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‘There is no shortage of money for rolling out any e-governance project’

Can you enumerate key outcomes (from citizens’ perspective) of decades of e-governance initiatives in Maharashtra?
From citizens’ perspective, it is convenience. They should be able to avail government services with the least number of trips to the government office without paying bribes and within a given time frame.
 
What is the status of the e-District and e-Office projects?
In e-district, which has been very successful here, 16 major services make up 80 per cent of volumes. These services are certificates of birth, death, income, and caste, land titles and major utility bills. People can go to any CSC (common services centre) or Setu Kendras and avail these services. We have piloted the digital workflow (with digital signatures at the backend) in government offices in Sindhudurg district. In the next two to three months we will expand the current menu of 16 services to all the districts and will increase the number of services to 30-40 in near future. So e-District is well on track. E-Office in Maharashtra started a year and a half back with the national rural health mission (NRHM) which is completely paperless. In the DIT (department of information technology), we went paperless six months ago. I have not signed a single physical file in my department in the last six months. Now it is all through digital dongles. Similarly in Sindhudurg, not only the collector’s office but also all tehsil offices have gone totally paperless. A visit to Sindhudurg is an eye opener. Earlier every officer was drowned in a sea of files, now you don’t see a single paper on anyone’s table. They are all working on absolutely clean desks.
 
Lack of understanding about technology and project structuring are considered the key challenges in implementing e-governance projects. How do you plan to address that?  
We have been doing a lot of capacity building initiatives – not only for senior but also for junior officers, consultants, and vendors. We are even talking to users to get their feedback about certain projects. Along with all this, we are sharing best practices so that we can design an efficient project. Third-party audits make sure that we take corrective actions for our shortcomings.
 
What is the status of CSCs in Maharashtra?
 We have 7,000-8,000 CSCs in all. If we restrict to centres having a minimum of five transactions a day, we have 2,500 very viable centres and CSCs. But we have very well functioning Setu Kendras in every collector office and tehsil office where bulk of the work gets done. Recently the rural development department opened 25,000 Sangram Kendras which are offering gram panchayat level services. However, we have awarded CSC status to them and very soon they will also offer those 16 services like electricity bills and even mobile and DTH recharge. This sector is absolutely booming in Maharashtra. A large number of CSCs have started setting up UID centres and recruiting business correspondents and are becoming mini bank branches. In six months you will see marvellous results in further delivery expansion. We have done away with bank challans and affidavits too. The process has become a very simple affair.
 
How are you planning to integrate Aadhaar with e-governance?
We have set up our own resident state data hubs and authentication gateways. We have modified almost every central software to include UID and started the seeding of various databases. We are using the Aadhaar payment bridge in a big way. We have set up a truly end-to-end ecosystem for UID.
 
How do you react to the privacy concerns about Aadhaar? What measures are you taking to secure the state’s IT infrastructure?
The data that we have is already in the public domain. For example, the voters list, which has gender and age analysis and includes the person’s name, age, sex, father’s name, address and even photo. We are not collecting data on caste or religion so there is no scope of any profiling. In fact, I am not keeping biometric data at the state level; it is on the servers in Bangalore. We are making sure that every software has security certification from STQC or organisations empanelled with CERT-IN. We are organising cyber security courses for the police department, engineers, developers etc. We have declared websites such as the one of the state government as critical infrastructure under the IT Act; hacking in to these websites will attract a rigorous punishment of seven years.
 
How are you leveraging social media to reach out to citizens?
We have used social media in three to four projects and websites. For example, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has a good social media presence. We were putting all interim reports on a Facebook page which has generated a lot of citizen response. The Mumbai police is also using social media to some extent.
 
The department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) is now working out a plan for the next version of NeGP. What will be your feedback to DeitY on this?
 In various forums I always talk of reducing emphasis on hardware and bandwidth and focus on application development because now we can latch on to cloud. Our data centre is using a private cloud. Instead of vertical and horizontal lease lines, dongles are doing their job in a beautiful fashion and you can now have VPN (virtual private network) over broadband. Our focus at present is on accessibility of the website. We are now designing websites in such a way that people with disabilities, such as visual disability, can access them without any problem. We have also made it compulsory for home pages of websites to be in Marathi rather than English.
 
What is your department’s annual budget? How much does the state spend over e-governance across all departments?
It is difficult to speak on government spending but I can only say that there is no shortage of money in any department for rolling out any e-governance project.
 
You department is working on the open data initiative. What kind of data will be made public and how will this empower people?
On the lines of the government of India portal we have also requested various departments to put their data in public domain to the extent possible. Some departments have started doing so and we hope you will see more data in public domain in the months to come.
 
To sum up, what are the key initiatives in e-governance under active consideration?
There is huge focus on UID and cleaning databases; single hub transfers from treasuries to beneficiaries irrespective of their linkage with UID; e-tendering; e-option and going paperless using e-office. We are also focussed on citizen-oriented applications and online delivery of applications so that people don’t have to move out of their homes to get services.
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