Shankar Aggarwal, Joint Secretary e-Governance, MoCIT, Government of India
Implementing e-Governance for improving public services has been a challenge even for the developed countries. For a country as diverse as India, transforming public services while making sure that the continuity is not affected by the massive need of change management is a task that requires perseverance, domain knowledge and hard work. Mr. Shankar Aggarwal, one of the prominent e-Government practitioners, has been actively engaged in the efforts to transform the face of public services in India. In the endeavour to achieve the NeGP mission to deliver services at the doorstep of citizens, the mobile phones, with more than 720 million subscribers have a great role to play. The Joint Secretary with Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Mr. Aggarwal has embarked on a mission to leverage the potential of Mobile and New Media Technologies in accelerating the deployment of public services through mobile governance (m-Governance) Mr.Aggarwal shared his mission and vision with Vikas Kanungo, the founder of m-GovWorld and Cheif Editor of Government @ 24/7. The excerpts from the interview held in November, 2010 are presented here.
“In order to ensure delivery of public services at citizens’ doorsteps, we are now ready to leverage the potential of mobile devices in the areas of financial inclusion, health, education and e-Governance. With more than 70 crore subscribers, Mobile governance is being explored as an extension of NeGP"
Shankar Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India
Vikas Kanungo: NeGP has been there since its approval by Cabinet in 2006. What milestones have been achieved since then in terms of creation of infrastructure, capacity building of government agencies and deployment of applications for public services?
Shankar Aggarwal: you see when we got the approval of the cabinet on National e-Governance plan in May 2006, at that point of time we thought that we will be adopting multi-pronged strategy. First part of this strategy was to focus on business process reengineering. We communicated to all the state governments as well as the line ministries in central government that while drawing up their e-Governance strategies, they should focus on change management and business process reengineering rather than on computerization. And to ensure that they pay attention to the strategic inputs provided, it was decided that all the e-Governance projects that came under the ambit of NeGP Mission Mode Projects will be appraised by DIT. In addition to that, we thought that it was a good idea to create an e-infrastructure for the deployment and delivery of public services throughout the country on an inclusive basis. The e-infrastructure was conceptualized as three basis pillars as SWAN – Secured State Wide Area Networks, SDC – State Data Centres and CSC – Common Service Centres. As of October 2010, 23 SWANs across the country are up and operational, The contracts for 18 out of 33 state data centres have been finalized by the state governments and about 85000 CSCs against a target of 100,000 CSCs are up and Operational. So we have come a very very long distance. We acknowledge that some of the CSCs may not have been able to succeed they could not get enough revenue through G2C services as well as B2C services. We think this is natural, because when you start a very small micro enterprise, some of these may close down as the entrepreneurs who have set up these centres may or may not have the capability and resilience to continue with this kind of operations, and there may have been connectivity issues. But slowly and surely, we are working to overcome these bottlenecks. We have created a task force on connectivity and have been given assurance by BSNL that come what may, all the CSCs will be connected with the broadband connectivity by June 2011. The continuous availability of power at the CSCs is another big concern. The option of solar power for some of the centres where electricity is a problem is being worked out. We are in touch with the USO fund administrators and have requested financial support so that all the 100,000 CSCs have availability of un-interrupted power supply. With the success of these efforts, I am reasonable sure that we will be in a position to have these three pillars of infrastructure reasonably ready to deliver by June 2011.
Vikas Kanungo: Out of all the MMPs, would you like to mention two MMPs that have been able to greatly deliver the goals? What two MMPs do you see as most promising on citizen and government expectations in coming year?
Shankar Aggarwal: The two MMPs I would describe as being able to deliver on the mission of NeGP have been:
- The Income Tax MMP – where most of the citizens in the country are able to file their returns as well as transact with the department for many other services; and
- MCA 21 implemented by Ministry of Corporate Affairs where all the processes right from registering a company to the filing of various returns by the companies have totally been migrated from a manual system to a 100% automated system.
The two MMPs I see as delivering largely of citizen expectations in the very near future are:
- The Passport project of Ministry of External affairs which will be ready to deliver services through e-Governance in another six months. The citizens will be able to submit their applications at state of the art professionally managed facilitation centres, track the status of their applications online and get the passport delivered to their door steps in a highly efficient manner.
- The MMP I see making a huge difference to the citizen/business experience in dealing with government is e-biz MMP. Today, whether you are a small entrepreneur or a big corporation, setting up a new unit requires you to interact with multitude of government agencies to secure various clearances. Through the e-biz MMP, we are aiming to create a single window system where only one application will need to be submitted. The e-biz system will be connected to various government agencies for all sort of legal clearances to the business units and the end users will have a single point of contact in terms of e-biz front office. We feel that this will contribute to the growth of economy as well as tothe welfare of society in a big way.
Vikas Kanungo: The number of mobile subscribers in India has reached more than 700 million. How do you see that impacting the service delivery options under NeGP?
Shankar Aggarwal: We fully realize the potential of the mobile devices in delivering both the information and services to the people. As you have mentioned, there are more than 70 crore citizens in the country who now have access to these devices. The penetration of the mobile devices have increased from 10% at the time of NeGP approval to more than 60% , in fact almost 80% as one mobile device is used by entire family in rural areas, it has now become feasible to deliver services (wherever possible) to these 80% citizens under NeGP. We admit that we have not worked extensively on leveraging the potential of mobile government so far , but the writing on the wall is very clear to us now. We are now going to put all our efforts to leverage the potential of these devices in the areas of financial inclusion, health, education and e-Governance. You have been a part of our discussions today where we discussed the inclusion of mobile governance as an important component under NeGP.
Vikas Kanungo: All the Telecom players are readying to launch 3G services in next quarter. Do you see potential of 3G data services in enhancing the reach of public services under NeGP?
Shankar Aggarwal: As I have already communicated and you were the part of the presentation that was made today, mobile governance is going to be the key component of our endeavours to take the NeGP to the next level. For the 3G players, I would like to suggest that one of the key domains that can gain a lot from 3G platform is the health domain. The government has been trying their level best to improve the quality of health services in the country. We have not been able to use IT and Mobile devices to the best of their potential so far. Now we have an excellent opportunity in the form of 3G data services through which all the key information regarding the patients can be communicated through this network to the relevant health centres and the experts without the need for the patient to travel physically to these centres and experts. Citizens would not mind paying nominal fees to avail such services. Given the demand of health services in the country and the suitability of 3G networks coupled with innovative applications business models, the services may add greatly to the ARPU of the telecom players as well as to improve the health services in the country. I will therefore suggest to the telecom players, to look at this area as a major opportunity and hope that this helps bring the health services in the country, especially to the rural people to a comfortable level if not match the global standards to begin with.
Vikas Kanungo: As is seen, many agencies worldwide are using mobile devices for gathering citizens’ opinion on their policies which is called m-participation. How do you plan to utilise the opportunity for raising awareness about NeGP, especially in rural areas?
Shankar Aggarwal: I admit that even though we have a massive program about awareness generation under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), we have not been able to use the potential of mobile devices at all for this purpose. We now plan to extensively use the new media technologies, of which mobiles are the most prominent under our awareness generation program and will soon make up for the delay in starting with mobile technologies. Our efforts in this direction have already started. We hope to have a framework in place as soon as possible.
Vikas Kanungo: Do you see the potential of mobile applications integrated with the CSCs so that the reach and services bouquet of CSCs can be enhanced further?
Shankar Aggarwal: There is no doubt about that.
Vikas Kanungo: Would you like to comment briefly on the challenges on moving toasted mobile government in India?
Shankar Aggarwal: First and foremost is capacity. We need to create a mechanism that enhances the possibility of mobile based delivery. One of the key pre-requisite for this is back end automation. Mobile phones or CSCs are largely the front end delivery channels. So unless the back end is completely automated, it is not possible to fully leverage the potential of mobile devices or CSCs in delivering the services to citizens at their door step. The back-end automation has to be completed by the concerned departments. This requires the mind set change as well as the process reengineering. Unless we achieve this , we will be lagging behind in being able to fully benefit from the mobile and new media technologies for delivery of services.
Vikas Kanungo: During our discussion with various telecom players, academic institutes and mobile application providers, most of them indicated that the potential of using mobiles as delivery channel under NeGP is immense and they would like to work with DIT and GOI on developing innovative applications if DIT leads the initiative. What message would you like to convey to them?
Shankar Aggarwal: I would like to convey to them that we are now geared up and taking concrete steps to include mobile governance as one of the key agendas under NeGP. We have not done much in the past on mobile governance, but now we are ready. I would like to invite all the stakeholders to join hands with us and we will be happy to utilize this immense opportunity in a coordinated manner in consultation with all the stakeholder groups including academic institutions, Telecom Players, Application Developers and civil society.