How initiative and information technology got together to make one district in Gujarat very happy
The villagers of Panchmahal district in Gujarat are a happy lot. With good reason, too. They don't have to run along dark, dingy corridors at government offices any more. They don't have to wait weeks for files to move from one table to the next. All they have to do, now, is travel to the nearest STD/ISD kiosk and get whatever they need -- a ration card or sanction letter for their pension, for instance.
The reason behind this happiness is District Collector Jayanti S Ravi, along with MahitiShakti, the Gujarat government's e-governance project. The Web site has garnered a great deal of attention, making it a popular public-government interface. Interestingly, the initiative is headquartered in Godhra, a town that has long been in the news for the wrong reasons.
Jayanti Ravi, no stranger to Information Technology, made it a point to bring IT to the level of the people who, she says, are "the only beneficiaries of any project". Her initiative has led to even the police joining the project. The site now allows villagers to file a provisional FIR (First Information Report) online. "Any complaint will be registered online. If it forms the shape of an FIR, my officer will go to the person, collect the required signature and convert it to an FIR," says DSP Raju Bhargava.
That's not all that makes the site popular though. That honour goes to the facility of applying for old age pension or ration cards -- two of the most important documents in rural life. There will soon be additional facilities, such as submitting and processing almost all forms online. The site also provides information for those who would like to set up a PCO kiosk. For a one-time fee of Rs 8000, kiosk owners are given training, a CD with all requisite forms and data, online and onsite help, and a manual in Gujarati. "We screen applications and also scrutinise their financial status and enthusiasm towards IT before sanctioning," says Mitesh Parikh, the officer in charge of IT services, who receives at least 10 to 15 applications daily. When a customer approaches the PCO kiosk, the owner has to log in and provide the information free of charge. Application forms cost Rs 10 and submission costs an additional Rs 20.
Apart from this, the portal also aims to be a single window to all relevant information and services on all government projects. "We have been given a free hand by the collector to prepare whatever is in the public interest and to the extent that she is able to sanction," says Rakesh Patel, District Informatics Officer, NIC. To make this into a reality, the Collectorate of Godhra joined hands with the Concept Centre for Electronic Governance (CCEG) of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. The aim was to develop a pilot project enabling Citizen-to-Government and Government-to-Citizen transactions using IT.
Facilities soon to make an appearance at the portal include:
The submission and processing of as many as 200 different kinds of government forms.
Information pertaining to ongoing schemes like those under the DRDA (District Rural Development Agency) and TASP (Tribal Area Sub Plan).
An electronic newsletter featuring medical help, legal help, a science corner, children's corner, etc.
A grievance redressal forum for citizens to voice their complaints.
Bill payment utilities
Opinion polls on important issues pertaining to the public.
Needless to say, for such an ambitious project to run successfully, there should be sustainability. Jayanti Ravi knows this. Which is why she has formed an 'e-governance trust' to run the show even in the event of her being transferred. The trust comprises the Collector of Panchmahal, the District Superintendent of Police, District Development Officer and District Treasury Officer, apart from members selected locally. There are a couple of bottlenecks too, of course, such as infrastructure, costs, legal issues, etc. It has still taken off though, using all that is currently available -- a commendable feat. With lower broadband and wireless connectivity costs though, these issues should be tackled soon enough.
More smiles for the villagers of Panchmahal? We would like to think so.