e-Governance in India stares at procurement problems

Non-compliance of guidelines by central agencies and state governments is a real threat that could damage the NeGP fabric

shubhendu

Shubhendu Parth | June 3, 2013



“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet,” said Mahatma Gandhi, who laid great emphasis on the righteousness of means and not just on the goals.

Unfortunately, however, for e-governance in India and the national e-governance plan (NeGP) that completed its seventh year on May 18, there have been instances of the means being questionable.

While one cannot ignore the landmarks that the state governments and the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) in particular have achieved, it is also true that procurement in the government sector still remains murky.

Add to this the complexities of procuring an ICT solution, the lack of clear understanding of technology by the buyer organisation and the lack of a single binding procurement law in the country, and we find that organisations have ended up following “processes of convenience” that in many of the cases raise the question of integrity of purpose and have also set wrong precedents.

The Arunachal Pradesh state wide area network (AP-SWAN) project is a case in point. While the AP-SWAN project is embroiled in a court case and is almost defunct, the NeGP website lists the same as operational. Interestingly, the parent DeitY website has a different version and reports that Arunachal Pradesh has identified the network operator for their respective SWANs and the implementation is under way.

This reflects the dichotomy in preaching versus doing. What could be worse than the fact that despite the mandatory disclosure norms, DeitY — the driver of e-governance in India — does not follow the “transparency talk” that is core to the Rs 46,000-crore NeGP project it is handling on behalf of taxpayers?

Nowhere do the DeitY or NeGP websites mention that the Arunachal Pradesh SWAN project, which was inaugurated at the end of March 2011 by the then chief minister of the state, Dorjee Khandu, has been abandoned by the service provider Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation Ltd (KEONICS) because DeitY had refused to release further funds, and rightly so because the state government had flouted the norms in selecting the service provider.

The AP-SWAN, which was supposed to act as the e-governance backbone of Arunachal, was awarded to KEONICS on nomination basis on the ground that it was a government sector PSU — a clear deviation from the two stipulated models mandated by DeitY for selecting the implementation partner.

According to the SWAN policy document, a state government can either get the NIC to implement the project or select a service provider through a suitable competitive process for outsourcing the establishment, operation and maintenance of the network on public-private partnership (PPP) mode. But Arunachal Pradesh followed none.

What also intrigues me as an onlooker is how the DeitY managed to overlook this and release the initial Rs 13 crore of its share for this project. In fact, had DeitY not failed in its capacity as a supervisory body and nodal agency for the SWAN project, and had compelled the state government to scrap the deal with KEONICS and take the tender route, the state would have been ready with its backbone by now.

Unfortunately, since the matter is sub judice and DeitY had already spent a substantial part of its share, no vendor is ready to support the project.

SWAN is a Rs 2,165.27-crore mega IT infrastructure project and it really shatters my faith in the overall process followed by a state government in selecting the service provider for its various e-governance projects, and DeitY’s role in supervising it and other similar implementations under the NeGP as well. More so because there are innumerable instances of IT projects being awarded through the ‘pilot’ or ‘nomination’ route.

The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that Arunachal Pradesh allegedly flouted norms to award the state data centre (SDC) project again to KEONICS on a nomination basis, without following the mandatory tendering process, and in complete violation of the CVC guidelines and the General Financial Rules-2005 that form the basic tenets of government and public sector procurement in the country.

Hopefully, enactment of the Public Procurement Bill-2012, along with notification of the rules and policy on PPPs, will help provide a strong legislative and policy framework.

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