E-governance, smart governance and better governance has been on the agenda for a long time. In Rajiv Gandhi’s time, a committee was set up to give focus to e-governance. In the last 25 years we have learned a lot, done a lot, but we still have a long way to go.
Smart governments, or governance, require smarter people, or people who work smarter than others. It also requires smarter processes. Most of our problems begin with processes. We have age-old processes left behind by the British which our bureaucracy has further complicated, and now we are computerising them. So, unless we begin with process re-engineering, e-governance is not going to give us the benefit. It is claimed that we have spent roughly Rs 500 billion on e-governance so far. But the people are yet to see substantial benefits. To get anything done is still a hassle. An average person feels frustrated, at times humiliated. It takes in this country a long time to start a company and it takes a very long time to close a company. What can e-governance do? Process re-engineering has to be the key to all these problems and we are not paying enough attention to it.
We have to convince everybody to use electronic filing, so that the files can move in parallel and not in serial. Today, everybody does his work on files and all these files move in serial, and all manually. What is e-governance if the government cannot get files in a digital format? So far, all our e-governance efforts have been isolated – many are at the State level and many are a result of individual. Today the technology has changed. With cloud computing, open source software, low-cost terminals, high-capacity broadband facilities, fibre and mobile penetration, the picture looks very different. In a sense, we need to restart everything. We need to create standards. We need to focus on cloud computing and the starting point for that is the high-capacity broadband fibre network.
So far, all our e-governance efforts have been isolated – many are at the State level and many are a result of individual initiative. We need to create standards. We need to focus on cloud computing and the starting point for that is the high-capacity broadband fibre network
The UPA Government has taken two major initiatives which are going to be gamechangers. One, creating a national knowledge network to connect 1,500 nodes with 40 gigabit bandwidth, to connect all our universities and our R&D facilities. Laboratories, and hopefully courts and libraries, will become the mother of all networks. This network is already built and is working, but we don’t know how to use it effectively. Nearly 1,100 nodes are already connected – many scientists doing high-end research in physics and maths are using it as are weather forecasting people. This network is connected with a dedicated link to Europe and, Japan and with a dedicated link through Amsterdam to New York now. The second network is being built to connect 250,000 panchayats through optical fibre. About three years of planning has gone into it. With the help of BSNL, RailTel and PowerGrid nearly 100,000 panchayats will be connected by March 2014. The number is likely to rise to 250,000 in another year. These two networks will cost about Rs 600 billion.
This will mean that there are hundreds of mega-bits and gigabits at the panchayat level because a lot of the bandwidth is required for video. This fibre then would be accessible to all private companies so that they can develop applications. In addition, the UID platform coupled with the GIS platform will provide GIS ability for ID and various applications like computerisation of courts, prisons, police, NREGA, food distribution, driver’s licenses, passports, income tax files, etc. There are about 30 verticals for which a large number of software people are working on application platform. Of the about 10,000 software people today, 3,500 at NIC and 6,500 from the private industry are working with the government on this software. The process is also on to create a platform for payment and procurement. When all this is done, with the right data centres and cyber security, there’ll be a whole different way of running the government. But, this will take time. Hopefully, in the next two years all these platforms would be operational. The UPA government would, according to a very wide guess, spend about ` 1,000 billion on creating this open government platform. It would mean that people will have to follow standards. It will mean having the same kind of birth certificate all over the country; the same kind of police report so that a report from Kerala can be read in Gujarat or Bengal.
Today, there is very little inter-operability. Everybody is working in vertical silos. If we are to really gain from this exercise, we must learn to collaborate well. Data sharing is important. Nobody wants to share data because information is power. Smart governance is not about gimmicks; it is about looking at high level architecture, platform, standards and collaborations. This game scalability is going to be very critical.
We have to pay more attention to process re-engineering, standardisation, collaboration and on new technology with cloud computing. Of course, standards will require 10-20 per cent tweaking. I think that is the real challenge for all of us.