Mr. C. Umashankar, IAS letter dated March 20th 2005 to Mr. Rajeev Chawla on BHOOMI and Banaglore One
Dear esteemed colleague Rajiv Chawla,
I am grateful to you for your response on Bangalore One, which I had preferred to call Bangalore one nonsense.
I have gone through your reply to Mr.Kumaraswamy. Your reply had not covered the basic issues raised by me. Your response had made the debate on Bangalore one a two way process. So far the e-debate was going on without the other side. Now it had reached a full circle. Thanks to you. India needs this type of debate on matters of public interest. India e-gov group had built this strength during the past 4 years. We need more such groups which are capable of bringing the governments into the e-debate fold.
Your name has been identified synonymous with Bhoomi. I have been praising the Bhoomi project as it is one of its kind in India. Andhra Pradesh which is supposed to be the leader of e-governance had not automated its land record administration. That adds a feather in your cap. Bill collection through e-seva is a child play as compared to Bhoomi. Bhoomi is an effort worth emulating by all other States. This does not mean that I agree with the entire technology behind Bhoomi. It is the effort and its success which deserve all the credits and also replication. Bhoomi needs to be technologically advanced. From the visual basic design to a web based open source design. Such an open source design should alone be replicated.
And Bhoomi has to be scaled up to cover the urban areas too.
It is a matter of fact that no such typical e-governance software can be replicated across the States in India because of the difference in the systems among the States. No two States have the same land record system. So, replication can be only in terms of technology and the methodology/strategy adopted. Open source technology along with the strategy adopted by Karnataka would be worth emulating.
After one successful process automation software you seem to have decided to go for the quick fix solution (B1), a solution that has the potential to undo the name you have earned so far. I have already explained in detail why Bangalore one is bad and why Karnataka should not go ahead with it. You can view my write up in http://www.sugame.com/umashankar
After going through your reply, I am still convinced that Bangalore One is a fraud on Karnataka people as it does not empower any of the stake holders starting from the government itself.
Before I analyse your reply, I have a few observations to make.
I tried to know more about Bangalore One project. There is no mention about Bangalore one in Karnataka State’s website. There is a brief mention about it in NISG’s website. Neither of them gives any details about the 15 types of so called e-governance services that are proposed through the Bangalore One project. Whatever I grasped about Bangalore One had been derived from your press interviews that are found in online magazines.
My opinion is that a mega project like this one has to be handled with more openness and the citizens’ views should form the subject matter of the Government’s decision making. Unless the citizen is given the full details, you cannot expect feedback from them. Without such a feedback you may end up developing something which is not the actual requirement of the citizens. In the succeeding paragraphs I am raising the citizens’ concerns, I mean the primary concerns. Let us see whether Bangalore One had addressed such primary concerns.
If the primary concerns are not addressed through Bangalore one Project, then for whose satisfaction the project is being proposed? This will be the question you may need to answer if it is found that B1 had been found to be empty No.1.
Another observation I would like to make is the elaborate way in which you had covered the tender process.
There was an empowered committee headed by the Additional Chief Secretary and then a tender committee headed by a Deputy Secretary.
The gap between these two chair persons is too obvious to miss.
In any case I am not going into the tender business at all. In all my postings I have not raised any question about your selection process. But I have questioned the very basis of the Bangalore one concept. The very concept on which Bangalore One is built is wrong. It is NOT pro people (empowerment), pro government, pro women, pro dalit and pro democratic.
After taking a policy decision to go for Bangalore one if the Deputy Secretary is entrusted with the task of scrutinizing the tenders, he/she will do it as he/she has no choice.
But look at the result!
For Andhra e-seva project, Andhra’s Bhongir OLTP project and for the current Bangalore One project, there is only one main vendor. That is Ram Informatics and CMS consortium. Don’t you smell a rat here? A vigilance and anti corruption official would immediately say that the entire tender procedure was a smoke screen. Indeed the lengthy effort you had taken appears to be a perfect smoke screen with everyone involved in the tender process knowing fully well that it would be only Ram Informatics/CMS consortium who would ultimately clinch the deal! Because everyone knew before hand that no other vendor could match RAM Informatics’ quote.
When the basis of the decision itself is wrong, one can expect all these wrongs to follow. If you had proposed process driven e-governance, this consortium would have never been there. Process automation is for the professional companies. Under process automation, there can never be a single vendor across the states. This consortium has been bagging successive orders because the task is just bill collection and not e-governance. Bill collection is uniform for all States. There is hardly any difference between the BSNL bills between the States! Bill collection job such as the way in which e-seva/Bangalore One had been contemplated provides huge income without literally any special effort or technical know how. There arises the scope for corruption. I am making a simple analysis about the income potential vis a vis the simple bill collection job in the succeeding paragraphs and how it offers scope for corruption in the name of e-governance!
True e-governance is not uniform across the States. Even for the same functionality the process differs between States. So a right royal rigging of the tender process is not possible. What happened in Bangalore One is a royal rigging. You have provided a bill collection functionality in which the consortium had prior experience. Before the Andhra e-seva experiment, one had not heard about this consortium. But it managed to find its way and thus gained experience in the bill collection. I still remember the Bhongir tender which came in 2001. A multi national company which took part in the bid was disqualified for strange reasons. Their commercial bid was not opened at all. But in that tender this unknown consortium had been selected. The multi national company representative came back from the tender meeting and told me that there was an effort to pre-configure a particular bidder!
One wrong can lead to another wrong. I can make a parallel with another State where I have first hand knowledge about such an episode. In that State, building contractors who were ineligible were allowed to take part in the tender and they were awarded the contracts. After executing the work taken up this way, the contractors grew to mammoth proportion quoting prior experience! One illegal award of contract can lead to another because of this ‘prior experience’ concept. The law is very weak in this regard. The weak foundation on which you have decided to commence ‘citizen services’ would enable the same consortium to bag the tenders again and again. A single vendor for the whole of Andhra Pradesh and Karanataka (as of now) to dispense with government services is dangerous. Single bidder in tender process is discouraged in government. Here is the case where you have finalised a single vendor for government services for the whole state adopting ‘transparent and open tender procedure’! A blatantly wrong thing is being committed through the legal way! Giving the whole State to a single vendor while ignoring the claims of women self help groups, socially marginalised groups, SC/ST people etc., is dangerous for the future of Karnataka. Already in AP, the consortium had expanded its operation to other urban areas too. The casualty is the rural areas.
This is where I want you to look at the whole process afresh, in the interest of Karnataka and in the interest of rest of India.
Your reply states that you have plans for replicating the same model across Karnataka! This is what I say ‘one wrong foot begets another wrong foot’. The private partner would happily extend it to the urban areas of Karnataka beyond the Bangalore city limits but not to the rural areas. But such an extension would be at the cost of other small IT partners at the district level in Karnataka and more so the women SHGs. NISG had already admitted through e-mail that it does not have any strategy for either process automation based e-governance or revenue model for rural areas! Replicating the bill collection model in rural areas in this fashion is not possible and even if it is attempted, it could bring about a bad name for the Government in power.
Let me deal with the functional and technical content of Bangalore one.
You have stated clearly that you have intended to go for process automation in the respective government offices. In the absence of information about the services intended to be offered through Bangalore One, I can only guided by the services that are offered through e-seva of AP. You have already claimed that e-seva of AP has been your guru. BSNL billing, electric bill collection, RTC booking etc., are not typical government services where the back end automation is not a subject matter of concern for the citizens or governments. Because these are e-commerce installations where back end automation is a pre requisite for their very survival. Then what are the typical government services for which you had planned for back office automation? Like me the whole group of e-gov enthusiasts wish to know these details from you.
The correct way to go for citizen services is to do the back end automation using online procedure and then open the window to the kiosks. You seem to believe in the other way around. It is like trying to say that you would think about laying foundation for a building after constructing the fourth floor! You have been able to visualize such a wrong route because the services proposed to offered through Bangalore One were not e-governance but only bill collection.
Just for academic interest sake I suggest that you may visit the esevaonline.com website. Do you find any grievance redressal mechanism there? Or do you find any online application there? Is there any provision for two way interaction between the Government and the citizens? No. e-seva is a wrong nomenclature. It is actually bill seva!
We in the IAS know the in and out of the administration when it comes to field level realities. For the outsiders even online bill collection initially looks great! But we know that a true e-governance requires the citizen to interact with the government and its various agencies in a seamless manner using the web as medium. Do you find the esevaonline providing such a window of interaction opportunity? No. not at all! It is a dumb site for collection of money. The sole exception is the RTO services that are offered in the Banjara hill centre. Here also the citizen does not have a choice of filing the application online!
Can a citizen file his/her application online for old age pension benefit? No.
Today getting old age pension facility is a tedious task. This maginalised section of citizens has to undergo the torture of the lower level government staff. Many times their applications are lost, not one time, but many times. Because the application has to be accompanied by a bribe. If the bribe amount is missing, the application also goes missing.
Similar is the case with Distress Relief Scheme and accident relief scheme. These schemes are intended to take care of the families below the poverty line when an earning member of the family dies. In this case, the local officials swindle more than 50% of the compensation amount payable to the families in distress!
This section of population cannot afford to pay the service charges. The PPP model would not work here. I would never suggest considering PPP model for these schemes. The government should not and cannot think in terms of doing business with its poor citizens. It is these poor sections that elect the government with a hope that their government would provide them something to enable them to get three square meals a day! In a country where 40% of the population is living below the poverty line, talking about PPP in all areas of government business is nothing but anti human being and anti democratic.
The scholarship amount to the SC/ST students usually reach during the fag end of the academic year. Through e-governance you can get the money disbursed by July-August itself.
Your contention is that rural people had no problem in paying service charges. You have quoted the success of Bhoomi project. Bhoomi project had become a success as your module has been catering to the land owners mainly. Majority of the land owners are not below the poverty line. They have no problem in paying the user charges. But we know the proportion of poor landless labourers far outnumbers the land owners’ figures. Bhoomi project can work only with land owners but the methodology would not work in Block development offices where the entire services are meant for the people below the poverty line (BPL). It will not work in the same Taluka office where the OAP / distress relief scheme / accident relief schemes are administered. It will not work in health sector either in district hospitals or PHCs.
If you are planning to replicate Bangalore one in rural areas, I suggest that you should wait. The Bangalore One itself has to be reviewed before it is taken up for implementation.
Now let me work out the economies of Bangalore one and how it is attractive to bill collectors (vendors) and how it has the potential to encourage corruption.
Bangalore One, like e-seva had decided to make payment to the vendor bill wise. For Bangalore one it is Rs.4 per bill. The very fact that the payment is connected to the number of bills shows that it is a bill collection mechanism only.
The volume of bills is a subject matter here. Bangalore city is larger than Hyderabad.
Each month, the 15 centres may generate a total of around 2 million bills. That means the revenue is going to be 80 lakhs per month. (Rs.9.6 crore per annum). This is to start with. And it may go up further. Assuming that for each centre there is going to be 10 desks, the total cost would be not more than Rs.30-35 lakhs per month for all the 15 centres. This leaves a huge margin for the contractor right from the very first month onwards.
Now let us see the technology involved in such bill collection system.
In the case of BSNL like organizations, they provide the back end data. In the case of property tax collection, the BMC would build the data using direct data entry option and provide the same for use by the Contractor. Now the role of the PPP partner is to use this database as back end and collect the sums, either physically or through online system. Building the billing system is almost like child play. Any technically qualified person would vouchsafe for this statement. Technically it involves adding one transaction table with a few more tables for user interface and audit trail to build the billing system.
I was told that you had specified Rs.20 lakhs as EMD for the tender for such a non complicated work. Is it true?
Actually, even small time operators can build such a system with ease.
There is absolutely no special technology involved in the whole process. One cannot say that online payment is a complicated process. The internet and payment gateways such as verisign have made the online payment systems like a cake walk. So, you do not require any great technology for implementing Bangalore One. The question I would raise here is why you have not contemplated the running of this project by women self help groups, with the Government handling the billing software maintenance using web as medium?
I have gone through your analysis that the people in AP have not been using the online payment gateway to the extent one wishes. But then why is that you are so much concerned with BSNL collection or for that matter RTC booking collection. Electricity bill collection is again not the responsibility of the government. The Electricity Board is capable of doing the collection by setting up bill collection centres through STD booths. These are not the areas which you and me should be involved. If you remove this unnecessary add on services which are made available through the e-seva counters, you would find that the typical property tax collection and similar services are too small a proportion to justify any involvement by the Government.
You seem to argue that the Government of Karnataka wanted to provide world class service to its Bangalore citizens first and then scale it up to other areas of Karnataka. Noble thought indeed. But I fail to appreciate as to why you have not taken up the troubled services such as building permits, land layout permits, web based online land registration system, web based RTO operations, scholarship for the SC/ST students, web based OAP system, web based commercial tax interactions and so on.
Even your own employees have to pay a bribe in the treasury office to get their TA bill or GPF loan encashed! This is a uniform phenomenon all over India.
If you want to really serve the citizens, then the first of the services you should choose are NOT the bill collection services.
So I do not trust that it is the drive to provide world class service to the people of Bangalore / Karnataka that had prompted the proponents to go for Bangalore one project without looking into back office automation using process automation methodology.
That means the proponents are advocating Bangalore One for any one of the following reasons:
1. That the Government of AP had done the e-seva project which had been acclaimed to be a great success. So, let us also implement such a project in Bangalore and create a niche for Karnataka in the filed of e-governance Or
2. let us create the necessary e-governance momentum using Bangalore One bill collection system as a jump start factor. Or
3. the worst, let us make some illegal money in the name of e-governance. This is possible as the contractors who bagged the contract get huge profit margin and they can afford to part with a percentage of their income as long as the project goes on!
Let me analyse the above three scenarios one by one.
The e-seva project of Hyderabad had not spread to the rural areas. But it had prevented the government from thinking about the rural areas at all. As on date, the rural Andhra Pradesh had not got any e-governance except in West Godawari district. The West Godawari district e-governance project headed by Sanjay Jaju does not have any connection with Hyderabad e-seva. Sanjay Jaju had done the West Godawari project from out of district funds. It was his individual initiative and not the initiative of the government.
There is no corporate involvement in West Godawari. The SHGs are the only service providers! As the Government of AP could not visualize the implementation of Hyderabad e-seva in rural areas, they are now thinking of replicating the West Godawari experiment in rural AP. Karnataka should learn from the mistakes and blunders committed by AP. The hype created by media about the Hyderabad e-seva should not be the guiding factor to commit hara-kiri.
Now that the media and the citizens are aware of the flaws of the Hyderabad e-seva experiment, the Karnataka Government would not get the same media attention beyond the initial period.
Similarly, the bill collection system does not have any component/ingredient to drive a true e-governance momentum as there is a clear cut divide between the government offices and the bill collection centres. In any case, no typical e-governance service is proposed through these bill collection centres. On the other hand the bill collection system supported by a private partner could become a strong dampener for any true e-governance initiative. Because, by default, this private partner only would be configuring the tender document for future e-governance projects. Their views would be positive towards PPP model only. They would expect the revenue model to work everywhere. The failure of Bhongir experiment in AP can be attributed to the revenue model proposed there apart from other factors. One of the reasons attributed to disqualifying reputed software companies from commercial bid of this tender process was that their revenue model design was not attractive. What sort of a revenue model one can suggest to the district education office or the Block Development Office/DRDA or SC/ST welfare office?
So, looking at revenue model where it is not supposed to be looked at has the real retarding effect. Bangalore One comes built in with this retarding factor. In short Bangalore one would not create the necessary momentum or climate to proceed to the process automation based true e-governance. But it has the potential to kill any such initiative. This could be disastrous for Karnataka.
The third factor is something you need to answer. I cannot talk for you.
Let me come back to the corruption angle. A few days ago I was in Bangalore to deliver a lecture on “Reinventing Government” in IIMB. One of the participants, an IPS officer in the DIG rank sharply criticized Bhoomi project. He had registered a small piece of land in Bangalore city. Instead of deputing someone to do the registration job, he had personally gone to the sub registrar’s office. His assistant had to pay at 6 different counters to move the papers. By evening the amount spent reached Rs.3000 at the rate of Rs.500 for each dealing assistant. By this time, somehow they found out that the client was an IPS officer. Promptly they returned the bribe sum to this IPS officer who was present in the Sub Registrar’s office. But now only the trouble had started. A senior officer of BDA had taken this document for effecting change of land registry (Patta/Katha Transfer). The famous Bhoomi project could not deliver this service till date. It could be due to first in first out system or it could be that you have not introduced Bhoomi in urban areas as the technical requirements are totally different between rural and urban land records or the Taluka officials have been demanding illegal money. But the BDA official who had taken up this task had reportedly exclaimed “Sir if you had paid that bribe this delay would not have occurred”. Till date the IPS officer had not got his patta. This IPS officer has been undergoing training under the one year PG Diploma programme of IIMB and you can cross check the facts. The point I wish to make is that payment of utility bills is not a matter of great concern for the citizen, especially when banks such as SBI had come forward and started offering the e-pay services at no extra cost. Majority of the Bangalore’s population has not only bank accounts but also credit cards. There is hardly any role for a corporate to handle the collection of utility bills. And there is hardly any role for the State Government in this process. This is far below the State government’s level. However, the State is entitled to come down only to support women SHGs to handle this operation as it would empower women, that too women from below the poverty line.
The State has a responsibility to ensure that its typical services like the one mentioned above reach the citizens without intermediary or corruption. You name any service under the State, the citizens would narrate how the system fleeces them day in and day out. No State can call it better off in this regard.
These are the services which have to be taken up first under e-governance. And there is only one route to such e-governance, that is process automation, fully involving the Government employees. Front ending can be done by multiple service providers including the very same offices, SHGs, STD booths and even the large kiosk operators. But no special patronage shall be required for any kiosk operator other than the SHGs. The State has a special role in promoting the SHGs but definitely not the private corporate.
The following issues raised by me through my e-mail posting dated 12-3-2005 titled “Bangalore one Project – A reverse gear e-governance” had not been answered by your reply to Mr.Kumaraswamy. Your reply with regard to back office automation and extending to rural areas were vague.
“The pluses and minuses of Bangalore one
1. it has no governance or e-governance content. It has no software for handling the back office operations of the government offices. It does not have even a single service which can be called e-governance. Payment of utility bills does not come under governance at all. This may come under the definition of (part of) e-commerce. It is a different matter that Governments have no business to involve themselves in e-commerce. It is an exclusive domain of the private corporate.
2. it has nothing for the business community, save for the consortium which had been identified for the implementation of the project.
3. it is not process automation based.
4. it does not have any plan for the Government offices. It has plans only for the window dressing (kiosks)
5. it does not have anything for the poor who constitute over 50% of Kannadigas.
6. it has nothing for the rural areas, which constitute 75-80% of Karnataka.
7. it has nothing for women or SC/STs. (The rural e-seva project which has been under implementation in West Godawari district of Andhra Pradesh has given primacy to women self help groups for the kiosk operations. Though the West Godawari project had not automated the back office operations, it had resulted in massive empowerment of the rural women. For this achievement, Sanjay Jaju and his team deserve all credits. West Godawari had gradually started building the back office automation as well, according to the latest reports. Why Karnataka chose to ignore this women empowerment issue?)
8. Bangalore one or any other similar project has the retarding effect of stalling true e-governance projects. This had already happened in AP. The e-seva project had resulted in stalling of all other efforts to bring in true e-governance. AP has nothing to quote as genuine e-governance effort except the registration department automation which was commenced before the commencement of e-seva. The private vendors would allow anything which has something for them. After tasting success in one project such as the e-seva, they look for only the ‘revenue models’ and not something which is beneficial to the citizens/common man. The revenue model means revenue to them. May be it is a shared revenue.
9. According to the e-mail admission from NISG, the NISG which manages the Bangalore one nonsense has no plans for rural areas. (http://www.sugame.com/umashankar
There is no clarity with regard to the 15 types of services Bangalore One intends to offer!
We, the Indian citizens who are interested in true e-governance would be happy if Karnataka aborts this ill started idea and resort to process automation based e-governance.
With warm regards. C.Umashankar IAS.,
e-governance expert and member India e-gov group.
C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert and Member (Special Invitee) – Working group for implementation of National e-governance action plan, Government of India, New Delhi.
Member, India e-gov group.