‘We want Tamil Nadu to be the best in e-governance’

‘We want Tamil Nadu to be the best in e-governance’

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The government’s vision is to enable citizens to avail government services from home, saving them the hassle of visiting government offices. Dr Santhosh Babu, Secretary, IT, Tamil Nadu, tells us how the department is gearing up for the challenge…

Dr Santhosh Babu
Dr Santhosh Babu
Secretary, IT, Tamil Nadu

The government’s vision is to enable citizens to avail government services from home, saving them the hassle of visiting government offices. Dr Santhosh Babu, Secretary, IT, Tamil Nadu, tells us how the department is gearing up for the challenge…

What are the objectives and aim of IT Department?
The policy note of 2011-2012 of the IT department of Government of Tamil Nadu is very clear on this. On the first page itself, we have clearly stated the seven objectives:

  1. Provide government services, both informational and transactional, to citizens at their door steps through the internet at the earliest – some of it is happening.
  2. Bridge the digital rural-urban divide;
  3. Make Tamil Nadu the best in IT enabled governance;
  4. Substantially increase the software exports of Tamil Nadu – it has to do with IT promotion;
  5. Provide cable TV services to all households in Tamil Nadu at reasonable rates, at the earliest;
  6. Take computing in Tamil to a higher level;
  7. Enhance the quality of life of citizens through information and communication technology.

Basically, there are two things that we do. One is e-governance which has got two parts, that is, making the office efficient and smart. Two, to make services available to citizens. The other thing which we do is promote IT industry. We promote special economic zone, IT parks, etc., so that more employment comes in.

How do you intend to make Tamil Nadu the best in IT enabled governance?
E-governance encompasses several things – how do we make shabbily looking government offices world class? That has happened in the private sector because of internet and the way work happens through work stations etc. Ambience matters a lot these days and can be substantially improved through e-governance. Two, since work flow can be automated, most of the paper work can be reduced or can be almost made nil like paperless offices, ERP enabled system or CRP enabled offices. Third, by making governance faster, more efficient and transparent so that the services are available to citizens at a faster pace. For example, a villager who has a computer with internet at home can avail government services from his home itself without having to visit government offices. The whole idea is to minimise citizen-government office interaction and maximise citizen-government interaction. This will also aid in addressing issues related to corruption.

Can you tell us about some of the schemes under e-governance?
We take advantage of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) which is an umbrella kind of thing for e-governance throughout the country. We try to implement those programmes very effectively and efficiently. In fact, Tamil Nadu is best as far as implementation of programmes under NeGP is concerned. For example, take state data center, we were the first one to complete and make it operational. Same is the case with SWAN, we were the first in the country in 2007 to make it operational, and now we are doing it with horizontal connectivity. If we talk about e-portal access digital forms, which is a Rs 16,000 crore project, we are the first in the country as far as its launch is concerned. The only problem that we have is with common service centers which is a kind of legal tangle, otherwise a large number of services are currently available online for citizens. For example, employment exchange is totally online, so one can renew, update, register, do everything from his home. Similarly, there is CCTNS project wherein all police stations in the state will be connected. It’s a Rs 8 crore mission mode project and includes additional offices, which means that there will be application through which citizens can file events and possibly, even register FIRs online. And if we talk about social welfare, backward classes, revenue department – right now in the Krishnagiri district, under the e-district project, a citizen can file five revenue certificates and five social welfare certificates online and get a digitally signed certificate at home itself. He can do this without even visiting any government office. Around 37,000 certificates have been issued so far.

Similarly, backward class scholarships, BC/BT scholarships, scholarships for SC/ST are totally online – it’s a paperless thing now. The health department is also doing massive work – electronic records are now available for patients. Take any department for that matter, for example, commercial taxes, massive work has been done by them.

Large number of departments are coming onto the fold and IT department is basically playing the role of a facilitator – we request them, advise them to consult the IT department. A number of common property resources are there on which the government of Tamil Nadu and India have invested, that is, many departments need not pay for a number of services like buying servers etc. Now government departments understand that all these common property resources are there and they should be part and parcel of a common set up.

The ultimate idea is that once the backhand applications are ready, even before backhand applications are ready, citizens can file applications online. But whether these backhand processes are computerised is a critical question – it’s the moot point – it’s happening in many departments. Although it’s not happening at the pace at which, probably, we want but nevertheless it’s happening. All the mission mode departments are on job at variant places. So we tend to think that in next one year, we will have large number of government services available online along with their backhand solutions.

Can you tell us about e-waste disposal project?
We were the first state in the country to come out with e-waste policy in 2010. Actually, the whole issue of e-waste has two aspects. One is the government e-waste and the other is citizen e-waste and corporate e-waste. Actually 95 per cent e-waste is lying ideal at government offices, corporate offices or at homes. If you look at mobile phones, there will be four to five mobile phones, you will not throw them in dustbin because you don’t know exactly how to do that. So only 5 per cent is actually processed outside. 95 of this 5 per cent is done by the informal sector which is what is creating the problem. It means the collection is informal and the dismantling is done by informal sector without looking at protective mechanisms for themselves or environment. Since the collection centres are all informal, recycling is also informal. It’s actually a value chain which can create a lot of value for different levels of collection – collection agents, dismantlers, recyclers, etc. So what we are saying and what we will be doing is bring the entire informal sector into the formal route. However, the problem is of incentive because when I give my e-waste to an informal agent who collects it, he probably pays me 10 times more than I will be paid in a formal set up – so we need to properly incentivise the citizen to deposit e-waste with the formal collection agents. Major discussions have happened now. I think the pollution control board is on the job to provide those services and we are taking that as public-private partnership mode.

Will you be guiding people about how to dispose waste?
There will be e-waste awareness seminars, discussions, campaigns etc. This will be done by the pollution control board. Lot of funding is available and the board has agreed to fund this awareness campaign – so we are planning to spread awareness through jingles, TV ads, FM, discussions, seminars, etc. All kinds of methods are being worked out to make sure that the message reaches the common man.

What’s being done to create e-governance awareness?
We have made ten announcements in the assembly. Two of which are very critical. One is the Chief Minister’s Award for Excellence in e-Governance which is being given to departments. The other is for the general citizen who is an e-governance enthusiast and develops an application which is tested and tried by jury. We believe these will create a huge impact. Talking about e-governance awareness campaign on people’s campaign mode, we have requested the government to give us around Rs 4.3 crore for various activities being taken up at district, state, block, taluk and panchayat level. We won’t need campaign once the services are available online but the beginning probably is essential. Once citizen starts going to the common service centre or taking services from home, then we don’t need much of awareness but yes, right now we require that – it is slowly happening this year.

How do you propose to use GIS in your e-governance projects? What’s being done for effective implementation of GIS in Tamil Nadu?
Tamil Nadu has been one of the pioneer states in using GIS for e-governance but it has not probably become part of policy. It has not really become so advanced that decisions can be taken using these decision-support systems. This is really unfortunate. That’s why we have put this as one of the nine thrust areas in our policy note. Huge amount of work has been done by Anna University, IIT, NIC etc. Also, certain departments like TWAD board, forest department, etc., have used GIS effectively. Around 80 layers of maps have been captured so far. However, different departments are spending huge amount of money to purchase maps from SoI, etc., which creates problems in terms of duplication, unnecessary time being wasted and so on. In the last chief secretary’s meeting, we had decided that Tamil Nadu e-governance agency will be the convenor along with the state planning commission to take this matter forward. So we are looking at a system where Tamil Nadu e-governance agency will become the repository of all these applications which can then be used by various departments. Ultimately the idea is to ensure that various departments get GIS maps on web by only entering user ID and password. This will enable them to take decisions faster and better. Huge amount of money has been sanctioned (around Rs 45 lakh) for the purpose. We are now awaiting purchase of hardware and require experts to run these centres. We plan to take it big, be it agriculture, survey department, police department, etc, wherever possible GIS has to be integrated with government decision-making process. This is the vision. Now how do we do it? This has been happening disparately, we would like to make it part of our policy.

What kind of challenges are you facing in fulfilling your vision?
There are many challenges. I have seen that government departments are extremely pro-active when they want to do e-governance. Only thing is there are limitations, for example, if you look at Tamil Nadu annual budget for any department, there’s no separate budget for e-governance, although they are spending huge amount of money for this purpose. In fact, we don’t even have a head of accounts to capture this. We have now requested the finance department to give us the head of accounts and sub-head accounts, so that what we spend on software, hardware, bandwidth connectivity, etc, all that information can be captured. Right now, I am able to capture information about Rs 17 crore. We should be spending thousands of crores.

One thing is to get the financial grip on what we are spending now. Second is the budget for e-governance. If we have Rs 25 lakh available for it, we would also limit our vision to the same amount, which I think, is again a wrong thing. My own personal feeling is that e-governance is all about administrative reforms – so if we can couple this administrative reforms with e-governance – may be process re-engineering, we would be able to change this old style of functioning to modern style. That’s very important and I think we should not be constraint of funds. Even if there are fund constraints, I think department should prepare mission-centric, mission-oriented projects and end-to-end projects.

There are huge numbers of applications which don’t talk to each other, which have been developed at different points of time; it’s time to make each department completely end-to end. That means, the secretariat should become completely online and citizen should be able to avail services from internet. Government departments are moving in that direction.

I would like to think that the foremost thing in e-governance is to make the internal process of government very efficient so that a citizen doesn’t have to come to office again and again and does not feel hassled. We don’t have performance incentive or non-performance disincentive in government. Through computers, we can ensure that things happen chronologically, that is, somebody who has forwarded a request, say, 10 days back is certainly senior to the one who sent a request today. So computers would enable automatic escalation to the next level, in case somebody doesn’t take action. There are lots of ways in which computers will enable governance to be more efficient.

What’s being done to train people?
NIC already has a set up and so do many other departments. What we are saying is that we need a full-fledged center not only for repository but also to train people on using this application. So we are requesting for an HR component. In our next meeting with the chief secretary, many of these issues will get sorted out.

What projects can we expect in future?
As an IT secretary, I can tell you that the vision we have is of ERP driven government offices. And for that, we will very soon start the ERP driven secretariat for IT department, which means the process flow in IT department will be captured online. In other words, it means people can file their files from anywhere. So it will be totally anytime anywhere office. This, we hope, will motivate other departments in secretariat and slowly, secretariat will become more online kind of department where decisions are taken online, that is, circulation notes go online to different ministers, even to chief minister. And it would be great if the chief minister can sign digitally using the digital certificate, signature, etc. That’s one vision.

As e-governance takes roots in districts which are the real points where services happen, we want citizens not to visit any government office. The interface should be the web. We are working towards that. Today, most of our applications are like that where citizens need not come to the government office. It will take some time though. But we envision a future where more and more services are available online and there are no queues outside government offices – no system of citizens visiting any government offices. We would like to see that, it is already happening. We would like to make it global.

This would also make government more transparent, there will be less transaction cost or no transaction cost for citizens and citizens would feel the impact of governance – that’s more important.