Digital initiatives such as the Haryana Government’s Antyodaya Saral aim to make citizen service delivery efficient, transparent and more accessible to the Indian public
I had a dream that remained unfulfilled during my career as a civil servant. This dream was based on my experience as head of the Project Monitoring Group (PMG) set up in 2013. Consequent to alleged scams, decision making in the Government had come to a grinding halt, adversely impacting clearance of projects. Using technology, a paperless and transparent mechanism was put in place to fast-track clearances. The idea was to persuade respective ministries and departments to take a decision, not necessarily in favour of the applicant. It worked. More than Rs 5 lakh crore worth of projects were granted clearance in less than 15 months. One Cabinet Minister even lost her job for sitting on files. This gave me the idea that technology could be used to virtually eliminate all the harassment that the common faces while visiting any public office. It remained a dream as I moved out to the Coal Ministry on promotion.
It was a chance meeting and discussion with Gaurav Goel, Founder and CEO, Samagra that I discovered that he and his committed team were in the process of making my dream come true.
For the average Indian citizen, the Government system presents a labyrinth. From information on existing schemes and services, eligibility criteria, to the actual process of availing a scheme or a service, citizens usually resign themselves to undertaking an arduous journey if they have to engage with the Government in any form. Isn't this a sad state of affairs in the world's largest democracy? Especially when this need not be the case at all.
More often than not, we give in to the belief that the status quo will continue to remain abysmal as far as governance is concerned. Much of this belief is fuelled by our propensity to consume and disseminate only negative news and happenings.
However, far-reaching changes are only possible if we believe that things can change and take decisive steps towards creating that change. One such example of change is the Government of Haryana's Digital Haryana programme, started with the aim of driving key IT initiatives and developing a digital roadmap for the state. Samagra, a mission-driven governance consulting firm has been supporting the State Government in designing and implementing this digital roadmap.
While several initiatives are part of the Digital Haryana programme, its centrepiece has been Antyodaya Saral — a project conceived to transform G2C (Government-to-Citizen) scheme and service delivery. The Government of Haryana offers more than 600 schemes and services for citizens across more than 40 departments. These include a wide range of essentials from the provision of a new electricity connection, subsidy for establishing dairy units, marriage registration, to an application for a ration card. The vision for Antyodaya Saral was fundamentally altering how citizens avail these schemes and services, and in the process, engage with the Government system.
Started in July 2017, over a period of one year, the State Government worked with NIC Government of India and NIC Haryana to bring more than 500 schemes and services from more than 35 departments to an online portal called Antyodaya Saral. In essence, this meant that a resident of Haryana could apply to all these services and schemes on the portal itself without having to run from pillar to post in different government offices to avail them. Besides the online platform, there are 117 Government-run state-of-the-art service centres at headquarter/tehsil level which provide the same schemes/services and 6,000 plus common service centres at the village/ward level in Haryana. All relevant information such as documents needed, eligibility criteria, is available on the portal itself as well as at these centres. A single state-wide helpline has also been established with the aim to resolve all service delivery related queries and grievances. Applications are expected to be processed as per designated timelines notified under the Haryana Right to Service Act 2014. To ensure accountability, a public dashboard allows department officials to view compliance with Right to Service timelines at state as well as district level. To bring in transparency, when a citizen applies on the portal, she receives a tracking number which can be used to check the status of the application at various levels of processing.
Of the 500+ schemes and services available on Antyodaya Saral, 229 schemes and services across 12 departments have been brought online for the first time. More than one lakh queries and grievances are handled by the helpline every month. Since the platform's launch in 2018, the Government has received more than one crore applications on it and processed 88.2 per cent of them within timelines notified under the 'Haryana Right to Service Act 2014'. Designed to achieve accessibility, convenience and efficiency, Antyodaya Saral is an example of a government resolving to make citizen-service delivery seamless and using technology to realise this objective. And an investment in such systemic reforms can pay dividends in the most trying circumstances. For example, after the COVID-19-induced national lockdown was announced, Saral was used to issue movement passes to citizens for emergencies/ essential services. The Saral helpline, launched initially to help citizens register queries/grievances related to Government services/schemes, was converted into a COVID-relief helpline for informal sector workers. After the Central Government allowed partial resumption of economic activities, Haryana directed all industries/commercial establishments to apply for passes to seek approval for resuming operations through the Saral platform. As such this reform, initiated in 2017, helped make citizen-service delivery smooth and efficient in a manner that would not have been envisioned three years earlier.
This was only made possible through the collaboration of diverse partners brought together by the Chief Minister's office — Central Government, State Government, NIC, local bodies, non-government entities, academic institutions, special purpose vehicles (CSC SPV) and IT societies. All 22 districts and 38 departments under the leadership of Deputy Commissioner and Administrative Secretaries have worked tirelessly on Antyodaya Saral over the last 3 years to make it what it is today.
Such a transformation does not have to be expensive either. Instead of roping in a new and costly vendor, the Digital Haryana team worked with the Government of India's in-house Service Plus platform that was easy to use, could be configured and integrated with existing tech systems and was scalable. It also had the features required to design an end-to-end workflow for departments which didn't have proper online systems. This strategy of leveraging in-house expertise ensured that the project could be delivered on time, at low cost and with full ownership of the concerned departments. Any state looking to streamline its public service delivery system should study the Haryana model. Going forward, Haryana is looking to make service delivery paperless, faceless and proactive.
As governance becomes increasingly complex with the need for more data-backed decision making, it is time governments embrace technology to make e-governance the new normal. Antyodaya Saral is a true example of 'Nexus of Good'. It is a model that rides on public-private partnership and has the potential of being replicated and scaled.
Views expressed are personal