large country, e-enabling government departments has to be dealt at the state level. The Central government can only act as a facilitator by impressing upon every state government the significance of ICT projects in public welfare.”
How important is political vision and will as far as e-Governance projects are concerned?
e-Governance should be made a part of the political vision if things are to move fast. In a meeting under NISG last year, I had suggested that e-Governance should be shifted from the purview of administration and bureaucracy and made a part of the political system. Let us take the example of NREG. It became a success throughout the country, albeit in varying degrees, as it was a priority of the Central government. We need to create an environment where the political system realises the significance of IT in governance. A move has been made in this direction by the Department of IT, through NISG for generating awareness on ICT. Each state can send their political executives to NISG which conducts ICT workshops.
RAJiv Internet Village scheme was an important step towards providing hi-speed connectivity and e-services to the rural areas. What, according to you, went wrong?
There has been a mixed response to this project. Some of the RAJiv centers located around urban areas have done quite well but centers in interior areas have completely failed. For the centre to sustain itself, a minimum number of transactions is required so that the centre earns enough revenue to maintain the kiosk. In rural areas, the kiosks were not getting even the minimum number of transactions. Considering this, the Central government has included a provision of a subsidy of INR 3000 to each CSC operator for four years to make it financially viable.
At the time of bidding for RAJiv centres, the vendors made bids in negative thinking revenue can be raised from transactions. So they started running in losses.
As the government provides free electricity in some rural areas of the state, the scope of transactions over electricity bill, a G2C service that brings maximum revenue, almost diminishes. Similarly, house tax bill comes twice a year, while water tax comes quarterly. So there is a problem of sustaining these centers in rural areas.
Since it is a PPP model, the private sector should taken the lead and done campaigns for disseminating information on the centers. Moreover, some government subsidy is required to operationalise the kiosks till they become self-sufficient. However, this was lacking from the first day itself.
Don’t you think spreading awareness on ICT initiatives is key to garnering acceptability in rural areas?
The RAJiv centres were based on the PPP model. The private partners were supposed to take a lead in promoting kiosks, creating awareness, and bringing services needed in a particular area. It is not appropriate to assume, that a particular set of services will be accepted in each corner of the state, because the needs and requirements of citizens varies from place to place. For example, in areas where large number of mobile phones are available, recharge coupons can be made available. In areas where a significant population lives abroad, Internet, mailing system and voice chat will be extremely popular. So services should be offered according to the needs of local people, which in turn would ensure viability. This is where the proficiency of the private sector comes in.
Don’t you think availability of G2C services is one of the key factors in the success of such e-kiosks?
The three most important elements responsible for making e-kiosks successful are: telecommunications, ICT enabled government departments for facilitating G2C services, and finally B2C. Initially, government services were required to provide a minimum base. But over time, building kiosks and availability of G2C services have not been synchronised. Such synchronisation requires a policy at the state level so that setting up of kiosks and IT enabling government departments go hand in hand.
Do you think there is lack of policy initiatives at the national level for putting the departments on ICT mode?
Since India is a large country, e-enabling government departments has to be dealt at the state level. The Central government can only act as a facilitator by impressing upon every state government the significance of ICT projects in public welfare. One such successful example is the uniform value added tax (VAT) applicable throughout the country. Earlier each state had its own tax system. This uniformity was established due to concerted efforts on part of the Government of India in brining every state government to the discussion table. Once e-Governance becomes a political priority, projects will start showing results.
In Austria, there is a system of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in each province to drive the e-Governance projects and a Chief CIO to monitor all the provincial CIOs. Can this mechanism be replicated in India?
In Andhra Pradesh too, we have a CIO programme and seven batches have already been trained till now. We select 25 officers per year, who are given four-and-half months training at IIM Ahmedabad at a cost of INR 75 lakh per batch. The idea was that these CIO’s will oversee the IT implementation in respective departments. However, these officers are yet to make a mark as they have not been given any specific responsibilities regarding IT projects. And this can only happen once each department has an IT plan. But again, on the positive side, through the trainings, we have managed to create a pool of more than 200 IT-skilled officials in the state machinery.
Pratap Vikram Singh,