Interview with Mahesh Gohel: “Deploying IT solutions has led to a win-win situation for both citizens and RMC”

“Deploying IT solutions has led to a win-win situation for both citizens and RMC”

The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) has taken several IT-related initiatives, which have helped the agency in delivering efficient services to customers. These initiatives have resulted in increased efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction and improved RMC’s financials. The system has been developed by an in-house team. Mahesh Gohel, director, information technology, RMC, discusses the IT initiatives taken by the civic body and the challenges faced by it as well as its future plans. Excerpts…

What are the IT solutions deployed by  RMC for improving civic service provision?

RMC has taken several IT-related initiatives to improve the provision of civic services to its customers. One such initiative by the corporation, RITE e-Governance, was launched to provide responsive, intelligent, transparent and effective services, and to integrate the municipal authority’s operational system. The e-governance project covers Rajkot’s entire population of 1.6 million as well as those living in the vicinity. The IT solutions deployed by RMC assist in the transparent administration of various services, responsive approach to customer grievances and effective integration of back-office and citizen-centric services, efficient income-expenditure monitoring, multiple payment options, improved collection of municipal dues and accurate disclosure of information.

Supporting measures taken by the civic body to effectively control and monitor the system include the division of the system into citizen civic centres and back-office management centres. Other initiatives taken by RMC are birth registration through hospitals, m-governance, integrated financial accounting systems, provision of online building plan permission, 24×7 call centre services, complaint registration through SMS and web-enabled services and tie-ups with the postal services department.

What are the key areas of intervention? What have been the benefits?

IT services in Rajkot are provided through three modes of information and communication technology (ICT). In order to expedite service delivery, RMC has opted for online operation of its services through wide area network (WAN)/local area network (LAN). Each computer at all three zonal offices and city civic centres is connected to the central server through LAN/WAN, which has enabled the agency to provide online real-time services.

These initiatives have had a positive impact across different parameters:

  • Reduction in workload: The civic agency’s initiative has averaged out the work load across offices. The load in the central zone main office decreased from 75 per cent in 2006-07 to 26 per cent in 2013-14.
  • Increased per day income: The implementation of IT systems has also benefited the organisation on the financial front. RMC’s per day income improved from Rs 11.05 million in 2009-10 to Rs 16.93 million in 2013-14, and this is expected to increase further to Rs 28.41 million  in 2014-15.
  • Online services: Web-enabled services have provided easy access to birth and death certificates. The number of certificates printed from the website has increased from 1,783 in 2008 to 26,078 in 2013.
  • Other benefits: The IT system has also facilitated the implementation of the national immunisation programme through vaccination alerts. It has also improved the availability of information related to outstanding dues of citizens to the RMC through SMS, improved the grievance redressal mechanism, etc. It has also resulted in a 20 per cent increase in municipal revenues, as well as a significant decrease in the number of absentees in the organisation.

What are the different modules deployed under the e-governance project of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)? How has RMC’s experience been in this regard?

RMC has deployed all eight modules suggested under the National Mission Mode Project e-Governance. Moreover, several additional projects have been intitated. Within the ambit of the existing projects, more services are being included. These implementations have led to a win-win situation for both citizens and the organisation.

What are the services covered under the m-governance system? What has been the impact on the provision of civic services?

In the context of urban local bodies, the use of ICT and mobile technology for information sharing helps service providers enhance operations. The widespread usage of mobile technology and easy-to-understand text messages has enabled RMC to reduce the acceptance barriers for civic services.

After the successful implementation of e-governance services, RMC has concentrated on the elimination of queues. This can be achieved easily, by providing all the information on the website. Given that internet penetration in the city stands at only about 10 per cent, it has been difficult for RMC to reach out to the masses. However, the average availability of one mobile phone per family has enabled the RMC to cater to the needs of the remaining 90 per cent of its population through the use of mobile technology.

The civic agency’s m-governance system is powered by predefined process cycles and back-office integration. The main features of the system include online operations, effective back-office integration of all citizen-centric services and centralised server architecture.

Based on the type of service, the RMC has divided m-governance services into three groups: alert services (SMS alerts are generated automatically after transactions are conducted), interactive services (citizens send SMSs with a predefined keyword and in turn receive a personalised reply) and management services (used for internal management of RMC’s routine activities). A varied set of services is covered under these three categories. Alert services include vaccination alerts, property tax transactions, water charge transactions, property name change and professional tax transactions. Interactive services include property tax outstanding dues, water charge outstanding dues, property tax assessment requests, and registration of mobile number for property tax. Management services cover call centre services, daily income-expenditure SMS alerts to senior officials, daily grievance management statistics to senior officials and visitor information system.

What are the key issues and challenges faced in the implementation of these initiatives?

The corporation had to face some issues and challenges during the execution of the IT initiatives. These relate to:

  • Creation of awareness among citizens: Creating awareness among citizens to use m-governance is a key challenge. RMC has started providing and distributing instructions for using m-governance services related to on-demand bills and receipt, with support from the print and electronic media. It has also used signage boards throughout the city to offer service-related information and increase awareness among citizens.
  • Logical grouping of services based on application: The corporation has divided the services into three categories to ensure better management and improve system sustainability.
  • Opposition from employees: The agency also faced opposition from field-level employees as the IT system immediately sends a message to officers upon registration of a complaint, irrespective of the time. The officials were required to update the status of the complaint through SMS, which led to an increase in their monthly bills. In order to resolve these issues, the RMC has categorised complaints on a priority basis. Thus, an SMS is sent to the officials depending upon the priority of the complaints. The organisation has also requested telecom operators to provide RMC’s employees with free services for up to 200 messages.
  • Technical issues: Officials usually sent message with 20-30 complaint numbers, which, were at times, not updated in the system given the length of the message. If the message exceeds 160 characters, the company’s IT system treats it as redundant. The RMC has therefore instructed its field staff to send only 10 complaint numbers at a time.
  • Language issues: RMC is not able to make use of the local language (Gujarati) to register and update complaints. At present, the agency has resorted to the use of basic English in its bid to remove the language barrier.

What are the RMC’s future IT projects?

Several new initiatives are in the pipeline. These relate to quick response (QR) code and microchip-based smart municipal cards; steel plates with the QR code printed on each property in the city for tax details, licence details for commercial properties and information pertaining to water connections; development of e-ward offices for last mile connectivity; interconnectivity among municipal corporation offices; and availability of digitally signed birth and death registration certificates.