IT and good sense for better governance

Written by Isher Judge Ahluwalia | Updated: Oct 30 2013, 09:35am hrs
Pimpri Chinchwad is a standout example of how integrated e-governance can improve urban service delivery

Most Indian cities today are confounded by the challenge of delivering public services to a rapidly growing and more empowered urban population with rising incomes and even faster-rising aspirations. Whether it is collecting, transporting and disposing the solid waste or fixing street lights, issuing birth certificates or sanctioning building plans, billing and collecting utility charges for water and electricity or making it simple for citizens to pay property taxes, our city governments have to play catch up. Decades of neglect through too little investment in urban infrastructure and decaying systems of service delivery with growing inefficiency and petty corruption have brought things to such a pass that incremental solutions will not work. In such a situation, IT offers tremendous opportunities for leapfrogging in service delivery in a transparent and accountable manner.

Pimpri Chinchwad has emerged as a new generation star performer with e-governance. A number of Indian cities have implemented e-governance in some form or the other. But Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) stands out in its scope and sophistication in implementing e-governance, beginning in 2010, in a holistic manner, and the results are all too visible in better urban planning as well as significantly improved service delivery.

As the fastest-growing city in Maharashtra and the fourth-fastest in India after Surat, Hyderabad and Vizag, Pimpri Chinchwad has seen an increase in its population from 10 lakh in 2001 to 19 lakh in 2013. As the city's population grew by about 70% between 2001 and 2011, as high as 60% of the increase was due to migration. Migration to the city is largely driven by the employment and education opportunities in the region, and is dominated by working-age persons and/or students. In catering to the growing pressures emanating from rapid economic growth, increasing population, and changing demographics, PCMC has carved out a strategy for planned urbanisation and better governance with IT as a major instrument.

Pimpri Chinchwad was created in 1970 with the amalgamation of 4 villagesPimpri, Chinchwad, Bhosari and Akurdiinto a Municipal Council. Towards the north-west of Pune, the second largest city of Maharashtra, and separated from it by the river Mula, Pimpri Chinchwad has virtually become a twin city of the former. It sits squarely on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, the first such expressway to have been built in India in 2003. The advantages of location have been successfully harnessed by investments in physical infrastructure (roads, power, transport and telecommunications) as well as in human capital (with a number of high-quality educational institutions in the region).

A number of major automotive companies have made Pimpri-Chinchwad their home. The city also hosts a number of other industries in the manufacturing sector. In the recent years, while Bangalore has faced challenges of congestion dis-economies, Pimpri Chinchwad has become an attractive destination for investments from a number of IT majors.

The aspirations and economic empowerment of a young population puts tremendous pressure for good governance, while rapid growth strains the capacity of the existing infrastructure and systems. Supported by JNNURMwhich had e-governance as a mandatory reformPCMC has used e-governance as a critical tool in its strategy for better urban planning and management so as to bring about significant improvement in the ease of living and in the ease of doing business in the city.

PCMC has put in place IT infrastructure (servers, data centers, network bandwidth and desktop computers, etc) and a system integration vendor (selected through a transparent process) who is committed to building and implementing the new software suited to the needs of the Corporation. Also, recognising the importance of training those who have to use the new systems, PCMC has created a core team of e-champions and system analysts and charged them with the responsibility of rolling out the new software applications in the Corporation with technical assistance from C-DAC (Center for Development of Advanced Computing).

The sophistication of e-governance at PCMC lies in first facilitating back-end integration across the different government departments. Back-end integration is what ensures better operational efficiency. It ensures, for example. that the building permissions module sends key information on buildings that have received permission, to the property database as well as the water connections database, ensuring that no one who has received building permission skips being assessed for property tax and water charges.

The best place to check how well the systems of an urban local government are running is the accounts department. If collections (cash-based and demand-based) and expenses (revenue as well as capital) come automatically from the respective receipt and expense departmental software applications, then the urban local government is running a truly integrated e-governance system with no scope for financial fiddles. PCMCs financial accounting system has an interface for other departmental applications to automatically push income (receipts) and expense (bills) transactions using a mechanism called Web Services API (Application Programming Interface). Other departments can now monitor the journey of their bills in the accounts departments bill passing workflow rather than tracking it manually.

PCMC started with five Citizen Facilitation Centers, and the number is now being increased to 64one for each electoral ward. Often in a rush to project an e-governance face, urban local governments set up Citizen Facilitation Centers before implementing any back-end systems. This means that service requests are accepted electronically but the actual process within the respective departments is manual. This is pseudo-e-governance where internal processes continue to be antiquated and service levels unpredictable.

The results of these efforts speak for themselves. After the online property tax regime was put in place, the revenue mobilised from property tax collections online increased from R2 crore in 2009-10 to R27 crore in 2012-13, while total property tax collections increased from R 102 crore to R250 crore. A significant improvement in the time taken for the delivery of services such as issuing birth and death certificates, payment of utility bills, and grievance redressal, has been along the expected lines.

The largest benefit of the new integrated e-governance system has been from e-procurement of goods and services. The city administration has saved R159 crore, R103 crore and R130 crore in procurement in the years FY11, FY12 and FY13, respectively. Bids along with relevant documents are accepted online only and are secure and encrypted to prevent fraud and manipulation. Earnest money is also accepted online and is immediately credited to PCMCs bank account. The entire system is STQC tested and certified for security. The tender-opening is also done online and requires digital signatures of the tender committee; this makes the process tamper proof. The statement of comparative bids is available online immediately to all participants.

Another area of significant achievement is the development of a human resource information system which has been effectively used for personnel management. Employees in urban local bodies tend to hold on to lucrative posts, from where they control a domain of sorts undermining fairness and transparency in service delivery. PCMC has seen a transfer of 1,300 employees within a period of 6 months from April to September, 2013.

More recently, PCMC has launched a major drive to demolish unauthorised new constructions to ensure that the rapidly growing city develops in a planned manner. The PCMC website proactively displays and updates the lists of all reserved land, and all authorised as well as unauthorised constructions, which have come up after March 2012.

In an innovative attempt at bridging the information gap, PCMC launched Sarathi (System of Assisting Residents And Tourists through Helpline Information) on August 15, 2013. Sarathi provides basic information on all services in the form of Frequently Asked Questions, and is available in multiple avatars at call centres, as a printed book, on the website as well as in the form of a mobile application. In the short period of 10 weeks, 11,606 calls and 29,245 website hits have been received for queries. Of a total of 3,999 complaints received through Sarathi, 65% have been successfully resolved.

Business process re-engineering and change management are crucial to the success of any radical reform. Change management is not about implementing new software alone. At PCMC, the core team played a crucial role in managing the change. Since the devil is always in the details, each urban local government will have to manage change taking account of its ground realities as it strives for better governance.

Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia is Chairperson, ICRIER and also former Chairperson of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure Services, which submitted its report to

MoUD in March 2011