Let`s look at ICT not as an end in itself but as a means to improve the lives of people
Ravi Saxena, additional chief secretary, dpartment of science & technology, government of Gujarat
ICT is a means, not an end for improving the lives of people. Ultimately the objective is to improve the lives of people. The thing that we need to reflect upon is how ICT could be a driver for welfare. Urbanisation is a dynamic phenomenon. There are people moving from rural areas to urban areas and there are facilities, infrastructure being made available in semi-urban and rural areas because the demand is increasing.
We all know about this thinking which was called the PURA (providing urban amenities in rural areas), launched by former president APJ Abdul Kalam. It was experimented with across the country and chief minister Narendra Modi had come out with the concept of ‘rurban’, which is rural-urban, meaning urban-like amenities to be provided in semi-rural and rural areas.
ICT can influence the dynamics of urbanisation. ICT can also improve the lives of people who have actually migrated to the urban areas. And we keep these two as objectives for deploying ICT in urban areas. I suppose the applications that you (SAP) actually deploy would be lapped up by people because those would be based on the demands which are felt by people.
For preventing migration, ICT can be very effective. A case in point is rural BPOs. There is some experiment going on in north India called HarVa (Harnessing value of rural India). With the initiative, there is a cost saving of about 40 percent in services and there is employment in rural areas.
Imagine, if a poor person living in an urban area had to travel, he would lose one day’s salary, go to the railway station and stand in the queue for the whole day to get the railway booking done. Thousands like him go there – increase the load on the public transport, increase the load on the railway infrastructure. One of the finest ICT applications in this country is the online railway reservation application. Now, this can prevent the entire load on infrastructure provided it is available in the slum. How do you ensure availability? How you make sure people have access to the device?
When you talk of 84 crore mobile connections in India, my argument is that those mobiles are not in the pockets of 84 crore people. Typically, everyone here has two mobiles. My guess is that not more than 25-30 crore people possess a mobile and yet, it’s not a bad thing. Every mobile is not a smart mobile. What would be the number or percentage of smart mobiles? To my mind, not more than 30 percent, which can avail of the applications rolled out for mobiles. So that actually reduces the number of mobiles. I am saying all this essentially to drive home one point that access to device is a major issue in this country. Connectivity is a primary issue and secondary is access to device. And we need to think of innovative ways of providing devices.
If you don’t take ICT as the end in itself and take ICT as the means to improve the lives of the people then a lot of problems of urban areas, including the managerial problems like the load on infrastructure, load on transportation, load on many services can be reduced. Secondly the lives of the people, which constitute almost 70 percent of the population getting less than two dollars a day, their lives can be improved and thirdly, even the dynamics of urbanisation, the migration, the movement of people from the urban areas to rural areas, even that can go through some modification. That can get reduced if ICT is used essentially as a means to look at some of these issues.
Cloud computing to reform service delivery
The first panel discussion was on provisioning for citizen services. The panelists were Guru Raja Rao, managing director, Gujarat Informatics Ltd (GIL), Vinod Mall, inspector general, Gujarat police, Anupam Garg of SAP India, Prakash Rane, managing director, ABM Knowledgeware Ltd, and Sanjiv Mital, CEO, National Institute for Smart Government.
Rane who moderated the session highlighted the relevance of the topic of panel discussion. He said that the session was significant as the government was planning to introduce the electronic service delivery bill. He said the discussion was relevant as the RTI Act had empowered the citizen, who was aware of the quality of services available in developed countries. He said the citizen services would be meaningful to citizens provided they were delivered in a predictable and a time-bound manner.
Mall spoke on concerns in police functioning with population growth, growth of technology and communication. He said technology had been helping police to maintain law and order but at the same time it had been helping criminals too. He informed the audience that the home department integrated IT solutions (HDIITS) had already moved quite ahead in providing ICT solutions.
Rao mentioned that in order to make service deliveries more efficient, they would have to be designed to meet the needs of the citizen. He said that when the state and the administration would visualise what the citizen needs, a participative technology will be designed.
Mital spoke on the importance of new technologies such as cloud computing and ‘software as service’ to deliver services to the citizen. He said that if we started working together on these issues the solution might be really innovative and forward thinking, like the cloud computing applications.
Garg spoke on a centralised approach for urban renewal rather than having a localised approach. He said that state urban governance bodies needed to be transformed by sharing infrastructure, through cloud computing.
For smart cities, a technology plan is must
The second panel discussion was on “Smart City Essential”. The panelists were Neeta Shah, director (e-governance), GIL, Prakash Gaur, vice president (planning), Gujarat International Finance Tech (GIFT) City, Subrata Das, director (public services), SAP India, Anjana Vyas, professor, CEPT University, and Jagdeep S Kochar, executive director, n(Code) Solutions Ltd. Kochar in his introductory remarks highlighted that cities have to deliver best services at the lowest cost to the citizens.
Gaur spoke about the GIFT city and said that while planning it, the technology master plan was also designed at the same time. He said that for the city all the services will be brought together and buildings will be made tech-smart. He emphasised that smart cities not only require a governance plan, land plan and building plan, but a technology plan as well to provide next generation delivery of services.
Shah spoke about her experiences in Estonia and said that as soon as she landed in its capital city Tallinn she got 12 Mbps broadband connectivity. She shared her experiences with a traffic policeman, who showed a very smart traffic car equipped with all kinds of smart tools. She saw that the public transport system, healthcare services and government offices were all e-capable in Estonia. She said that in Estonia everybody had their citizen id and mobile id. She said that in order to achieve such kind of development, we will have to adapt certain strategies which include – provision of networking, digitally enabled urban planning, e-governance, enabling regulation, digital transport, digitally enabled healthcare and education and open public sector information.
Vyas highlighted that we need skill and transparency for development. She said that for skill we need smart education, training, experiment and experiences. She mentioned that transparency can come only through good administrative set up, database management systems and the kind of infrastructure that we add. She said that we would have to look upon those mobility and infrastructure options which allow adaptability, accountability, accessibility and acceptability with our culture and which don’t deviate us from our strength in smart cities.
Das spoke on the various aspects of smartness. He said that one aspect of smartness is connectivity. He said that we need to understand that there is huge amount of administrative reform to begin for that dream to become possible. He highlighted that the emergency service system is the next thing in which we need to work upon.
ICT should reach small towns too
Gujarat has been pushing e-governance beyond the borders of the big cities
S J Haider, managing director, Gujarat Urban Development Company
Against the backdrop of urban challenges which are formidable in dimension and enormous in complexity, the role of ICT in urban renewal cannot be belittled. When we talk about urban renewal or regeneration, essentially we are going to harp upon how best we can bring about optimum utilisation of our resources.
People shudder to go to any government office because they feel they are in for harassment. If they are spared this ordeal, if they sit back at home and are able to attend to some of their problems then indeed it is a very welcome thing.
So this signals a paradigm shift, interactive interface, where it provides a reliable system with transparency and accountability, efficient and improved delivery of services, robust monitoring mechanism and an effective citizens’ grievance system.
Let’s do a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis of ICT in urban renewal. The strengths are: far-reaching speed, unobstructed flow of information, feedback, because participation encourages a sense of belongingness, promotes involvement, lessens alienation and also facilitates timely interventions and versatility of technology where sky is the limit.
Weakness: only the computer-savvy lot cannot be benefited, you have to take the common man along. Affordability, accessibility, the human touch is missing. Some of these can be dealt with appropriately and some of these weaknesses can also be mitigated.
And opportunities are plenty for more efficient monitoring, magnitude that facilitates faster citizen grievance redressals and networking. When threats are discussed, there are security problems, artificially generated issues, viruses and invalidated data.
We have indentified these citizen-centric services at the urban local body (ULB) level – area-wise accounting tax, double-entry accounting system, professional tax for shops and establishments, birth and death certificates, personnel indexing system, registry and jan seva kendra.
These things have been deployed in over 159 municipalities in smaller towns. We have a single point interface which has multifaceted citizen services in 32 of them, and grievance redressal system in 22 of them. And in case of 100 civic centres, we have miles to go.
In the state-level initiative we have developed a geographic information system (GIS). We often encounter a scenario, for want of an underground mapping of utility, there have been cases of electrocution, there have been cases where we have damaged the infrastructure of some other department. Now all these things are catered to under GIS which would finally lead to a decision support system. We have already done it for 45 municipalities and are going to look into other municipalities soon.
We have developed a number of management information systems (MIS) and a decision support system. As you are aware we celebrated the state’s golden jubilee and this went on for about a year but it was all paperless. We got all the planning from all the municipalities and we got the implementation report through MIS. When this is being entrusted to smaller municipalities, say of B class with a population of 15-25,000, it’s a difficult proposition for them but we keep encouraging them.
You should always bear in mind that the smaller municipalities also have to be taken along. These IT modules of course have to be replicated in smaller towns and cities. The area-based property tax system has already been adopted and operational (in 139 of municipalities). The double-entry accounting system has been adopted in all the 159 municipalities, professional tax in 52 of them, shops and establishments also in 52 of them, registry and civic centres in 25 municipalities. We are very much on our way to implement all these modules in all our municipalities.
In a nutshell, when we talk about ICT in urban renewal, I see the sky as the limit.