The department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) is expected to unveil the next phase of the e-governance plan. This also includes national information infrastructure (NII), which provides for setting up a single authority for offering infrastructure on demand to government agencies, both central and state. Excerpts from an interview with DeitY additional secretary Rajiv Gauba:
Pratap Vikram Singh | May 2, 2014
Why is the DeitY planning to roll out the next phase of e-governance programme—eKranti or NeGP 2.0—when milestones related to national e-governance plan (NeGP) are yet to be met?
NeGP 2.0 is essentially an attempt to take e-governance to the next level in the country. E-governance has already acquired a lot of traction. But at the same time we acknowledge that a number of departments are still out of the purview of the NeGP. Even in those departments and ministries where mission mode projects (MMPs) are being implemented the full range of services are not being offered.
So while NeGP is under implementation and some MMPs have started delivering services, we can’t wait for these projects to be completed and then take up the newer areas, or areas that have not been covered. So NeGP 2.0 will, therefore, subsume all projects that are under implementation and at the same time expand the portfolio of services by including new departments and new services that have not been covered by the existing departments. The other objective is to use the new technology platform. Since the NeGP was launched in 2006, there has been a lot of change in technology. A lot of innovations have come up and new platform have emerged. These include mobile, cloud, localisation and app store, among others. All of these will be the essential elements of NeGP 2.0.
The renewed programme will also focus on business process reengineering, which needs greater emphasis so that e-governance doesn’t remain skin deep. The real objective of e-governance is simplification of the processes and not mere automation. The NeGP 2.0 will be an effort to eliminate unnecessary steps in service delivery. Process re-engineering will be an important element of this.
Which are these new departments?
That will be decided in consultation with the ministries because it is they who have to identify departments and services that need to be brought under the NeGP umbrella. A concept paper has been prepared and circulated and we hope to get their inputs soon.
So when will government roll out NeGP 2.0?
As I mentioned, the concept paper on NeGP 2.0 has been prepared. It has also been shared with the apex committee that has endorsed the idea. We will now engage with other ministries for their feedback and more intensive consultation with them so that the exact services and departments can be identified for inclusion in NeGP 2.0. Post this we will prepare a detailed project report (DPR) and a cabinet note for final approval. We hope to get this done by the end of this year.
Will this also mean additional fund for the country’s e-governance programme?
When NeGP was approved it had a budget outlay. But it does not mean that the entire fund has been released and is lying unutilised. Now in the NeGP 2.0, when we get new departments and services on board, money for newer projects will be needed. That estimation will be part of the DPR. It is also important to understand that a lot of line function departments are responsible for their respective e-governance project and hence they would directly need to get the budget sanctioned based on their project DPR. DeitY can only help them with technology consultation or by creating a technology roadmap or guidelines for them.
Going back to what you mentioned about adding new projects, do we really need it at this point of time when utilisation of existing IT infrastructure is still below 50%?
Yes, the utilisation of existing ICT infrastructure is presently below 50%. However, in days to come, once the legislation like electronic delivery of services is passed, the demand for computing resources will go up. You should realise that infrastructure cannot be created overnight. One needs to plan for future. Once all projects under the NeGP are completed, every service would be available online. This will include municipal services, revenue or social security service, or majority of the services related to citizens or businesses. This will exponentially increase the demand for IT infrastructure and that is when one will realise the benefits of what has so far been created. That is the reason we conceptualised the national information infrastructre, the NII 2.0.
But then do we need two separate bills for defining citizen SLAs—the electronic services bill and the citizen charters bill?
There are a number of legislative initiatives and all of these have to be seen in totality. There is the right of citizens for time-bound delivery of goods and services bill and the electronic services delivery (EDS) bill should be seen as important adjunct to that. In the field of public service delivery, the time bound delivery of services and goods Act is the SLA. It prescribes time limits for delivery of different services and penalty on erring officials in case of default. Many states have gone ahead and put in place such legislation. At the central level, the bill is with parliament. If you want to deliver on time then e-delivery is necessary tool for that. The two have to be seen together.
Isn’t this again a silo-based approach?
There has been extensive discussion between the two departments—DAR&PG, which piloted the citizen charters bill and DeitY, which piloted EDS bill. The standing committees have gone through both in much detail and have given their feedback. Based on the feedback we have harmonized the two bills. Yes, it is true that there are two sets of bills, but they have been harmonized to the extent that their mechanism of implementation is identical. Besides, there would be a common grievance redressal mechanism. In fact, our (EDS) bill clearly says that DeitY will not set up a separate commission, the cases will go to the commission set up under the charter bill, except the fact that the commission will have a member who will be an IT expert.
Is there a component of business process reengineering (BPR) in the two bills?
BPR is something which is an administrative matter. It has to be accomplished if you want to really cut down on time, improve convenience of the citizens and reduce the load on your IT systems. All these are essential but it does not have to be part of the law. It has to be part of the project.
But isn’t there a resistance to change in the bureaucracy?
I think this is a myth. Today, most civil servants, whichever department they are working in, are under tremendous pressure to deliver and they want to improve the image of the departments. They realise that the output is not commensurate with the efforts because everything is being done manually. In fact, not only is there no resistance, there is a great desire to change. If it is not happening at the required speed, it is because there is paucity of time, resources and commitment on other important tasks of governance. The whole issue of human resource has been dealt by the Nandan Nilekani committee that has made some very good suggestions like creating an electronic services division, creating a position of CIO so that we have a dedicated set of people working fulltime on e-governance issues. A cabinet note on this has been prepared and circulated among various departments.
What about the national information infrastructure?
After national information infrastructure (NII 2.0) comes into picture, the line ministries, which have to buy the IT resources don’t have to worry about the procurement as resources will be available on demand. For that they should be able to approach just one entity. But this requires lot of work. It means you have to do the estimation of required physical infrastructure, incremental infrastructure, which needs to be created and disaggregation. Then you also need institutional arrangement so that any ministry which wants to procure just approaches this agency.
The intention is to make resources available to line departments. There is just one agency, which manages, brings all resources under it and formulates policy and guidelines to facilitate the procurement of ICT resources. At the same time it also resolves the issue of under utilisation of IT infrastructure (lying idle). The NII 2.0 will offer facilities including cloud, data centre and network, among others. For example, for networks you currently have national knowledge network, state wide area network and national optical fibre network. The idea is to bring them together under one umbrella and have a unified network.
As NeGP 2.0 and NII 2.0 are put in place do you see NIC playing a bigger role, even as the perception of line departments related to quality of NIC services vary?
That is partly because of increase in demand. When I was posted in district, in those personnel and resources (including HR) were lying idle. Perhaps NIC has not been able to provide services to the expectations of others. I have worked in line ministries and have had satisfying experience with their services. (Laughs.) But I am not disagreeing with those who are not satisfied. NIC has to keep pace with magnitude of requirement and quality. It has to work on commercial lines. NIC’s restructuring is also on the agenda. But that is an ongoing process.
Would rejigging GST help small businesses?
Should ration cards not linked to Aadhaar be rendered ineligible?