West Bengal began its e-governance initiatives in 2001-02. It started with digitisation of the land records and it was one of the first states to do so. Thereafter, digitisation started in various other fields. The state’s e-governance got an impetus with the rollout of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). West Bengal is one of the leading states in NeGP infrastructure. The NeGP shares basic co-infrastructure except for State Portal and State Service Delivery Gateway (SPSSDG).
In e-governance, West Bengal has the States Wide Area Network (SWAN); State Data Center (SDC); Common Services Centers (CSCs); and SPSSDG. There are two pilot e-districts in the state - Jalpiguri and Burdwan. West Bengal is the first state in India where an e-Office was introduced at a district collectorate, in North 24-Parganas. E-tendering is compulsory for any government order above `5 million. The finance department has citizen-centric apps in the commercial and professional tax sectors. The IT department will become e-Office within a few months. The other departments are also trying to catch up. The digitisation of old records has also started. The state agriculture department is using its Agrisnet portal to give some citizen-centric services. Telemedicine took off very well in the state though it requires more attention.
Shift In E-Governance Focus
When our initiatives took off, the main thrust was how to simplify the procedure through computerised automation. Now the thrust area has shifted - how to provide services to the citizen more quickly, efficiently and in a hassle-free manner. The state government is seriously contemplating to introduce electronic service delivery within a stipulated timeframe. There are some specific authorities to do so and very stringent service level agreement components govern the provision of services.
In West Bengal, 85 municipalities are now connected on the SWAN connectivity backbone. They regularly hold videoconferences. There is no need for the municipal commissioners, mayors or chairmen to come to the headquarters to discuss minor issues and waste the whole day. The SWAN network is being extended to other municipalities as well. As part of the integrated system, the municipalities are also using modules like taxation and valuation.
In panchayat and rural development departments, it is not G2C but G2G, and accounts are largely computerised. Panchayats are using a host of applications. For MGNREGS, they are using some applications for monitoring developed by NIC and for the accounting system they are using Gram Panchayat Management System (GPMS).
Procurement of rice is a major issue in rural Bengal. We have implemented a system in Burdwan district integrating all rice mill-owners. Whenever mill-owners procure rice, they have to feed the quantity of rice being procured and send this information to a specific mobile number. The information is then stored in a centralised database and any type of information can be fetched in a structured format on that database. This helps the district administration get up-to-date and trackable information on procurement of rice. We are trying to replicate this in other districts.
Recently, the state government has introduced the electronic letter and file tracking system. In our department, we have the State e-Governance Mission Team (SEMT), which helped with letter tracking management system. The essence of SEMT is that it is integrated with the mobile service delivery gateway, thereby empowering any officer to check the status of a file through mobile. Just type the file number and send the request to any short digit code and automatically the device will show who handles the file.
New ICT Policy
In the new ICT policy of West Bengal, launched in September 2012, the focus is on two facets. One is to become one of the top three states in IT/ITeS and electronics hardware by 2020. The other is to enable the state in transforming into a knowledge-driven welfare society with extensive IT/ITeS use in governance and in the daily lives of the people. The strategy consists of inclusive IT infrastructure development including that in Tier-II and III areas, skill development, local entrepreneurship, micro, small & medium enterprise development and focus on IT/ITeS industry verticals such as animation & gaming, life sciences, banking, financial services & insurance and engineering design services.
In West Bengal, the UID database is being created through the National Population Register (NPR), which is a comprehensive biometric-based identity database to be maintained by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The state government plans to use Aadhaar numbers in better targeting of benefits and services under the government schemes, improve planning and security, and prevent identity fraud. To achieve this goal, we need substantial coverage of population under UID or NPR against the existing 19-20 per cent coverage.
The state government is not in favour of direct benefit transfer (DBT) right now, considering various factors such as low coverage of UID numbers in the state. DBT may be viable only after established mechanisms are in place and good penetration of UID numbers is there.
SMART governance is an acronym for simple, moral, accountable, responsive and transparent governance. Simple governance requires simplified processes, which we are doing through government process re-engineering (GPR) in various e-governance projects. Moral governance requires direct access to government services and benefits for citizens. E-governance itself is a major initiative in that direction. For accountability and responsiveness, a central Electronic Delivery of Services Bill has been drafted by the Government of India and also notification of Electronic Service Delivery Rules is in process. For transparency and easy access to information, we have various departmental portals as well as Banglarmukh. In the SPSSDG project, a list of services and related procedures and e-forms for services will be provided on the state portal.
Regarding smart and participatory governance, I would say that e-governance is not just about computers and technology but also about implementation of change. Hence, the components such as change management; capacity building, stakeholder engagement and spreading awareness are integral parts of e-governance implementation in West Bengal. We are conducting e-governance awareness workshops in districts. For participatory governance, the government has devised a Citizen Engagement Framework and consultation workshops are organised on various initiatives. The West Bengal is also emphasising on public-private-partnerships for e-governance implementation.
Susanta Majumdar is Secretary-IT, Government of West Bengal
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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