Citizen-centric E-governance project in Uttaranchal, India
H. K. Verma
V. K. Nangia
J. D. Sharma
Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee
A. K. Pant
Birla Institute of Applied Sciences, Bhimtal, Nainital, India
The paper deals with a UNDP-funded, e-governance pilot project which was implemented by the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee in Uttaranchal, India.
A Participatory Rural Appraisal exercise was carried out to assess peoples’ needs and aspirations, which was followed by a Business Process Reengineering exercise to make government departmental working more efficient, transparent and adaptable to computerization. An n-tier architecture citizen-centric “Uttara” portal with information and data on 115 departments/ organizations of the state, was developed.
The delivery of the services of some select government departments has been tried in Nainital district of Uttaranchal, India, through Information Kiosks (Soochna Kutirs) which are run by local people.
Most of the state governments in India have taken some initiatives in e-Governance, which have met with varying degrees of success. These are being largely implemented by a department or an agency of the concerned government and therefore have a governmental bias, whether intentional or un-intentional. An e-Governance project in Uttaranchal state of India, titled “Pro-Poor IT Initiatives in Uttaranchal” funded by the UNDP, has just been completed with a high degree of success (Figure 1).
The aim of the project could be summed up thus: “To deliver information of public interest and services related to various Government Departments at the doorsteps of the citizens of Uttaranchal using information technology (IT) as the vehicle.”
It was a pilot project intended to be a precursor to establishing full-scale e-governance in the state. Implementation by an external agency, viz. the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IITR), has led to what seems to be refreshingly open approach with many innovative features. It also provides a model of Government-Academia-Industry collaboration. The project was focused on the citizens of Uttaranchal with special emphasis on serving the under-privileged people living in remote villages of the state.
Figure 1: Location and District maps of Uttaranchal (ww.mapsofindia.com)
The project has culminated in the development and validation of a self-sustainable model of governmental service to the people of Uttaranchal. The model was successfully implemented in the pilot district of Nainital, which was considered as representative of the state in terms of terrain, demography, socio-economic conditions, culture and mind-set. The programme is running in Nainital district under the name “Janadhar”. This paper presents an overview of the model developed for the delivery of services and information, and highlights some of the novel activities undertaken during the process.
Assessment of Citizen Needs
For the success of any citizen-centric project, like this one, it is important to understand the needs, priorities and aspirations of all the stakeholders. Lack of such an understanding can result in the project becoming supply-driven rather than demand-driven. The real test of the success of such projects is when the citizens drive these initiatives rather than being driven by government, vendors, technology or individual champions.
If the citizen is to be in the driver’s seat, it implies that he (or she) decides the type, size, cost and manner of delivery (other than the technology) of services he is interested in. This requires that the citizen becomes an active partner with the government in the entire process and is involved at all stages, right from the assessment of citizen needs to the ultimate delivery of the services. He becomes the owner of the process, not just a passive recipient of the services. This amounts to empowering the citizen as it concerns delegation of power and authority for decision making.
In order to find out the needs, priorities and aspirations of the people of Uttaranchal, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Rapid Urban Appraisal (RUA) techniques were used. PRA has been used in a large number of projects, particularly in the agricultural sector (Ashby (1993); Bentley (1994); Biggs (1995) and Okali et. al. (1994)). However, in the present project a pioneering effort has been made to use the PRA technique to determine the needs, priorities and aspirations for the primary user group, i.e., the villages in the state. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises were carried out at six places representing different topographies, literacy levels, vocations and socio-economic conditions. The PRA exercises were conducted in the villages or village clusters in Uttarkashi, Dehradun, Almora, Nainital and Udham Singh Nagar districts of the state (see photographs in figures 2 and 3).
Figure 2: Community members marking the available resources of the village during PRA exercise in Naukuchiatal area of Distt. Nainital
Figure 3: Members of IIT Roorkee team in consultation with village community in Chakrata, a tribal area of Dist. Dehradun
In addition to finding the needs and priorities of the people, the PRA exercises were aimed at obtaining the views of the citizens on the following aspects/issues:
Ideal locations for the Information Kiosks (Soochna Kutirs).
Eligibility norms for Information Kiosk owner/operator (called Information Kiosk Sanchalaks).
Willingness of the villagers to pay for the information and services to be provided at the Information Kiosks
To ensure that the needs and priorities of the urban citizens (poor) are not overlooked, Rapid Urban Appraisal (RUA) was conducted at Dehradun, the state capital of Uttaranchal. Short but face-to-face and telephonic interviews were conducted with the people from different cross sections to know their needs and views.
An analysis of the results of the PRA/RUA exercises revealed the following:
The priorities, needs and aspirations of the citizens vary greatly from place to place and even from one sub-group to another at the same place.
Some commonalities are present and therefore, generalization to some extent can be made.
Several areas of common interest throughout the state, on which information could be made available through the Information Kiosks, were identified. These included education, agriculture, health (especially for women), employment opportunities, developmental and other government schemes and government tenders.
Similarly, several services of common interest were identified, which included expert advice (especially on agricultural matters), sale and purchase of goods, examination results, matrimonial services, net browsing, e-mail and e-chat within common interest groups.
There are some areas of general high priority and others of limited interest to a select group.
The people are quite willing to pay for the information and services obtained through Information Kiosks. They see it as the cost of convenience. The common feeling was that the cost of services should not be very high, at the same time these should be sufficiently attractive for an entrepreneur to set up an Information Kiosk without any governmental subsidy.
People favoured setting up of Information Kiosks in Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode.
The opinion widely expressed by the public was that the Kutirs should not be located in government buildings and should be run by local entrepreneurs in their own or hired premises with no restriction on opening days and hours.
The people unanimously preferred that Information Kiosks be owned and run by a local person.
The Information Kiosk Operator, in their view, should include another local person of opposite gender so that the people visiting are comfortable in discussing their needs for information or service.
Action on Findings
The PRA findings were kept in mind while deciding later on the contents of and services from the Government portal, called “Uttara” (www.uttara.in). There has been constant improvement and addition to the portal contents and scope of services on the basis of feedback from stake-holders. These also formed the basis of developing a working model of Information Kiosks.
The findings of the PRA/RUA exercises were an important input to the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) studies, as the former helped in identifying the government processes which were the high priorities of the citizens. Therefore, these were shared with the BPR consultants through a workshop. The participants included the PRA experts, Non Government Organizations (NGOs), BPR consultants, Government of Uttaranchal (GoUA) officials and the Project Implementation Team of IITR.
Business Process Re-Engineering
It was felt that the Government departments would need to change their ways of working to adapt to the new e-governance environment. It was for this purpose that a Business Process Reengineering exercise was carried out in select government departments, especially in relation to those sections or processes which are directly relevant to citizens and where there is a direct citizen interface. BPR exercises are commonly carried out in the corporate world to stream-line work in the business environment (Furey et. al. (1993); Leth (1994); Lloyd (1994); Berman (1994). In this project a BPR exercise was carried out in the government sector which, it is hoped, will have the effect of increasing the satisfaction level of the citizen in terms of services provided by different government departments. The objective is a fundamental re-thinking and radical re-design of government processes to achieve transparency, automatic processing, cost reduction, quality, efficiency and effectiveness in the working of the government.
BPR studies were undertaken in the pilot project with the following objectives:
Easing of the interface between citizens and government and making the government’s dealings and activities more citizen friendly.
Replacing discretion-based regimes with automation-based regimes.
Reducing the time cycle of the processes resulting in faster delivery of services and benefits to the citizen.
Reduction of cost, effort and time of the citizen and of the government expenses in the delivery of services.
Empowerment of all participants in the processes.
Increasing the satisfaction level of all stake-holders.
Selection of Departments
Six departments of Government of Uttaranchal were selected for BPR studies on the basis of:
Results of PRA and RUA exercises conducted.
Incidence of high level of citizen interface with the government, and
Expected cooperation from ministers and officials of these departments.
The general scope of the BPR studies was as follows:
To identity the strengths and weaknesses of the existing processes.
To study the existing processes at all levels of planning, implementation, delivery, monitoring and review by interacting with various stake-holders such as government officials, employees at various levels in the government and in the field, voluntary organizations and the end user of the facility/service/activity.
To set the objectives of the BPR.
Mapping the transformation process using appropriate BPR tools.
IT enablement of the processes, excluding software development per se.
Identification of best practices of adoption and benchmarking with these.
To suggest a Management Information System (MIS) for the reengineered processes.
To clearly spell out the benefits expected from the reengineered processes.
At the end of the BPR studies, department-wide reports incorporating the following were prepared:
Weaknesses in the existing system, in generic and specific terms.
Opportunities for improvement, in terms of processes and systems, in administrative, legislative and technological terms.
Reengineered processes with flow charts.
MIS reports that need to be generated.
Benefits from the reengineered processes, to be quantified in terms of time and money.
Implementation roadmap with time-line.
Roadmap for change/transformation management.
It is clear that while implementing the BPR reports in the respective departments, the most difficult part in terms of time and efforts required, is Change Management. The challenge is also to integrate recommendations of BPR studies with other IT initiatives being carried out in the same or related departments in tandem.
Electronic Service Delivery System
A pilot system for delivering information and services electronically (using IT) has been set up under the project. It comprises of four components described below.
The portal is the nerve centre of the electronic delivery system for information and services. Thus, development of the portal has been the central and most important activity in the pilot project. A portal under the name Uttara has been designed and developed with the aim that it will ultimately have:
Every piece of information about Uttaranchal that may be of public interest,
A centralized data bank of citizens as well as GoUA departments, and
Application software for providing all possible services to the citizens/public.
With an n-tier architecture, the Portal is designed and destined to grow into a comprehensive, citizen-centric and secured portal of Uttaranchal Government.
Information kiosks, called Soochna Kutirs, were envisaged to be set up to serve as the information/service delivery points for the public. A number of them have been put up in public-private partnership in the pilot district of Nainital. In addition, one mobile Information Kiosk has been installed in an automobile van equipped with VSAT equipment. It is sent where-ever an Information Kiosk is to be set up temporarily either to meet an emergent need or to provide service for an occasion, or for demonstration.
In the villages, most of the people cannot operate/navigate the portal on their own. The Information Kiosk Operator therefore, functions as a facilitator for enabling computer-illiterate citizens to access information and obtain services through the portal.
A number of government departments and offices in Nainital district have been partly computerized and connected to the portal so that they are able to provide services to the citizens electronically. As the next step, all the Block Development Offices in the district are being computerized and connected to the portal through VSAT.
A Wide Area Network (WAN) has been created for connecting all Information Kiosks and computerized departments/offices to the portal, i.e. the servers in the Data Centre located in IIT Roorkee. The WAN uses optical fibre cables, leased lines, public telephone network (ISDN or PSTN lines), and VSATs with a total bandwidth of 2 Mbps (figure 4). The portal has also been connected to the internet with a bandwidth of 2 Mbps, so that the Internet can be accessed at high good speed from outside the WAN.
Figure 4: Connectivity diagram
Features and Capabilities of Uttara Portal
As the focus of this IT project has been on the benefit to the citizens, the portal had to be citizen-centric. All the data, applications and schemes are arranged around the citizen.
Almost the entire population of Uttaranchal can read and understand Hindi. It was, therefore, decided to place all the information of interest to the common citizen in Hindi. On the other hand, the information primarily meant for tourists and entrepreneurs from other states/countries is in English. Eventually, the first few layers of all websites on the portal will be in English as well as in Hindi.
The citizen related data must not be accessible to unauthorized persons or departments. Likewise the financial transactions, which are proposed to be allowed on the portal at a later date, must be secured against fraud. To that end, the portal has been designed for biometric and smart-card enablement. The feature can be invoked as and when decided by the state government.
The portal is expected to be accessed by semi-literate people as well as literates. Moreover, citizens are likely to access it for almost any information or service. Therefore, identifying easy navigation as the basic requirement of the portal design, any information can be accessed through four alternative routes from the home page, namely, List of Services, List of Departments, Category of Service and Search.
The portal opens with a bilingual (Hindi/English) main page leading to individual home-pages in Hindi and English, which in turn give hyperlinks to information about the state and government and to individual Uttara websites (figure 5). By now, the portal has 107 websites, of which 90 are exclusively or predominantly in Hindi and 17 in English. There are another 8 websites containing other information of public interest.
Figure 5: Main page of Uttara Portal (www.uttara.in)
Application modules (software) have been developed and placed on the Uttara Portal to allow the user to search Application Forms, Government Orders, General News, Employment News, Tender Notices, FAQs, Mandi Rates and Weather Reports. Non-Commercial Advertising is available as another useful service to the public for a nominal fee. Three On-line interactive services are already in place, namely Expert Advice, Examination Results (with marks) and Application submission. Software modules for On-line Grievance Filing and on-line Tourist Room Booking have also been developed.
Awareness and Training
Creating public awareness among the masses and providing training for the various stake-holders were considered essential for the success of the project. Efforts were made to create public awareness about the project especially in the pilot Nainital District.
The awareness activities included press publicity, production and frequent screening of two documentary films and an awareness generation group traveling to various places (Janadhar Yatra) in the district. The group held exhibitions and organized lecture demonstrations. Publicity through cable TV, pamphlets, stickers, calendars, signboards and publicity posters (one sample is shown in figure 6) was also carried out.
Figure 6: A sample poster used in “Janadhar Yatra” for publicity
Training was provided to the Information Kiosk Operators for using the portal and to the government officials for providing services through the portal. Training workshops were organized for the Information Kiosk Operators to familiarize them with the portal content and services and to teach them, how to deal with the people who approach them seeking information and services.
The other set of workshops were for government officials, which concentrated on:
The methodology for providing services through the portal,
How to respond to the queries from the public received through the Information Kiosks, and
How to send content updates to the portal administrator.
An independent third party was engaged to study the impact of the project. The agency undertook an assessment of various project stakeholders in three stages namely, pre, during and post-implementation. The impact assessment was carried out in Nainital district. The outcome of the study can be used as and when the project is replicated in other parts of the state or country.
The evaluation and monitoring used a participatory approach. Primarily the focus was on Information Kiosk Operators, beneficiary rural communities and service-providing government departments. The recommendations would be helpful in working out a more efficient strategy for its replication.
The e-governance project has been unique in many ways. It was started at the initiative of a state government, financially supported by a United Nation agency and implemented by an educational institution. It is a good example of how the International Agencies like UNDP, the Government, Educational Institutions and Private Sector can work in unison for the benefit of the common citizen. While implementing the project, many innovative and pioneering experiments were carried out.
Uttaranchal is a unique state in many ways. It is a state with a very high literacy rate, rugged terrain and low population density. A large part of the state is covered either by snow or by forest. Commuting is largely through road transport and traveling can be both time consuming and expensive. The motorable road density is thin and many villagers have to walk several kilometers to reach a road head. Through this project, a successful attempt has been made to use IT to bring these marginalized and under-privileged citizens into the main stream and mitigate the difficulties faced by them.
Information “should be for all and within reach of all” was the guiding principle of the project. IT has proved to be an effective tool for delivering information and providing government services to the citizens, especially the less privileged. The project is an important step towards bridging the digital divide, obliterating the myth that computers and IT are meant only for the rich and upper middle classes of the society. The ground is set for embarking on a people-oriented IT programme, which has become all the more relevant with the initiation of “Right to Information Act” in the country.
At the beginning of the project it was felt that the needs and aspirations of the common citizens of the state of Uttaranchal, specially the under-privileged, should be assessed through Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques. This, it was thought, will make the project citizen-centric in the true sense and make the project ‘need driven’ rather than ‘supply driven’. The impact assessment carried out at the end of the project has vindicated this premise.
Using IT as a tool for delivery of government information and services to the masses requires major rethinking of the working of the government and its processes. Towards this end, a Business Process Reengineering exercise was carried out in six departments. The PRA and BPR exercises, prior to providing government information and services to the citizens through IT interventions, is a pioneering and unique effort in India.
Government information and services provided in some other states of India using IT pertain only to a single or a group of departments. Uttara Portal on the other hand is extensive and provides information about every department/unit of the government and is capable of handling a large variety of IT-enabled services. The data on citizens can be stored at one place and each department can access the required data for its own use. The data of any citizen gets updated automatically for use by all the departments if a change is made at the portal level. Furthermore, the n-tier architecture of the portal permits unlimited opportunities for adding more services on it in a secured manner.
The Road Ahead
Having developed and validated a model for delivery of information and services in one district, its replication in other districts is a simple and straight-forward task. Updating of the portal contents need to be ensured and this could best be done by the State Government who is the source and custodian of all information. For an effective delivery of services to the public through the portal, the programme should run with the commitment of the Government and Management by a third-party on a self-sustaining basis.
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