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Thinking Straight

“All our public services will be delivered digitally. (Under the Citizen’s Services Act) State governments will have to commit to us the timeframe within which services will have to be delivered. As I think of the global economy by 2020, all goods will be managed electronically. All devices will have an electronic element.”
Kapil Sibal

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assigned him independent charge of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences in 2004 the popular view was that it would be a waste of his legal flair and he would be a total misfit. But he appeared to be completely at ease and acted like a pro initiating a plethora of changes to use the faculties to impact on the life of common man. So much so that when the UPA decided to list its achievements three years later, projects undertaken by Sibal ran into several pages.

Besides formulating national bio-technology development strategy, he launched nanotechnology mission, bamboo application mission, stem cell initiative, low temperature thermal desalination, small capacity aircraft –SARAS and HANSA – and water quality improvement technologies. On infrastructure front, among other things he modernised Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and Tsunami Warning System and set up 3rd Antarctica Station and BIMSETC Centre for weather and climate. When it came to inculcation of scientific temperament among country’s human resource including students and women, he mooted INSPIRE (Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research), mobility and upgraded colleges and departments.

Therefore, in 2009 during UPA II, it was but natural that he was promoted to a more important cabinet rank. Human Resource Development became his new portfolio. When A Raja had to resign after CBI named him in 2G spectrum case in November 2010 he became an automatic choice to clean the rot in Telecom and Information & Technology.

Over the months, Sibal seems to have become the government’s man-for-all-seasons only behind Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Be it Lokpal, 2G spectrum, allegations against Home Minister P Chidambaram or social networking, he is the one who has been holding fort for the government and the Congress. Incredible part is that despite having his plate full on government, he has continued to push for out-of-the-box ideas on his primary responsibilities i.e. Human Resource Development, Telecommunication and Information & Technology.

“We’re asking industry leaders to prepare curriculum for us so that when children pass out of class XII, they will be able to get a job. We’ve had interaction with infrastructure, telecom, IT, tourism, entertainment and hospitality.”

Sibal (61), who preferred legal profession over civil services (he had cleared for IAS), has gone about his task with utmost calm and zeal. No matter what he has done and what he aspires to do in near future, his focus has unwaveringly been on promotion of e-governance, digitisation of public services, e-education, skill development, employment generation and inclusive growth. Here is a count of what he has attained in last few years and what he intends to unleash to foster development of ICT, education and National Knowledge Network.

Human Resource Education: When he took over the HRD Ministry in May 2009, it looked battered, bruised and bamboozled. A decade of constant tug-of-war between saffron historians led by Murali Manohar Joshi and left scholars backed by late Arjun Singh had left it at crossroads. The latter had failed to introduce any education reforms first due to resistance from Left parties and later due to his quota politics. A low Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), flared tempers on implementation of OBC quota in institutions of higher education, organisations like AICTE and UGC which had forgotten to be agents of game change and a system which looked at education as a charity and believed in micromanaging is what Sibal inherited from his predecessors.

He inherited 100 deemed universities of questionable excellence, skill development which was either non-existent or at a nascent stage and an education system which could hardly check ‘degree mills’ involved in distribution of fake degrees. He got a system which had up till now ignored access, equity and quality, focused more on producing clerical hands rather than excellence and failed to carry out big ticket reforms like entry of foreign educational institutions. This was a system where research and education were yet to be integrated and private sector was yet to involve because ‘for-profit’ was considered ignoble. This was a system, which followed many different curriculums, study programmes and examination patterns.

Incredible part is that despite having his plate full on government, Sibal has continued to push for out-of-the-box ideas on his primary responsibilities i.e. Human Resource Development, Telecommunication and Information & Technology and Posts.

The first thing Sibal did after assuming office was to initiate a large number of reforms that have ever been talked about in the Indian education. Many of the reforms – like replacement of board examination with grading system till secondary school, introduction of semester system in universities, recasting of National Literacy Mission now called Saakshar Bharat, formulation of National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for teacher education and enactment of Right to Education (RTE) have been implemented. ICT in government and government aided secondary and higher secondary schools is being implemented as 11th Five Year Plan is set to take it to 108,000 schools in the country. Haryana Government has taken lead in initiating Public Private Partnership (PPP) by enrolling five schools under this in the coming academic session. The State Government plans to initiate the PPP model in 100 schools in the next four years. Chandigarh will also try PPP’s Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) in a school in the academic session, which will start in 2013.

Out of 19 reforms he listed out as part of first 100 days programme of his ministry Sibal has already implemented around a dozen. On establishment of All India Madarsa Board, the government is trying to take the largest minority community of the country on board. The HRD Minister has already announced setting up of an ombudsman or grievance redressal mechanism for all central education institutions aligned with UGC, institutions deemed to be universities, technical and management institutions under AICTE and teacher education institutions under NCTE to redress grievances of students relating to admission and other issues. In other words, fragmented polity of India is what hinders the HRD Minister’s reform agenda, which according to him, is focused at expansion, inclusion and excellence.

Once the entire bouquet of reforms is implemented in the sphere of school education, higher education and vocational education, the young population in the country would definitely turn into a demographic dividend and give an overall boost to primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Since education, employment and employability are co-related the reforms would empower India and bring about inclusive development.

Another positive step Sibal has taken is that he has tried to enroll leaders of various sectors of the industry into education to make sure that the education system produces what the industry is looking for. The HRD ministry has asked these leaders to prepare curriculum for the students who pass out of senior secondary.

School Education

Considering that HRD, a moniker for education in government parlance, comprises several flagship programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MMS) and Adult Education, it was expected from day one when Kapil Sibal was appointed the spearhead that he will have a very significant role. He has pursued the states on implementation of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) the Act he had a major role in drafting as well seeing through the parliament in 2009. He was chairman of the sub-committee that drafted the RTE. The Act, which enjoins state governments and local authority to make available schooling facilities for students of class I to V and class VI to VIII within a walking distance of 1 kilometre and 3 kilometre radius respectively, emphasises on conversion of EGS (Education Guarantee Scheme) schools into regular schools, asks them to stick to eight year elementary education cycle and provides a modicum of infrastructure for SSA interventions, came into force in April 2010.

A noteworthy feature of the Act is reservation of 25 per cent seats for weaker sections of the society in unaided as well as government-aided schools. Under this, while scholarship vouchers would be issued for 25 per cent students in unaided schools, the aided schools will have to take students of weaker sections in proportion to the amount of government aid divided by the annual recurring expenses of the school. The latter is a kind of indirect voucher system. The most salient feature of the scholarship voucher system is that not only will it allow poor parents to put their child in any school but also facilitate that money follows the students and not the other way round.

With the RTE Bill, the government has launched one of the boldest education schemes and, if successful, the voucher programme will be largest in the world. But the proof of the pudding would really lie in implementation of this programme as the private schools are not going to accept it easily because acceptance of government aid would mean that they would be open for government audit.

This runs the fear of opening doors for influence peddling and corruption, as a large number of children would be in queue for the seats reserved in private schools. Till now, the scholarship voucher system has not made much of an impact. Scholarship kids are found not to be spending extra time in studying because there is no change in their household matrix.

Sibal looks at introduction of the RTE for ‘doing away with the whole concept of annual examinations and instead vouches for a year round classroom assessment of students’. The HRD hopes to replace class XII board as well with grading system in near future. In fact, Goa school examination board has already started awarding marks as well grades for its class XII students.

The reforms in higher education will help the ministry to achieve the target of 30 per cent enrolment rate in higher education by 2020 (100 million graduates).

The goal of the HRD minister is to have a single board for all students and conduct uniform examination on the pattern of combined law admission test. Use of ICT in secondary schools and distance schooling is another objective, which would definitely get a fillip with the introduction of the low cost, android-based Aakash tablet. DataWind, the Canada-based company will soon be required to refigure its targets and reconfigure the gadget to suit contemporary technology aspirations of students. As per reports, against a target to sell about 5 million tablets by 2012, the company booked over a million within first few weeks after it opened pre-bookings. National Mission on Education through ICT is alone expected to buy about 3 million gadgets from the company.

Considering that United Nations Population Projections expects India to have 248.5 million kids in the age group of 6-14 by 2015, the scholarship vouchers coupled with grading system and use of ICT looks set to reform the school education system in the country to a great extent.

Higher Education:

Last year, the HRD Minister enlisted the support of all Vice Chancellors of all central and state universities for switching over to semester system for their postgraduate and undergraduate courses. He says once the semester system is in place, he will introduce credit system of assessment, which would ensure greater flexibility, and mobility of the students. Sibal’s next target would be to switch over from block grants to norm based funding for universities and persuade universities to formulate standards for affiliation of colleges.

“The young demographic dividend which everybody in India is looking to take advantage of can turn into a demographic time bomb in case we fail to skill our youth adequately and create enough employment opportunities for them”
R Chandrasekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology

He has already moved forward on the proposed Higher Education Survey, Autonomous Overarching Authority for Higher Education, law to regulate entry and operation of Foreign Educational Providers and establishment of tribunal for fast track adjudication of disputes among different stakeholders in higher education. Training of teaching faculty for All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) is already on. The bill on National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), which will replace UGC and AICTE, has already been cleared by the Parliament.

The bills on Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry & Operations), Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities, Educational Tribunal, National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions, National Council of Teacher Education (Amendment) and Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment to include children with disability) which are pending approval of the parliament – would go a long way in reforming education in the country. Hopefully, these reforms and establishment of Meta University to combine left brain attributes (analytical & logical) with right brain attributes (thoughtful & subjective) next year, will help the ministry to achieve the target of 30 per cent enrolment rate in higher education by 2020 (100 million graduates).

The country would need to set up over 700 more universities and 2,692 colleges to take its Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) from the present 12.6 per cent to 15 per cent. In comparison, the GER ratio in higher education in United States and United Kingdom is 81 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. Even in Malaysia, the South East Asian nation that is closer to India, the GER stands at 27 per cent. According to a newspaper report, if India has to match economically advanced countries, its GER in higher education should be over 20 per cent.

Vocational Education:

It is every one’s case that despite having an unemployment force of 300 million in the country and 700 million below 35 years of age , a number of sectors like agriculture, construction, textile, power generation and even teaching face huge shortage of manpower. There is a skill gap of about 240 million across 21 sectors. Since India would be adding 27 million to its burgeoning population every year and has set a target of skilling 500 million people by 2022, we would need to have more vocational institutions where the overriding emphasis should be on preparing quality technicians. “The young demographic dividend which everybody in India is looking to take advantage of can turn into a demographic time bomb in case we fail to skill our youth adequately and create enough employment opportunities for them,” cautions R Chandrasekhar, Secretary-DIT, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology.

The HRD ministry is providing financial assistance to states to establish new polytechnics in districts without any polytechnics and also for construction of women’s hostels in the existing polytechnics. Once the NCHER, the body that will take over University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), comes into shape, hopefully, it would amalgamate the ITIs and polytechnics under one umbrella organisation. India, after all, is woefully short of ITIs as well. In comparison to China, which has around half a million ITIs, India only has 10,000. Sibal stresses on concurrent growth of investment and skill development because unless there is investment in all the sectors, there will be no employment even for the skilled workforce.

Information Communication Technology:

ICT is the undisputed leader when it comes to generating employment in the country. The tripod of information, telecommunication and technology, which has grown into a 100 billion industry over the years, employs 2.5 million people directly and over 10 million people indirectly. Right from New Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Mumbai, to Hyderabad, the BPOs and the cyber cities have mushroomed in recent years bringing to them youth from different parts of the country. So much so that India accounts for 51 per cent of outsourcing. Outsourcing is the reason why India has reacted strongly to a new bill in America’s House of Representatives, which seeks to stop federal grants and contracts to US companies that offshore call centres.

Despite having an unemployment force of 300 million in the country and 700 million below 35 years of age, a number of sectors like agriculture, construction, textile, power generation and even teaching face huge shortage of manpower

But the real opportunity for expansion of ICT lies in domestic sector and certainly not in the BPOs. As the various organs of the government – right from institutions of local governance to district, state and central government – digitise public services, they would not only look for employees to manage such services but also companies that can manufacture IT platforms for them. “The growth so far in ICT has happened simply by filling the very small part of global needs. Outsourcing is a fraction of IT. Real challenge lies domestically. If we are able to apply it to domestic needs in terms of financial services and in terms of all kinds of service delivery then there is opportunity to greatly enhance the kind of potential industry has for gainful employment,” affirms R Chandrasekhar. In other words, ICT would add to growth in services as well as manufacturing. It would foster skill development, generate employment and enable equal opportunities.

The government hopes that IT industry would be a 300 billion industry by 2020 generating employment for over 60 million youth. If we focus on untapped areas like cloud computing, we can even get more out of it.

ICT in Education:

“The technical teachers’ training and the training of IT enabled services to flow only into education and education knowledge product creation are going to be of phenomenal scale”
Vibha Puri Das, Secretary (SHE & HE), Ministry of Human Resource Development

The adoption of ICT is clearly at an inflection point as the government and private sector players in education are set to replace paper with virtual content which would not just be less costly but also be environment friendly. While the students in the new schools, colleges, universities and open/distance educational institutions are showing a penchant for using internet content for studies, the government is egging on the old ones to arrange for broadband internet connectivity. In fact, providing broadband Internet connectivity to 5,000 college/universities was one of the first goals Kapil Sibal set out after taking over the HRD ministry.

The minister has frequently advised bodies conducting all India entrance examinations to conduct online tests. National Knowledge Network, the state-of-the-art multi-gigabit pan-India network, which aims to connect 1,500 institutions, organisations and laboratories so that the country can optimally utilise their potential in generation and dissemination of knowledge in various areas, is expected to be a major milestone in using internet for education. The network, which provides a unified high-speed network backbone for all knowledge related institutions in the country, will enable scientists, researchers and students from different backgrounds and diverse geographies to work closely for advancing human development in critical and emerging areas. The network has already connected 510 institutions.

National Mission on Education, a centrally sponsored scheme which leverages the potential of ICT to provide high quality personalised and interactive knowledge modules over the Internet/Intranet for all the learners in higher education institutions in anytime anywhere mode, is another attempt to bridge the digital divide in the country. The programme aims to focus on appropriate pedagogy for e-learning, providing facility of performing experiments through virtual laboratories, on-line testing and certification, on-line availability of teachers to guide and mentor learners, utilisation of available Education Satellite (EduSAT) and Direct to Home (DTH) platforms, training and empowerment of teachers to effectively use the new method teaching learning etc. The mission seeks to extend computer infrastructure and connectivity to over 18,000 colleges in the country in the current Five Year Plan.

ICT & Skill Development:

Leveraging ICT for skill development and providing ICT skills can go a long a long way in further growth in IT, electronics and telecommunication industries. There is a need to develop new business models that use ICT for training the trainers and skilling human resource for the industry. Considering that a large part of workforce in India is traditional providing it some kind of certification through distance learning would not only add value to the skills but help the work force to gain employment outside the country.

“The technical teachers’ training and the training of IT enabled services to flow only into education and education knowledge product creation are going to be of phenomenal scale,” says Vibha Puri Das, Secretary (SHE & HE), Ministry of Human Resource Development. Apart from using ICT for skilling human resource for the industry, the ICT itself would need a huge number of trained work force to fulfill the requirements that would arise from the expansion of the indigenous sector. “We will need to retool and re-engineer the technical teachers who are already engaged in polytechnics and technical institutions of training,” Das adds.

ICT in Employment Generation:

When it comes to employment generation, ICT would play the role of a catalyst as the government plans to infuse generous doses of investment into connectivity and digitisation of public services around the country. It would be spending Rs 400 billion on laying national optical fibre network to connect the 250,000 Panchayats in the country alone. Another Rs 100 billion will be invested in National Knowledge Network and National Mission on Education. The digitisation of public services is another area, which has huge potential for creation of jobs. Be it municipal services, licensing, passport, health or police, the Citizen’s Services Act would cover all public services.

“If you want to deliver high quality education, health and financial services to the remote areas then ubiquitous, affordable and reliable broadband connectivity is the foundation on which that rests,” claims Chandrasekhar. Sibal endorses him with “All our public services will be delivered digitally. (Under the Citizen’s Services Act) State governments will have to commit to us the timeframe within which services will have to be delivered.” The Minister expects the Panchayat connectivity alone to produce 28 to 30 million jobs. Besides creating jobs, the connectivity would also add to GDP growth. As per a study conducted by the World Bank, every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration corresponds into 1.4 per cent increase in GDP growth. Since the number of broadband subscribers between March 2005 and May 2011, rose from 0.18 million to 12.12 million, it would be safe to assume that it would have contributed about 1.5 per cent growth to the GDP.

Sibal estimates that the hardware bill for digitisation of these services will entail $ 400 billion, larger than the import of crude oil. Apparently, since importing such huge quantities of hardware would offset whatever advantage we have in software the government would prefer this to be manufactured indigenously.

Even in electronics where India has been laggard, the country can only be languid at the cost of its strategic and infrastructure security. It is expected that the manufacturing of IT and electronic equipments to produce another 30 million jobs. Chandrasekhar adds, “While IT generates white collared jobs, in the electronics a lot of them are blue collared jobs. That is equally important from the point of employment for people at that level,” the IT Secretary asserts. It is no secret now that Electronics Systems Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) have a definite role in sustaining growth of IT and telecom.

Telecommunication, a Driver of Social & Economic Development: When Sibal substituted A Raja in Telecom and Information & Technology in November 2010, the ministry was in a real mess. The allegations of corruption in 2G Spectrum had created a kind of policy paralysis and pit one telecom operator against other (for instance BSNL was upset for having conceded top position to Airtel). With his arbitrary, abrupt and abrasive style, Raja had done a lot of damage to the institutions aligned to the ministry. The future of Spectrum looked bleak. The interest of consumers seemed to be the lowest priority as issues like unrestricted access to Internet telephony and free roaming were on hold. The ministry seemed to have no policy to encourage local manufacturing of telecom equipment.

The biggest achievement of Sibal is that he has been able to bring the telecom operators and other stakeholders together to generate a new draft of a telecom policy. The policy promises minimum 512 kbps double than what is the minimum available now, mobile number portability between circles and single unified license across services and service areas. It plans to do away with roaming charges. The policy envisages about 300 MHz of 3G spectrum by 2017. It mandates telecom companies to get 80 per cent of their procurement from domestic manufacturers by 2020. It will allow Spectrum pooling, trading and sharing.

Sibal has given a major relief to mobile consumers by implementing ‘Do not call registry’ and mobile number portability from one telecom operator to another. Though the former, announced by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in September 2011, has not been able to curb pesky calls and messages completely as telemarketers have reportedly started sending messages from servers located in Africa and other regions which do not come under the purview of TRAI, nobody will deny that the measure has brought major relief for mobile consumers. It is learnt that a miniscule number of consumers (about 15 million) have opted for MNP till now yet all would agree that the measure empowers the customer.

Sibal expects broadband connectivity and national fibre optic network to give major boost to employment. The other area, which holds promise of job creation, is Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS), which are currently being handled by the service providers. Once the MVAS extends beyond music, entertainment, videos, voice recording, caller tunes and taxi services etc, public utility services are added to it and m-banking, m-education, m-health, m-governance, m-agriculture, location based services gain more currency, we would probably need separate agencies to handle these.

“In the years to come, MVAS will be the single most important tool for empowering the common man in India. Government of India is committed to empower the common man through cost effective, reliable and high quality telecom services with strong focus on MVAS,” says Sibal. Hopefully, the new telecom policy would be designed by keeping in mind that we have 850 million mobile subscribers and all three tiers – internet, in-person and mobile – need to be linked seamlessly for delivery of government services.

The draft National Policy on Electronics 2011 promises a number of steps to achieve multi-fold growth in the sector. This includes setting up of semiconductor wafer fabs and its eco-system for design and fabrication of chips and chip components, preferential market access for domestically manufactured/designed electronic products including mobile services, SIM cards, creation of an Electronic Development Fund to promote innovations and IP and R&D and incentives for setting up of over 200 Electronic Manufacturing Clusters (EMCs) with world class logistics and infrastructure and easy to do business facilities.

The policy to be notified in July 2012 talks about making secure, reliable and affordable voice telephony and high-speed broadband services to every citizen in India with special focus on rural areas. It is expected to do away with roaming charges and introduce one-nation, one-tariff and nation-wide mobile number portability.

Department of Posts

Manjula Prasher

The Foot Soldiers everybody wants to make use of: The best thing Sibal has done after taking over Department of Posts (he took over from A Raja in November 2010) is that he has re-energised the behemoth that was lying dormant completely overshadowed by telecom department. Sibal has started a debate on whether and how the network of 155,000 post offices and 206,000 postal employees (139,000 post offices and 269,000 Grameen Dak Sevaks in rural areas) can be used to distribute a bouquet of services to the quintessential every man in remote areas.

And the discourse suggests that every who’s who of Indian business is interested in making use of the foot soldiers of the department. NSDL would like to partner them for distribution of PAN cards. IGNOU wants the post offices to be the distribution point for its study material for students. Bombay Stock Exchange wishes to use the network for distribution of its depositories. Somebody else has suggested using postal employees for crop insurance. Certain banks would want the network to be their business correspondents in unbanked areas.

But Sibal is not interested in BCs’ job. He would rather make the network a bank. A debate that has been going on for a while as RBI does not seem to be comfortable with the idea. Three months before that he launched an e-commerce portal of India Post, which will enable customers to transact postal business anytime, and from anywhere through Internet and by using either debit card or credit card. Besides it will also help to provide electronic money order, instant money order, sale of philatelic stamps, postal information, tracking of express and international shipments, PIN code search and registration of feedback and complaints online.

Flip Side:

Like everything else in life, the profile of Sibal, the minister and politician also has certain areas where he needs to improve. Though a sharp legal brain, he is often found wanting on thinking through his statements. He has made announcements which are either difficult to implement without circumventing the present set of rules or will be seen running counter to the democratic spirit of the Indian constitution. The declaration on using post offices for banking exemplified the former while dialogue with social sites like Google and Facebook on content considered unpalatable to Indian cultural sensitivities illustrate the latter. The post offices may be good at handling micro products but they hardly have the capacity to run banking as business.

Aakash, the Rs 2,250 tablet, which was supposed to bridge the digital divide between the rich and the poor students, is another instance where Sibal requires correction. The feedback received from students has revealed quite a few drawbacks in the device that have been personally acknowledged by the Minister. The tablet’s slow speed, complaints about the device heating up quickly, its poor battery life and resistive touch screen – is what threatens to make the tablet a replica of Tata Nano experience.

There are reports now that the HRD ministry may not extend the letter of credit to Canada-based DataWind, the makers of the tablet and dump the 30,000 such faulty tablets in the rural sector. Sibal clearly needs to understand that such hobby horses are best handled by market forces and government machinery can only misdirect them.

The Road Ahead: From clearing the old baggage of National e-Governance Plan, working on his media management skills to cutting down influence of private academic and research institutions on regulatory bodies, Sibal has challenges galore. He has to make sure that DataWind improves the poorly configured tablets it has delivered so far and supplies advanced tablets for its remaining 70,000 orders. Do Indian students not deserve a piece of advanced technology?

His ministry will have the responsibility to see through the Citizen’s Charter bill that has been legislated by the government. He will need to ensure that rural broadband is aligned with government’s roll out plans and felt needs of the rural masses. Also he will need to widen and deepen access to postal network to address communication needs of the rural people.

Sibal must engage more meaningfully with MPs in the budget session of the Parliament so that the education bills his ministry has introduced are converted into law. Moreover, he will have to ensure that Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education in India, which is presently around mere 15 percent, about 10 percent below the world average, increases to 30 percent by 2020. To do that, we would need to build an additional 1,000 universities, 50,000 colleges and quality faculty of over a million assisted by quality support structures.

Sibal is one minister who despite doing all kind of fire fighting handling odd issues by virtue of being part of the government has continued to keep his focus on policies that are forward looking and desired for a long while. Whether it is reforms in education, ICT enablement, e-governance, telecom or the post office system, here is one minister who is trying to burst the silos and take a composite view of the existing situation.

Leveraging Technology to Modernise Post & Telecom

From computerising and making post offices vibrant and responsive under Project Arrow, planning cash on delivery in Speed Post under BD-Systemic Changes to promoting India into a knowledge economy as broadband penetration and national optic fibre network, the Department of Posts and Telecom, handled by Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for Communication & IT, is set to ride on technology to reach the last mile.

Sachin Pilot

“That debate is long over whether we need technology or how much of it should be used in government programmes, in implementation of policies and in the budgetary allocations and how we are able to use information & Technology to better service our citizens. The debate now is who is doing how much,” says Pilot.

Under Project Arrow ‘Core Operations’, 15,500 post offices have already been computerised while 1,530 post offices have been covered under the Look & Feel’ part of the Project. The ‘Look & Feel’ involves training all staff of the project office, completion of basic documentation in each post office, improving the building, public area and supply of hardware within a given time frame. In the current financial year, another 22 post offices will be transformed under the Project.

Project Arrow not only increases revenue of the Department of Posts, raises traffic of accountable articles but also improves on the reporting system and brings down the savings bank requests. Apart from this Project, Department of Posts has embarked on Mail Network Optimisation Project to consolidate existing mail network of India Post, establish an effective online performance measurement system and process redesign and standardisation in mail offices/speed post Centres.

The Department of Posts has signed up with, Air India and Registrar General of India to be their courier of choice. Under BD-Systemic Changes, the Department plans cash on delivery in speed post and extend ePost Corporate module to all circles. Close to 10,000 Post Offices have disbursed Rs 486 billion under MNREGS and included 8 billion BPL households.

Under the 12th Five Year Plan, the Department would deepen access to postal network to address communication needs of the rural people and provide financial services to them. Under the plan Rs 1,200 billion have been earmarked for the Department out of which Rs 63 billion would be for rural business and access to postal network and Rs 692 billion for IT induction & modernisation.

The Department of Telecom looks at the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 which mandates the delivery of public services or other services in the electronic mode, including receipt of forms and applications, issue of license, permit, certificate, sanction or approval and the receipt of monetary payments, as a huge opportunity for IT sector in the domestic market. Telecom Ministry hopes to implement the bill through State Wide Area Networks, State Data Centres and Common Service Centres.

“The states must work along with the government of India to deliver these services at block, Taluka and Gram Panchayat level. That will set the tone for the next half a decade where young and aspirational Indians will be able to get access to services without having to struggle for it,” claims Pilot.

The Ministry also would like the banks to exploit the mobile networks to include the unbanked in the financial mainstream. “Out of the 800 million mobile users, only 40 per cent of the mobile users have bank accounts. I refuse to believe that the rest 60 per cent mobile users do not want access of credit, banking services. It is just not being provided. The cost of putting up a bank branch in a village is more than what the bank will earn there. Therefore, the mobile phone can become a platform for delivery of banking and financial services,” Pilot asserts.

Team Inclusion

INCLUSION is the first and only journal in the country that champions the cause of social, financial and digital inclusion. With a discernable and ever- increasing readership, the quarterly relentlessly pursues the three inclusions through its rich content comprising analysis, reportage, features, interviews, grassroots case studies and columns by domain experts. The magazine caters to top decision makers, academia, civil society, policy makers and industry captains across banking, financial services and insurance.
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