Putting the E in the change

A quick review of seelct e-governance projects that have impacted rural development, health, education and service delivery system


Pratap Vikram Singh | February 1, 2014

For R Subrahmanyam, a joint secretary with the ministry of rural development, overseeing the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee scheme (MNREGS), is unimaginable without the help of information technology. MNREGS promises a minimum employment of 100 days in rural areas. It has nine crore wage earners from five crore families.

“We need technology to monitor the implementation of work at 2.6 lakh gram panchayats, where 20 lakh minor projects are underway simultaneously,” says Subrahmanyam. His ministry monitors MNREGS through ‘NREGA-SOFT’ which is present at all but 452 of the 7,000 blocks. According to him, the software helps the ministry in capturing the demand, allocating the work, calculating unemployment allowance, tracking delay in payments and awarding compensation automatically.

Uploaded from the block level across the country, the data related to all aspects of the rural scheme—works undertaken at the panchayat level, person-days employment provided and wage payment—runs in 20 terabytes. A small team of researchers from the Harvard University is also helping the ministry in analysing the terabytes of data. It is also creating dashboards wherein decision makers and all stakeholders, including citizen can see the MNREGS score cards till the state, block and panchayat level.   

“For example, (with the use of data analytics and visualisation) I can know in how many blocks demand is getting or not getting captured. In how many cases demand is not being met by work allocation. We can know where payments are getting delayed,” explains Subrahmanyam.
The analytics tool will also make it easier to ascertain the level of participation of women, the SCs and STs in the scheme and also the expenditure incurred on material and wages. The ministry is likely to launch the dashboards in March.

e-Governance: The change agent
The usage of ICT or say e-governance by the rural development ministry is just a glimpse of how technology has penetrated and strengthened development sector, including the reporting and monitoring mechanism related to the social sector programmes. The country also has pan India networks and centralised software for monitoring the delivery of education, health, employment, and time-bound services. At a click of a button bureaucrats have access to the score cards of the ANM, sub, primary and community health centres. They can check whether a pregnant woman has undergone ANC or a child has received immunization.

Mobile phones have come handy for several ministries to reach to the last person. In fact applications have been developed to deliver information, requested from residents, on their mobile phones. The Mobile seva programme is one such initiative in this direction.
The data analysis of the electronic transactions and the feedback generated from the online and mobile platforms throw a huge opportunity to initiate corrective action, say several bureaucrats working with the central ministries.
Governance Now did a quick review of some of the projects to find out whether technology has impacted rural development, health, education and service delivery in general, and how. Read on:

Scorecard for government health facilities
While the public health system remains fragile at the panchayat and block levels in several parts of India, mobile phones have come handy to track the health status of pregnant women and children, besides giving a picture of services being delivered through public health facilities. 
Pan India, the public health services are provided at 1,50,000 sub-centres, 24,000 public health centres (PHC), 4,800 community health centres (CHC) and 12,760 medical colleges and hospitals. These are manned by nine lakh ASHAs, two lakh ANMs and a battalion of doctors.

Manoj Jhalani, joint secretary, national rural health mission, ministry of health and family welfare, says, “The mother and child tracking system (MCTS) is a web-enabled service through which we are trying to track each pregnant women and child below five years of age to ensure that full basket of services is delivered to them.

“We have mobile numbers of mother, ANMs, ASHAs and the district and block level managers. The mother receives messages regularly at all stages of pregnancy—about the health precautions, medicines, check-ups, and preparedness towards delivery,” says Jhalani.
Details of 10 crore women and children have been fed into the system. This is roughly 70 percent of pregnant women dependent on the health facilities, he adds. The remaining 30 percent are yet to be captured.

The ministry also has developed a mechanism to monitor the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) wherein data of 27 crore children will be screened every year till the age of 18 years for disease at birth, development delays, disability. “We will have this data in our system where in we will track what happened to those children who had problems at the time of birth,” he says.

But mere deployment doesn’t mean the system is being used efficiently by service providers (health authorites) at every level. “There are certain gaps, delays in uploading data of beneficiaries, delay in registration of pregnant women. Also, once you have all data, the states have to act upon the analysis and feedback generated by the system.”

With the help of hospital information management system (HIMS), the ministry is able to monitor the services and performance of facilities—the institutional delivery, the IPD, the OPD, surgery, among others.

“This will help us in making score cards of district and blocks. Now it is up to the state and district administration for taking up the corrective action. There are some gaps in the existing system in terms of using data for rectifying the system. States are using data at different level,” says Jhalani.

Service delivery
A bouquet from the Web

Whether it is booking your railway ticket, applying for a passport or registering a company, the experience of obtaining a service from government has been harrowing for many. The experience was rather more painful for a rural resident who had to go all the way to the block and district headquarters to get a caste or income certificate, transact with the bank or apply for a government social benefit scheme. Travelling normally took one whole working day, which is an economic loss unaffordable for marginal farmers and wage earners.

Thanks to the e-governance initiatives undertaken by several central ministries and state governments, that experience involving shelling out money to grease the palm of sarkari babus, has changed.

The online reservation system of the Indian railways, the passport seva project of the ministry of external affairs, the income tax return filing of the ministry of finance, and company registration system of the ministry of corporate affairs are exemplary projects, which removed hassle and made the process quicker and transparent.

Programmes like e-district, a project to automate the service delivery happening at district and the block level, will ensure timely delivery of services, with lesser visits to government offices and supporting documents. The pilot project has been a success. Also, technologies such as biometrics, unique 12-digit Aadhaar number and interoperability within banks have provided banking coverage to larger section of population, without substantial investment on the part of banks. According to the RBI, since the appointment of business correspondents (BCs), 15 crore bank accounts have been opened. An official estimate put the number of savings account opened through BCs at 8.12 crore, with a deposit of '1,822 crore (till March 2013).

Unlimited access to learning

A portal ‘Sakshat’ was created under the ‘national mission for education through information communication technology’ (NMEICT) as a one-stop repository for web and online content for these courses. There are around 4,600 hours of recorded material on the portal and 92,000 printed pages would be made available online very soon.

“In recent years, the use of technology in the classroom has spread greatly, and teachers use ICT aids to help deliver the course content more effectively and efficiently. The idea behind NMEICT is to provide equitable access to content to learners anywhere through ICT, so that they can benefit from the best in the world,” says Amit Kaushik, former director, HRD ministry.

The national knowledge network (NKN) is being developed for providing connectivity between universities and institutions for content sharing purposes. NKN has provided 1 Gbps bandwidth to 419 universities and 10 Mbps to 18,000 universities and 2000 polytechnics. An inclusive low cost tablet, Aakash has been developed so that students, especially those coming from families with lower incomes, could have easy access to online content.

The specifications for Aakash, now in its fourth avatar, have been developed and the device is ready for manufacturing. The department of supplies and disposals (DGS&D) has floated the tender for the same. The policy is greatly for higher education and the government has made no such effort in the primary education sector.

In the education sector, e-learning has come in handy as a tool to provide education to more people with the existing content and human resources. In 2003, the national programme for technology enhanced learning (NPTEL) was developed to provide enhanced education in sciences, engineering and management. This programme was merged with NMEICT which was announced in 2009 which increased the scope of e-learning to include basic sciences, social sciences and journalism.



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