Visions of a modern minister
On the sidelines of ‘Happy Cities Conclave’ in Amravati, Nara Lokesh, son of Chandrababu Naidu, spoke to Millennium Post about carving Andhra Pradesh’s digital future
When young Nara Lokesh was sent by his father to intern with the Singapore Government, little did he know that, one day, his associates and seniors in the government would become his partners in designing Amravati, the ambitious capital of Andhra Pradesh. Owing to the common ground, both the parties have been at ease in communicating and understanding the pantheons of the various requirements and their subsequent implementations.
Legend goes that his father, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, eager to convert Hyderabad into Cyberabad, sought an appointment with the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. The meeting, originally scheduled for 30 minutes, lasted for an hour. Naidu came out inspired and vowed to maintain a long-term relationship with Singapore. He believed his son could also learn from Singapore's work culture and, consequently, sent him there for an internship.
Lokesh later went to earn an MBA degree from Stanford University and attended the prestigious Carnegie Melon to complete his Masters in Management Information Systems. Thereafter, he worked with the World Bank and later joined the family business Heritage Foods. Today, he is a Minister in Naidu's government for Panchayati Raj and Rural Development, and Information Technology, Electronics and Communications.
On the sidelines of 'Happy Cities Conclave' in Amravati, Nara Lokesh discussed his vision for Andhra Pradesh.
Transforming lives: Reversing migration
"My first job is to provide people with basic infrastructure such as roads, power, water, gas, sanitation, telephone etc. 18,000 km of roads, 1000 gram panchayat buildings and, to top it all, we have a target of achieving the basic Rs. 10,000/- per month per household income level. We need economic activities in the region to deliver that. It can be sheep rearing or handicraft. Thus, there is the need for micro-targeting.
"As the Minister for Panchayati Raj, I realised that Andhra being primarily an agricultural state had a number of issues at the village-level. Topping my agenda was the electrification of villages. Out of 26 lakh street lights that we propose to install, we have completed the installation of three lakh lights by March 2018. Testing the quality of water in the villages is being done on a real-time basis. Monitoring the breakout of malaria and dengue is now dashboard driven.
"We have started rating the gram panchayats on a 10-star rating based on water, power, electricity, gas, fibre optics etc. Internal benchmarking has created a healthy competition among the sarpanches and district collectors. I am confident that by 2022, all gram panchayats will come closer to achieving 10-stars.
"As far as water is concerned, 80 per cent of all out-patients in state hospitals are inflicted by water-borne diseases. I searched around the world and came across a company in Australia called Water 365, which provides real-time feedback on the quality of water across 60 parameters. Chlorination of water doesn't work in India, so we opted for ionization of water and have witnessed a 40 per cent reduction in patients suffering from water-borne illnesses."
Challenges of data management
"It took me one entire year to get a hang of my two extreme ministries. IT, Electronics and Communications was for 'India', whereas Panchayati Raj and Rural Development was for the proverbial 'Bharat'. In the early days of what I call a 'start-up state', I realised that government departments lack reliable data. Coming from the corporate sector, I was used to data-driven actions. Therefore, as IT minister, I created a number of 'dashboards'. Each morning by 11 am, I have conducted my 'Whatsapp Review' and noted my actionable points," said the minister.
"The biggest challenge that I witness within my departments of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development is the democratisation of data. We had to overcome the secretive tendency of departments – 'why should I share my data with others'.
"The biggest advantage of being a minister in Andhra Pradesh is that we have a plethora of data; but, the pitfall is of data security, especially of land records. We have introduced the Blockchain Platform to secure these records from tampering by individuals. Also, the mortgage of land can be done much faster with the help of this technology. We have also undertaken the training of a massive army of blockchain engineers, which will make Andhra the destination for blockchain based technology.
"The entire state of Andhra is online and our ministers don't carry papers anymore. We are the first cabinet which works on tablets and Ipads. No physical files actually move from one ministry to another. If you go to a 'Peshi' you will not see any paper."
Andhra's overall development
"We are a 'start-up' state. When Andhra was formed, we didn't even know where our capital is going to be located. It took us eight months to convince all constituents that Amravati would be the best place to build the capital. The next task was to acquire land. Fortunately, the villagers voluntarily pooled in their land to build the capital. That is when we began our work on India's first 'Blue, Green, Clean capital: Amravati'.
"We do not compare ourselves with other states in India, we try to match global models. At the end of the day, we are the United State of India. If the states do not develop then India can never be a global leader."
(Gauatm Sen is Editorial Consultant with Millennium Post)