Interview with Sanjay Jaju: “ICT can help in ensuring cost-efficient delivery of citizen services”

“ICT can help in ensuring cost-efficient delivery of citizen services”

The benefits of deploying information, and communication technology (ICT) solutions to citizens as well as to government agencies include increased efficiency, greater transparency, improved accountability, and reduced cost of operations. The Andhra Pradesh government has implemented a number of ICT applications for integrating different government departments and improving the delivery of civic services. The focus is particularly on the targeted delivery of different government programmes and schemes with minimum leakages. The response to these initiatives has been promising, with different government agencies accruing several tangible benefits. Smart Utilities spoke with Sanjay Jaju, secretary, IT & Communications (ITE&C) Department in the Andhra Pradesh government about key ICT initiatives, the challenges faced and the future road map. Excerpts…

What are the potential uses of ICT in improving urban governance? How is the ITE&C Department of Andhra Pradesh promoting the uptake of IT solutions at the urban local body (ULB) level for the effective provision of civic services? What are the key policy measures that have been adopted?

There is immense potential for civic agencies to incorporate ICT in their operations for improving urban governance. ICT can be helpful in ensuring transparent, accountable (driven by service level agreements [SLAs]) and cost-efficient delivery of citizen services; improving city transport services for reducing traffic congestion; ensuring public safety and security (like telesurveillance systems to help emergency services); ensuring secure access to private data through public wireless networks; maintaining a continuity in critical services; protecting critical infrastructure against cyberattacks; and interconnecting the city infrastructure and services life cycle by deploying internet of things.

The ITE&C Department has taken various initiatives to promote the use of IT solutions at the ULB level. These relate to enabling the delivery of 10 government-to-citizen services like birth and death certificates and property and water tax bills across 190 ULBs in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana through the Mee Seva platform; hassle-free access to ULB services; the deployment of required ICT (systems and network) infrastructure for delivering the above services; focused capacity building efforts to sustain the service delivery model; and the optimisation of infrastructure at all ULBs, including data centres at the ULB level.

Key policy measures adopted by the department include single-window delivery of services to avoid parallel transactions; a viable revenue sharing model for long-term sustainability; and moving from decentralised (silo) delivery to integrated delivery.

What are some of the major ICT initiatives implemented by the department to provide basic government services? What has been their impact?

One of the primary initiatives undertaken by the department to streamline the provision of basic civic services has been the implementation of the Mee Seva programme. The initiative includes the provision of 350 government-to-citizen services across nearly 40 departments, enabled by various government orders relating to policy decisions, steps for the implementation of such decisions, as well as legislative framework such as the Electronic Delivery of Services Act, 2012. It aims for SLA-based delivery and providing access through mobile devices for 50 services. The sustainability of the programme is ensured through appropriate revenue sharing models, and the transaction run rate for Mee Seva exceeds 40 million in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

The initiative has benefited consumers and ULBs alike. Various benefits of the system include a reduction in the cost of accessing citizen services; optimisation of ICT infrastructure leading to reduced infrastructure costs; increased availability of services; employment generation through kiosks; and sustainability through revenue sharing.

Another flagship initiative of the ITE&C Department is the development of the State Resident Data Hub (SRDH), which links the Aadhaar numbers of citizens, allotted by the Unique Identity Authority of India, to the social welfare scheme benefits that they are eligible to avail. The Aadhaar number is a better and more unique identifier of a resident’s identity than other proxy identifiers like ration card numbers or pension numbers. The advantages of the SRDH-established Aadhaar number as a resident’s identity are manifold. They include the targeted delivery of benefits to intended beneficiaries of different schemes; easy identification and weeding out of ineligible beneficiaries; and helping data analytics in future planning and the implementation of welfare schemes. Some of the schemes linked are: civil supplies, pensions and the MNREGA. SRDH linkage is also being piloted for the Loan Waiver Scheme for distressed farmers.

ULBs can now keep track of civic supplies through fraud detection of holders of more than one ration card, and monitor and account for the distribution of MNREGA and social welfare pensions in a better manner. The system has been piloted for loan waivers and other such government schemes.

What has been your experience with adopting ICT infrastructure and solutions at the ULB level? Which ULBs in the state have shown promising results?

The experience of adopting ICT infrastructure and solutions at the ULB level has been promising. Harmonisation of inconsistent processes and the elimination of duplicate processes in many of the citizen services delivered across all ULBs in the state has been a major achievement. In addition, ICT infrastructure has been optimised through centralised deployment at the state data centre; and common SLAs and processes have been adopted across ULBs through integrated ICT systems such as Mee Seva. Some of the key government-to-citizen services delivered through ULBs, such as birth and death certificates, property registration, property tax payment, etc., have contributed to the increase in citizen satisfaction. ULBs in several cities like Vijayawada, Kadapa and Kurnool have seen a significant increase in the volumes of government-to-citizen services delivered daily.

What are the capacity constraints faced in implementing e-governance projects? What are the steps taken by the IT&C Department to augment local-level capacity?

There are various challenges faced by the department when it comes to the execution of certain tasks. These are broadly related to two categories: manpower and infrastructure. There is a lack of ICT-trained manpower within ULBs to deploy and manage e-governance projects in various categories. These include requirements and process analysts to develop scope and accept final deployable systems to assist digitally challenged end-users in ULBs; system and network administrators to manage ICT infrastructure; and project managers to manage the implementation of e-governance projects. Another challenge relates to the lack of capacity building personnel for e-governance projects, which affects the extent of use of deployed systems. Inadequate deployment of appropriate infrastructure systems and network capacity and the ineffective management of the same create further hindrances.

What is your perspective on the current modules of ICT solutions provided by different technology providers in India? What are the areas and domains you would specifically like them to focus upon?

My own sense is that most ICT solutions are deployed in silos with little or no interoperability and integration. This results in the duplication of data management and service delivery. The deployment and use of ICT solutions in most government departments are coterminous with the tenure of officers initiating the projects. In addition, there is a lack of adherence to national, international and industry standards. Other issues include a lack of use of appropriate technology and solutions enabling vendor lock-in environments; multiple vendor systems and interconnected transport, safety and emergency services using ICT; and interoperability among multiple vendor systems.

There are certain specific areas which need to be focused on in the near future for the implementation of ICT. These are public health and safety; connected health care with a special emphasis on collaborative access to electronic patient records; the facility of telemedicine for remote areas; intelligent transportation; and wireless and free hotspots.

Going forward, how do you see the role of ICT in improving transparency and efficiency in the provision of government services? What will be the key drivers?

The importance of ICT in the transparent and efficient provision of basic civic services is likely to see a progressive increase. There are various tools which can be used for the purpose of promoting it. Social media tools can enable greater citizen participation in governance; mobility tools (smartphones, tablets) can help overcome existing wireline network constraints and offer a cost-effective means of delivering services to remote locations; and analytics tools can help analyse government data for better policymaking, budgeting and monitoring policy implementation.

Analytics tools can further help in long-term planning for the next 10 to 20 years. Other possibilities include the use of cloud computing for optimising existing and planned infrastructure (computer, storage and network) for the 24×7 electronic delivery of an increasing number of government services.

The key drivers for the increasing use of ICT include leadership buy-in; rapid urbanisation; policies, rules and procedures to deploy and use social, mobility, analytics and cloud tools effectively in governance; the capacity to deploy and maintain such systems; and the rapidly declining cost of electronic systems with the increase in capacity and capability.