e-Governance: the minister speaks: Dr Shakeel Ahmad, Minister of State for IT and Communications.
Posted by egovindia on June 23, 2006
e-Governance: the minister speaks
Faiz Askari interviews Dr Shakeel Ahmad, Minister of State for IT and Communications.
There was a time when the Government of India (GoI) didn’t really count as a buyer of IT. This situation has changed drastically over the past few years. What’s fuelling the growing use of IT in government is the fact that it has acknowledged the potential of IT and started looking at it as a component of progress.
The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is the catalyst of the GoI’s e-governance initiative. Dr Shakeel Ahmad hails from rural Bihar. Perhaps that is why he has the zest to drive IT into the rural areas. Aware of and concerned with the ground realities and basic infrastructure (or lack thereof) at the village level, Dr Ahmad understands that the key for the development of the masses lies in information technology and communications (ICT). That’s why he is trying to drive this development in an accelerated manner through various ICT boosters.
Reaching out to the rural masses has always a problem. The government is now making sincere efforts to provide telecom access in the rural areas. Towards this, about 5.5 lakh villages out of 6 lakh have already been provided with telephone connectivity. The remaining 42,000 villages will be provided with village public telephones (VPT) by November 2007. This data shows the results-oriented approach and the serious efforts of the government to reach out to rural India.
States Dr Ahmad: “The Universal Obligation Fund is also in the planning stage. This will be for the creation of shared infrastructure for mobile services in the rural areas. It will ensure access to mobile networks in rural areas of the country. For providing Internet access, information kiosks have already been planed as common service centres (CSCs) in rural areas to provide Internet connectivity and access to the rest of world. These CSCs will be 100,000 in number.”
Broadband connectivity to all villages has also been planned. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has requested DOT for the provision of broadband connectivity in all schools and colleges in the country, including those in rural areas. This initiative will give the rural masses exposure to IT applications, and will go a long way in bringing them a level of progress that’s on par with those in urban areas.
Bridging the digital divide
In some of the southern states, IT implementation and adaptation is happening at a fast pace. On the other hand, states like Orissa, Bihar and UP are yet to make their mark in IT. Ahmad agrees. “It’s true that in some states or regions IT development and adaptation is happening at a higher pace as compared to other parts of the country. In the recent past these states have acquired better e-readiness due to a variety of reasons. The Department of IT (DIT) is aware of these facts, and is trying to objectively gauge the gap in the e-readiness of such states through its yearly e-readiness evaluation exercise which was launched a few years ago. Currently, DIT e-Governance schemes such as SWAN (State Wide Area Network) are being formulated with a package of technical assistance which may be required by the lagging states for various projects activities. Beyond this, capacity building is another important activity which has been taken up to address the issue. I am confident about the outlook…that the states or regions which are lagging in IT infrastructure and applications will soon catch up.”
India’s broadband usage is still nascent when compared to that of other South Asian countries. The government has analysed the need for this, and is rolling out broadband infrastructure at a rapid pace. 300 towns have already been covered, and more than one million broadband connections have been provided. However, such services require a critical mass before actual rapid growth takes place.
“Wireless broadband holds hope for providing connectivity in sparsely-populated rural areas. However, for full utilisation of the capabilities of the infrastructure being created, it is essential that content development in the local language takes place,” Dr Ahmad points out.
Challenges loom with regard to connecting the rural and urban parts of UP, Jharkhand, Bihar, MP and Orissa. Eradicating hurdles like poor power supply and low computer awareness is going to be a difficult task. “The five states mentioned have made proposals for their SWAN. An empowered committee has approved these proposals. Adequate provision has been made for alternate power back-up for at least the prime business hours. As far as the low computer awareness is concerned, I would like to mention that major schemes like the setting up of the 100,000 CSCs in rural areas have specially been designed to increase the computer awareness level among the rural masses. In addition, to provide assisted computer awareness, we are going to launch specialised training programmes for the locals as they would be the trainers or drivers of those CSCs. In other words, we can say that capacity building and training in specific areas have been some of the integrated efforts made by DIT,” notes Dr Ahmad.
Localisation of IT applications
Microsoft has rolled out software in many Indian languages. Several other applications are being progressively made available in regional Indian languages. This is a logical pattern as India is a diverse country with varying requirements in different parts of the country. “IT applications have to adapt to local conditions to be more effective at the grass-root level. This localisation can be achieved with public-private partnership,” says Dr Ahmad.
With robust demand, the IT infrastructure for the education sector is rapidly coming up. “I am very happy to see that various educational institutions are coming forward to meet the growing demand for IT education. The government has to ensure that standards are maintained by the new institutions/organisations entering computer/IT sector education. This has to be taken up both at the formal and non-formal levels. For example, DOEACC is fulfilling the need in the area as an accreditation agency,” Dr Ahmad points out.
Skilled manpower in the telecom sector is an issue for India. Telcos such as Bharti and Reliance are planning to open their own training institutes. In this context, BSNL has already got adequate training infrastructure with premier training institutions at Ghaziabad and Jabalpur. Apart from this, it has various regional training institutions for regular updations of the skill-sets of its employees. Training needs are reviewed at regular intervals. Whenever it is felt that the training structure needs any amendment or change, training structures are amended.
Vision for e-governance
“In my opinion, e-Governance is going to bring in a massive change in the way India is governed,” declares Dr Ahmad. The focus of e-Governance is on government, government-to-business, and business-to-government services. The approach is to provide a ompletely changed face of the government to citizens and to businesses. To get some visible results in a time-bound manner, the GoI, under the NeGP, has identified 26 mission mode projects. These projects will be covering G2G, G2C, C2G, G2B and B2G services. “We already have a successful example when the railway reservation system was created. It has changed the citizen’s interface, and the impact of this is astonishing. Similarly, the MCA-21 project, when fully implemented, will completely eradicate the earlier complaints of sluggish interaction between Indian business entities and the Department of Company Affairs,” insists the minister.
The MCA-21 project, when fully implemented, will completely eradicate the earlier complaints of sluggish interaction between Indian business entities and the Department of Company Affairs.
ATM banking has changed the picture of day-to-day monetary transactions. This has been possible only because of the implementations of core banking solutions and reliable connectivity. Internet banking is an advance on that, and has made banking even easier to handle; again, this has been achieved through Internet applications. The future seems to be more fruitful as the advancements are actually moving ahead with IT implementations.
“I can predict that in the near future we will see more examples coming to reality, and they will be achieved through IT advancements. PC and Internet penetration may remain in assisted mode for some more time.
However, IT penetration at the back-end of the government and business processes is going to change the Indian scenario in a big way within the next three to five years,” forecasts Dr Ahmad.