#eGovWatch: Gujarat walks the talk

Written by Jyotsna Bhatnagar | Nirwa Mehta | Updated: Aug 11 2014, 16:43pm hrs
GujaratGujarat today has the largest optical fibre wide area network in the whole of Asia, stretching over an area of over 50,000 km.
When it comes to e-governance, the latest buzzword in the corridors of power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a firm believer of its force multiplier effect. And having walked the talk in Gujarat, a state he led from the front for the past 13 years, the PM is now all set to replicate Gujarats model of e-governance in other states as well in a bid to catapult the country to the next level of development using this potent tool of easy, effective and economical governance.

Once a laggard in the IT arena, Gujarat today has the largest optical fibre wide area network in the whole of Asia, stretching over an area of over 50,000 km. This provides government functionaries with a platform to interact not only with the lowest-rung officers all throughout the state but also with the people in rural areas through video conferencing. The state has made e-governance functional in all its 141 municipalities with Citizen Facilitation Centres functional in all the major centres of Gujarat. At the district level, taluka level and in municipal areas, computerised civic centres have been established where the concept of one-day governance has been implemented. This experiment has been further taken up to the village level by establishing e-grams equipped with computers and internet connectivity. All 14,000 gram panchayats have been made e-grams. The E-dhara project for total computerisation of land records has been extremely successful and widely acclaimed.

Other areas of e-governance include electronic weighbridges and smart cards for driving licenses, online and roaming ration card system, online filing of sales tax returns, connectivity between courts and jails, creation of huge data base of youths available for employment, online availability of government resolutions and forms in digital format, departmental websites disseminating information on various government schemes and activities.

In view of its stellar track record, Gujarat has been widely felicitated, the most recent feather to its much-adorned cap being the best e-governed state award from the government of India in January 2007. Jyotsna Bhatnagar & Nirwa Mehta take a look at some of the projects which make the Gujarat model of e-governance worth emulating:

E-Gram Vishwagram

Connecting villages

Gujarat has put in place a model IT infrastructure providing connectivity to thousands of villages across the state. Though part of the national e-governance programme (NEGP), unquestionably one of the most ambitious programmes launched by India, Gujarats implementation has been spectacularly successful largely on account of some proactive measures taken by the state government.

Thus, while common service centres, part of the NEGP delivery mechanism, in large parts of the country are either not yet functional or have begun closing down on account of the unviability of the model, the Gujarat initiative, christened the eGram Vishwagram project has become a case study showcasing how such projects can be implemented and run successfully.

The success of the eGram project is a result of the convergence of efforts and active involvement of the stake holders namely the eGram Vishwagram Society, the department of panchayats and the Gujarat government at the macro level and the village computer entrepreneur, technical support and training service provider and the connectivity partners, auditors and government officials at the micro level.

What has also contributed to the glitch-free running of the project is the provision of proper infrastructure by the state government which includes uninterrupted power supply, internet connectivity and essential equipment such as PCs, printers, scanners in all the 13,685 eGram CSC centres across Gujarat.

In another first, in view of the asymmetric geographical area of the country, every village eGram centre of Gujarat got connected with VSAT which brought video conferencing and VoIP phone facility right upto village level. This has not only enabled villagers to see all educational, informative and awareness programmes at their village itself by viewing PAWAN channel available on eGram connectivity network but they can also use free IP telephone to remain connected with all other eGram villages as well.

In fact, so efficient is the eGram scheme that village video conference is now part of the daily affair of eGram CSC centres where authorities talk to rural citizens as per predefined schedule and address their issues and keep tabs on implementation of various schemes.

Further, in an attempt to milk the employment potential of the scheme, village levels teams of technical support and training service provider teams are deployed to each eGram once a month compulsorily and give technical as well as training support to village computer entrepreneurs which is creating employment in rural areas. The scheme, which ensures that all services are delivered at village level through online portal, has helped to transform gram panchayats into gram sachivalayas..

Among the government to citizen services being provided by eGrams in Gujarat are birth and death certificates, farmers status certificates, document for caste certificates and eRation card. Additionally, VCEs are also generating revenue by offering some business to customer services including e-ticketing of railways, airlines etc, utility bill payments (electricity, mobile etc), online results of different exams, matrimonial services and market linkages for agri commodities. VCEs charge anywhere between R3 to R15 for such services and share approximately 20% of their income with the gram panchayat.

GSWAN

Empowering the administration

With an aim to address the need of modernisation of the intra-governmental communication setup to improve administrative efficiency and bring across accountability and reliability in overall functioning of the government, the GSWAN (Gujarat State Wide Area Network) was set up in 2001-02. GSWAN is an advanced communication infrastructure extensively used for exchange of data, voice and video, between two or more locations separated by significant geographical distances. As of now, 33 districts and 248 talukas are covered by the optical fibre network connecting 4,500 offices with over 50,000 nodes. GSWAN has leveraged ICT to provide a robust communication backbone and effective support for e-governance for State government and other government bodies including over 250 websites of various government departments, offices, boards and corporations. All these websites are hosted on GSWAN server and more than 20,000 e-mail accounts are created for government officers all over the state.

Rolled out to provide quality connectivity for facilitating implementation of e-governance applications and to support uninterrupted and easy IP (internet protocol) based video-conferencing between various government offices, Gujarats GSWAN grid provides a large pool of bandwidth which can facilitate future requirement of service on demand. Since 2011, the GSWAN bandwidth has been increased from 4 Mbps to 34 Mbps (750% increase) at all district centres to state centre and from 2 Mbps to 10 Mbps (400% increased) in taluka centres, along with from 4 Mbps to 34 Mbps (750% increased) in clusters27 links at district leading almost 100% uptime performance of the network.

With over 32,000 users and over 45,000 emails getting processed on a daily basis, the grid is also clocking an impressive daily average usage of 55% of bandwidth of GSWAN for data processing in all districts. The strong GSWAN backbone facilitates higher processing power which averages at 85 giga data frames at state level, 3 peta data frames at district level and 11 giga deta frames at taluka level on a monthly basis.

GSWAN intranet provides secure access to various applications such as Public Distribution System (PDS), Garvi (Registration of Documents), Land Record Information System (E-dhara), Electoral Roll Management System (ERMS), e-Mamta, IWDMS-Integrated Workflow & Document Management System, IFMS-Integrated Financial Management System, HMIS-Hospital Management & Information System, GSBTM-Guj State Bio-Tech Mission, GAD-General Administration Department, XPLORAentry card swipe, Agriculture Soil Health Card Application, SWAGATgrievances redressal to the Chief Minister, Commodity Price Monitoring, Agriculture Census Gujarat, Ration Card, Janseva, Development Support AgencyTribal, Media Response System, City SurveyGujarat, JantryLand Registration, Gujarat Information Commission, Directorate of Animal Husbandry, FDCAFoods & Drugs Controller Administration, and Drugs Manufacturing License Allocation and Directorate of Pension & Provident Funds among various initiatives.

Better policing

In September, 2013, Gujarat launched the ambitious Rs 150 crore eGujCop project which integrates technology in the home departments across the state. Set up to provide quicker documentation and reporting systems and covering over 1,100 locations through 450 police stations, this is arguably one of the biggest networks in terms of scale in India. Through eGujCop, various branches of the home department like police stations, jails forensic science laboratory and passport office will be interconnected seamlessly over a period of time. Over 1.3 crore records from last 10 years have already been digitised and over 24,000 cops have been trained for the same.

Apart from this, the Gujarat police force has made optimal use of the an integrated IT solution, Home Department Intelligent Information System (HDIITS), which has brought about far-reaching changes in the functioning of Gujarat states Home Department. In fact, Ahmedabad ranks third when it comes to cyber crime detection, thanks to effective use of this system. We started getting digital in 2002 and over time the police department has become modern, smarter and equipped with latest gadgets, some of which are of international standards, says Manoj Agarwal, joint commissioner of police (HQ), Ahmedabad city. The project has a comprehensive database of convicts, jail inmates and suspects using biometric, iris and face recognition technologies.

Cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Gandhinagar and Somnath are also covered under CCTV-based City Surveillance and Intelligent Traffic Management System (CSITMS) where CCTV cameras have been installed at strategic locations and traffic junctions providing real-time information including voice and video from different areas. This has brought down property offence crimes by as much as 25% in last 7-8 months. The detection rate has also gone up significantly. In addition, significant headway has also been made in digitally mapping the crime hotspots in these cities.

Going forward, the Gujarat government is in the process of setting up Cyber Suraksha Kavach, a cyber crime prevention, detection and control cell. We will bring together experts in digital intelligence and police personnel to counter cyber crime in the state. We also have implemented Suraksha Setu which aims at bridging the gap between the police and the citizens and fostering a feeling of trust among residents, reveals Agarwal.

The Ahmedabad City Police has also adopted social media since 2009-10 and has presence across various social media platforms like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter. Through Cyber Suraksha Kavach, we are also looking at keeping watch on social media websites and dealing with issues of online stalking, said Agarwal.

AMCs tryst with technology

With Ahmedabad being the largest and one of the fastest growing industrialised areas in Gujarat, the need for automation in government machinery was identified early on. While the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) had introduced computers way back in 1970s, it was in 2002 that AMC decided to make use of IT in mobilising and utilising the scarce resources to provide better services to the citizens. Over and above the 50 City Civic Centres across six zones of Ahmedabad and ward offices and interconnected via intranet, AMC also offers a 24 hour remote access to AMC transactions, services and information through its website.

This has led to two major successes. One, our tax collection has increased and two, because everything is computerised, corruption has gone down significantly, says Yatindra Naik, head of department, E-governance, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. In 2002-03, the amount of property tax collected by AMC was R130 crore, which has gone up to R502 crore in the year 2011-12. Besides this, there have been significant gains in terms of processing and dispensing of licences. Earlier, the renewal or issuance of licences for shops needed verification of property tax details among other things. This system has integrated the databases which are logically linked on the basis of unique identification numbers. The new system is also connected to the RTO (Regional Transport Office) and receives necessary inputs to assess tax liability and issues demand notices to vehicle owners.

Elaborating on addressing the citizen complaints, Naik said, We get about a thousand complaints every day on the 204 categories of complaints we address through the website. Nowhere in India would you find such comprehensive complaint redressal system. The complaint reporting system provides AMC with accurate data on real time basis of all complaints.

The automation has also improved the efficiency and effectiveness bringing in transparency in the system. Services through e-governance have increased from 3 to 14 services at single window system. Transactions like birth and death certificates, payment of various taxes, building plans approvals, now take just minutes. With the interface between the government and citizens being simplified coupled with ease of payment, e-governance is likely to foster social capital and increased level of trust. The overall collection of various taxes and charges has increased multifold from R6,888.72 lakh in 2002-03 to R84,907.30 lakh in 2012-13 through online transactions and the tax collection has increased from 38% in 2002 to 90% currently.

The transition from manual system to an automated one was smooth, says Naik. The transition was quite easy. In government, such things could be as easy as you want or as difficult as you want. What matters is how important it is for people in top management, he added. AMC is currently contemplating revamping the existing system to bring all software and hardware on a common platform.

Currently there is WAN (wide area network) connectivity across all departments through 80 leased lines and LAN (local area network) covering 2,500 computers which has fully automated system. Every year new services are added at the civic centre like the right to information, hospital management system, professional tax and computerisation of birth and death records since 1936. Currently, 16.80 lakh properties are registered with the AMC and authentication at various stages of transactions have led to reduction in corruption and increased transparency.