E-governance against all odds

In conversation, special secretary, IT, A&N Islands

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | January 23, 2013


Utpal Sharma, special secretary IT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Utpal Sharma, special secretary IT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Utpal Sharma in his dual role as special secretary IT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Principal, Dr BR Ambedkar Institute of Technology is pushing for e-governance initiatives in the UT to make sure that people enjoy technology and its benefits. Edited excerpts from his interview with Shivangi Narayan

How do you handle e-governance with such glaring connectivity issues here?
Internet connectivity is provided by BSNL via satellite which is not adequate for the entire population. An exclusive undersea cable for connectivity will cost the government around Rs 2,000 crore which cannot be approved for a population of only 4 lakh. There are two cables already present in the sea from which optical fibre cable (OFC) connectivity will be provided to the islands in two years.

We are trying to get more and more mobile applications which are easy to download. We have connected all the CSCs through our State Wide Area Network (SWAN) so that they do not have to depend on the internet for connectivity.

What are you looking at in the future once the undersea cable is connected?
Better connectivity will change the face of the islands as many IT and ITeS companies will set up shop in the islands. This will give employment to a lot of people and put Andaman and Nicobar on the path of progress. Currently people are only involved in trading or construction because there is little else to do here.

We are going to tie up with NASSCOM so that we are able to prepare a roadmap for IT in A&N Islands and then put a policy framework in place and then perhaps we will think of putting up an incubation centre.

What is the awareness level of e-governance in A&N?
IT awareness is much higher in the Andaman than it is in any other state. There are also a lot of applications that have been developed here completely locally which have made work very easy in the state administration.  

It took some time for us to implement projects such as the common service centres (CSCs) because we wanted to ensure that the project starts right. Our CSCs have the highest footfall in the country which is around 2,000 to 2,500 people. Also, 41 government services previously offered by the government are now being offered by the CSCs.

What steps are you taking for capacity building in the area for the various e-governance projects in A&N?
For training facilities we have the NIC, PG College in Port Blair and also Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Institute of Technology (BRAIT). We also send people outside, for example we have sent around 80 to 90 people to Indian Institute of Port Management and also IIPA, New Delhi. We also send people to check out applications that are running successfully in other states for replication.

One of the strategies that the administration has adopted is the convergence of IT activities and the institute at the BRAIT campus. This is very beneficial because you have a pool of resources in the institute which are there to help in the IT activities and can be trained as per our requirements.

What are the challenges that you face in implementing the e-governance projects, apart from the obvious connectivity issues, in A&N?
We have faced some issues with the system integrators with whom we work on our projects. The people they deploy for the projects do not deliver in the set time frame for a project and are found wanting in technical and managerial capacities as well. Thus there is a time overrun in most of the processes.

What is the role of IT in tourism in A&N?
First is we are trying to develop the website and make it more interactive and then we are also trying to make a platform so that the tourists can book the hotels online. We are trying to get it under the state portal and state service delivery gateway (SP&SSDG) which will cater to the people. Even the existing state portal will be under the SP&SSDG and we will provide 80 services to the people from the portal. The first 20 to 25 services will roll out by March 2013.

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