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Governance changing silently and forever

india Updated: Feb 23, 2009 00:58 IST

India’s bureaucracy rarely attracts accolades. Inefficient, corrupt, mired in red tape, hostile to change — these are the usual epithets used to describe it. But if the 18 awards for innovation in e-governance given away by the department of administrative reforms in the Ministry of Personnel last week in Goa to government departments across 11 states are any indication, that is not the full story. Some of our public servants are making an effort to be just that, finding ingenious ways of using information technology to assist and empower the masses.

Hindustan Times profiles the five gold medal winning innovations:

Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s e-city

Almost every piece of paper a resident of Ahmedabad had to run around the offices of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation for, is now mailed to him online. Birth and death certificates, licences to set up business establishments, sanction for construction plans — they can all be got by simply filling up forms online, without visiting the corporation’s office at all. Queues at the corporation have virtually disappeared, corruption has nose-dived, while transparency has taken a giant leap forward.

But heralding the IT era was far from easy. Palani Panneervel, formerly the city’s municipal commissioner and now revenue secretary, who began the process six years ago, recalled that there had been tremendous resistance at first from the corporation's 42,000 employees.

“Finally, once I had the software in place, I called in the news television channels and announced the changes,” he said. “The employees had no choice but to fall in line.”

The process Panneervel is being copied across 160 other municipal bodies of Gujarat. The AMC has now the gold medal for ‘Exemplary Horizontal Transfer of ICT based best practice’.

Jaankari, Bihar

The idea came from chief minister Nitish Kumar himself. “We had held a number of meetings on how to give more teeth to the RTI act,” said Amir Shubani, Secretary in Bihar’s Personnel Department. “One afternoon Nitishji asked, ‘Why can’t we have a call centre to take RTI applications? That will help even an illiterate person to get the information he wants.”

Thus germinated Jaankari: a facility unique to Bihar which allows anyone to phone in his RTI application and thereafter completely takes over the task of ferreting out the information sought.

Operators take down the complaint in writing, forward it to the department concerned, and keep following up. If the applicant doesn’t get his answer within a specified time frame — which varies according to the complaint — or is dissatisfied with the information provided, he is allowed a first and then a second, appeal. The charge is a nominal Rs 10.

In two years since it began, Jaankari has tackled 22,600 applications.

It received a gold medal in the ‘Outstanding performance in citizen centric service delivery’ category.

Public distribution system, Chhattisgarh

The public distribution system (PDS) is a mess in most northern states. A shining exception, however, is Chhattisgarh, where IT has been employed to completely turn it around.

Starting in 2005, the food and civil supplies department of the Chhattisgarh government began putting all the data relating to the state’s 37 lakh ration cards online. A year ago it began issuing computerised ration cards. All details of grain purchased from 8 lakh farmers across the state and supplied to ration shops, have also been stored online. A call centre in Raipur takes complaints from ration card holders and processes them within four weeks.

“It was a Herculean task,” said Rajeev Jaiswal, who heads the food and civil supplies department. “We had to ensure that no false claimant gets a ration card, and yet no genuine claimant is left out.”

Chhattisgarh’s PDS was awarded the gold medal in the ‘Excellence in Government Process Re-engineering’ category.

Sujala Watershed Project, Karnataka

With the expert knowledge provided to them by them through information technology, farmers across Karnataka, living below the poverty line, have increased their crop yields by 15-20 per cent.

The knowledge they get is remote sensing data relating to the nature of their soil, along with suggestions on choosing which crops to sow, which nutrients to use, how to recharge the groundwater, and so on. The software to collate and analyze the information was developed by Amtrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The project itself, called the Sujala Watershed Project, begun in September 2001, is a joint effort of the World Bank and the Karnataka government. “We kept the big farmers out so that they do not influence the identification of tracts of land where the project should be implemented,” said Rajiv Ranjan, additional project director. The project has moved into other areas as well — organising self-help groups and empowering women by teaching them incoming generating skills like tailoring and pickle making.

Sujala won the gold in the Innovative usage of technology in e-governance category.

Tele-opthalmology in Tripura

Every day, from 10 am to 6 pm, a team of six ophthalmologists sits in a studio inside the premises of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital at Agartala, gazing intently at a large computer screen. The computer is connected to a ‘vision centre’ at each one of the state’s 11 administrative blocks.

“Patients who want their eyes examined gather at the vision centres,” said Dr Bijay Debbarma, an ophthalmologist involved with the project. “We take one centre at a time, but cover all centres daily. We have sophisticated devices installed by which magnified images of a patient’s eye can be seen on the computer. We examine it and prescribe remedies. The patient is then given a printout.”“The long queues at each one of the vision centres every morning testify to the project’s popularity,” said Dr Sukumar Deb, deputy superintendent at the Indira Gandhi Hospital. Begun in April 2007, it has provided long distance treatment to over 12,000 patients.

The tele-ophthalmology project won the gold medal in the ‘Special Sectoral award’ category.