God's own country dials 'm' for change

Kerela which has already achieved a landmark in m-governance is quite serious about the next big thing in governance. CM Oommen Chandy says a lot more needs to be done to ring in change

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | March 1, 2012



Mobile phones have tremendous potential for delivery of government services — due to its reach and simplicity of use. The central government’s department of information technology (DIT) has already notified a mobile governance policy in January 2012 and is taking steps towards building a core infrastructure in form of a national mobile service delivery gateway (MSDG).
With this background, the society for promotion of e-governance (SPeG) organised two events – eGovWorld 2012 on January 19-20 in New Delhi followed by government transformation forum (GTF) 2012 on February 5-6 in Thiruvananthapuram.
The events were organised to synergise the activities of different state governments, central government agencies, industry, consulting organisations, multilateral agencies, media, academics and other stakeholders within the m-governance ecosystem. The purpose was also to identify key mobile applications for public services and setting-up of a forum for exchanging information and ideas. Another aim was to identify areas of research in m-governance and foster generation of technical cooperation ideas.
While delivering the inaugural address at GTF 2012, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said, “Citizen services can be enhanced using mobile technology.” Maintaining that his government is working to develop innovative models for delivery of government services, Chandy said, “Mobile phone reach in the state is close to 65-70 percent and if we cover the BPL (around 30 per cent of population) with government intervention, the same will lead to 100 percent digital coverage.”
Chandy said that the growth of mobile phones and its affordability should also benefit the rural community. “Mobiles will have great impact on the lives and livelihoods of the rural population,” the CM said.  “We have covered a lot of ground in creating the infrastructure for delivery of services. We have already built statewide area network, state data centre and common service centres. We now need to enhance citizen-centric services through mobile technology,” he said.
Dr Shashi Tharoor, member of parliament from Thiruvananthapuram constituency, said that there are over ten times more mobile connections today than the landline ones. “Fishermen are today using mobiles on board their vessels to find out the best market price for their catch and then they offload their catch in that particular market,” he said.
Shankar Aggarwal, former additional secretary with department of information technology (he is currently with ministry of defence) highlighted the key features of the mobile governance policy of government of India. He mentioned that the government is following a two-fold approach. The first approach is a rights-based approach: the government has come up with the rights to information, employment (NREGA) and education. He mentioned that the rights to food and public services are proposed as well. The second approach is the implementation approach: the government has come out with a mobile governance policy, citizen engagement framework and social media policy.

Director of Kerala government’s International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (IC-FOSS) Satish Babu highlighted the potential of using open source for mobile technology and said that only 30 percent of phones in Kerala have GPRS which will be crucial to delivering location-based services.

Lai Yong Chee, managing director, health and public services, Asia Pacific, Accenture, said that more than 70 percent of mobile devices sold in the developed countries are smartphones which give continuous access to social networks. He said that SMS-based applications, RFID-based services, mobile payments, shopping are key applications which are used currently.

Kerala minister for industries and information technology PK Kunhalikkutty said that mobile governance will help in smart governance. He also assured that the Kerala government will take stock of recommendations of the tech camp and implement them.

The forum, the first residential tech camp on mobile governance, also had representation from Sri Lanka and Kingdom of Bahrain who shared the best practices in the area of mobile governance.  

The GTF 2012 had been organised by SPeG with Indian Institute for Information Technology and Management, Kerala, as institutional partner, Accenture as the knowledge partner and Governance Now as media and outreach partner.

The eGovWorld 2012 conference which was held in Delhi in January 2012 had participation from multiple stakeholders. The focus of the discussion during the conference was how mobile applications can be used in better delivery of public services. Shankar Aggarwal inaugurated the conference and released a special issue of Governance Now dedicated to mobile governance.

Shankar Ojha of the World Bank spoke about the barriers in delivery of citizen-centric services and the role mobile governance has to play in bridging the gap between the efficient delivery of services and its targeted beneficiaries.

Others key speakers in the conference included Krishna Giri of Accenture, Prakash Kumar of Cisco, BV Rao of Governance Now and Jeremy Millard of Danish Technological Institute. They also reiterated the need to build up a strong ecosystem to deliver services faster.

(Governance Now was media and outreach partner for eGovWorld 2012 and GTF 2012)

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