Paperless: what Maharashtra's Sindhudurg dist can teach India

1,900 processes were re-engineered to overhaul the entire government work flow in Sindhudurg — that's the lesson for any district

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | May 21, 2014


Every district must look up to Maharashtra`s first paperless governance district
Every district must look up to Maharashtra`s first paperless governance district

Gitesh Bowalekar can finally give his tired legs a rest. The peon at the collector’s office in Sindhudurg used to run up and down the stairs 50 times or more each day carrying huge piles of paper. Now his work is taken care of by the software e-Office housed at the computerised central registry unit (CRU) where papers are received, electronically scanned, processed and sent to the right desk within a matter of minutes.

“Earlier when tappal (paper mail) came from Mumbai we had to send the same to the concerned desk physically. Now we scan tappal and then send the e-receipt to the concerned desk,” said Bowalekar. “Some papers like maps still cannot be scanned and have to be physically delivered. At other places like zilla parishad where e-Office is not available, printouts are retained and paper correspondence is dispatched by post. Many peons, based on their qualification and capabilities, have been trained and promoted as CRU assistants. Bowalekar is one of them.

So what is e-Office? It allows departments to clear, edit or suggest files on computers connected via NICNET, the national information network set up by NIC. The registry of all documents is done at the CRU where a person is given a printout of the acknowledgement. All received papers are converted into electronic form and sent to concerned department. The interface of the software is similar to a normal email: receipts in inbox and action taken items in outbox. The software also provides SMS alerts to staff members enabling them to work remotely through VPN. Security is ensured by the use of digital signature tokens that are issued to all officers and employees.

Three aces…

What makes the e-Office system unique are the three key components that not just help streamline their work but also have a human resource management component that directly impacts every official. The first one is the e-File, which is how the file management system is referred to. It is the most important module. It handles all stages of a file’s processing—right from creation of entry logs, digital serialization of files, movement of receipts to the final archival of records.

The system is critical for the seamless movement of files and transparency as every action is recorded electronically. Tracing and tracking files or letters becomes very easy as a result of e-File and it is the cornerstone of timely service delivery to the citizens. The second one is the KMS, also known as the knowledge management system. It a repository of all administrative rules, laws, government resolutions (GRs), office memoranda, court orders, relevant bylaws and historical and contemporary cases that gives the administration access to any sort of information on a real time basis. 

The third component is the e-Leave facility, also known as the leave management system (LMS). It enables quick and efficient submission, approval and monitoring of leaves of employees and creates a permanent record of the leaves taken and the leaves available. The e-Leave also comes with an appointment scheduler that can be used for planning the day, week or the entire month.

The implementation of the e-Office system in Sindhudurg is all the more commendable considering that it’s the only district in Maharashtra with its headquarters located in a gram panchayat. Thanks to the rural landscape setting up the network infrastructure in Sindhudurg was a tough task. This made implementation of e-Office a bigger challenge in the district. Nevertheless, the district had its own share of advantage too.

“The fact that 86.54 percent of Sindhudurg’s total 8.5 lakh population is literate helped rolling out the project faster. Due to high literacy level and awareness levels adoption of technology was relatively easier,” says E Ravindran, the Sindhudurg district collector.

For the record, Sindhudurg is part of the Konkan (coastal) region and is a narrow coastal plain in western Maharashtra which lies between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea.

Implementing IT right

To counter the challenge, the district administration decided to take a phase-based, milestone-oriented and time-bound approach towards the project. To overhaul the entire system, business process re-engineering of 1,900 processes were undertaken on the lines of the central secretariat manual of office and filing system. Over 2,300 subjects handled by the district collector’s office were graded into basic, primary and secondary processes and work flow for each of these processes and various provisions of law or government orders required for these were documented.

Over 25,000 files running into few lakh pages were classified and moved into record rooms. Thousands of current files required for the day-to-day work were identified for scanning so that these could be ported into the e-Office system. Special drives were held for classification of records pending for last 15 years or more.

To plug infrastructure gaps more than 350 employees were provided with new computers and compulsory NIC email accounts were created for them. As part of the capacity building module of the project, employees were trained to use the video conferencing facilities. Heavy duty scanners and printers were installed in all offices and networked through LAN and internet. Redundancy for the network centre was created with backups from BSNL and RailTel. Besides, all supervisory staff and officers were provided with VPN.

To fill in human resource gaps employees were initially trained to use computers, emails, local software and gradually moved into e-Office application. More than 80 mass training sessions were held on a daily basis with desk-to-desk training to ensure that staff was well trained. Through continuous training and motivation of human resources, e-Office champions were selected to manage the change over by training and personal example. The integration for backend office automation not just resulted in improved harmony between the administration and citizen, but also better service delivery for the people of the district.

The phase-wise plan also included facilitating a gradual migration to the e-Office system. While the new system and the processes made use of digital certificates necessary, the administration decided to give a six months grace period to employees. During this adoption phase, employees were absolved of any inadvertent mistakes. While this helped remove any fear factor, it also allowed officials to use the system extensively and learn on the job. However, the roll out plan also made it mandatory that once the six months period was over, lapse would result into stern actions.

The strategy worked well!   

Today, this remote Maharashtra district has over 350 employees who are using digital signatures to authenticate their day to day work. What this means is that accountability has been fixed for each and every employee as the status of file is automatically tracked and reflected in the reports. “Processes have also been set up to ensure that the moment a new employee joins a digital signature token is issued to him and the person is immediately initiated into e-Office,” explains Bhimsen Hegade, the NIC district information officer in-charge of managing the solution.

According to senior district officials, so far more than 53,000 e-Files have been created and over 180,000 receipts have been generated.  In another first in the state, the project also enabled integration of the entire revenue administration of the district—from Tehsil to collectorate level offices. The success of the project has also made Sindhudurg the first paperless governance district of Maharashtra. This has prompted the state government to make it mandatory for all district collectors to visit and study the Sindhudurg model of governance.

“The over 200 year old institution of the district collector has moved into a new era of e-governance and Sindhudurg leads this monumental change,” says Maharashtra director of information technology Virendra Singh, the man behind the entire transformation of Sindhudurg. It was during Singh’s tenure as district collector that the entire project was conceptualised and implemented.
 

 

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