Process Automation based e-governance implementation in core government functioning in Tiruvarur district of TamilNadu. (India)
Tiruvarur district of TamilNadu was declared the Pilot-e-district by the Government of TamilNadu on the 13th June 1999. The largely agrarian district which is located at 350 KMs from Chennai had accomplished near total automation of the field level government functioning in Taluk offices, District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), Collectorate, Block offices, Town Panchayat Office (local body) and Regional Transport Office. Land record administration, rural development scheme administration, student scholarship administration, public grievances handling, HR administration, Social welfare scheme administration such as National Old Age Pension Scheme, Distress Relief Scheme, Accident Relief Scheme, marriage assistance scheme, Agriculture labourers’ Insurance scheme, etc were migrated to manual register free status, thus removing hurdles in getting citizen service delivery. Under the title ‘Power of e-governance’ the district conducted 8 outdoor camps in different places where the Taluk office functioning was held in Marriage halls proving a point that the district could run government offices literally anywhere, without moving any manual registers. Times of India, a leading newspaper in India had rated Tiruvarur as ’20 years ahead of rest of India’.
Key Factor: ‘eServices for Citizens’
Public Services for Citizens includes 1. Income taxes: declaration, notification of assessment 2. Job search services by labour offices 3. Social security contributions: a) Unemployment benefits, b) Family allowances, c) Medical costs (reimbursement or direct settlement) and d) Student grants 4. Personal documents: a) Passport, b) Driver’s licence 5. Car registration (new, used and imported cars) 6. Application for building permission 7. Declaration to the police (e.g. in case of theft) 8. Public libraries (availability of catalogues, search tools) 9. Certificates, request and delivery: a) Birth, b) Marriage 10. Enrolment in higher education / university 11. Announcement of moving (change of address) 12. Health related services (e.g. interactive advice on the availability of services in different hospitals; appointments for hospitals.)
As a person belonging to a poor middle class family, the champion of this e-governance initiative (Mr.C.Umashankar IAS.,) had a perfect understanding of the role of the Government vis a vis the common man. In the absence of technology tools, the Government machinery had virtually become the master and the real masters, that is the citizen had become a servant. Lack of transparency, red tape and corruption were the net results. The citizens in India, especially the common man, women, people belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes get a raw deal from these government servants. In this context, the champion of Tiruvarur e-governance initiative decided to try true e-governance tools to make the lives of the common man better. He also wanted to give a fair chance to the honest among the government servants to excel in their job. From his experience in the past, he knew the ways of the Government servants and hence he targeted the areas where the citizens got the raw deal from the bureaucracy.
Indian administrative set up revolves around the institution of District Collector. Every State in India is divided into small administrative units for convenience of administration. These small units of administrative set up are called districts. Each such district is headed by a District Collector cum District Magistrate. A District Collector is the head of the District administration. All the other departments operating within the district come under the overall supervision and guidance of the District Collector. The District Collector is the head of the law and order administration in the district. The police machinery works under the overall superintendence of the District Collector. Apart from law and order administration, the District Collector is also in charge of land record administration, welfare administration, rural development administration, etc.
Each district has two major set up, viz., Revenue department and Rural Development department. These two wings are like two arms of the District administration and they work directly under the control of the District Collector. The Revenue department is in charge of land record administration, law and order administration, issue of various certificates such as birth and death certificate, community/income/solvency/nativity certificates, administration of social welfare schemes such as national old age pension scheme, Distress Relief Scheme, Accident Relief Scheme etc. 7 Taluk offices, 2 Revenue Divisional Offices and the Collectorate (Revenue wing) come under the Revenue department administration.
The Rural Development department is in charge of rural development administration. This includes rural infrastructure creation such as construction of rural roads, school buildings, noon meal centres, community centres, etc. This department implements majority of the Central Government sponsored and State sponsored rural development schemes. These schemes cover community oriented schemes such as food for work programme, rural infrastructure creation programmes, non conventional energy promotion scheme, women and child development scheme, SC/ST welfare scheme and so on. They also implement individual family oriented schemes, largely meant for families belonging to Below poverty line (BPL). These schemes include loan cum subsidy scheme for self employment, rural housing scheme whereby the SC/ST people are given free financial assistance for construction of houses in rural areas, rural employment guarantee scheme, Self Help Group (women) assistance scheme etc. Tiruvarur has 10 Block offices, one District Panchayat Office and the District Rural Development Agency coming under the Rural development wing.
Majority of the poor citizens who look upon the Government for their well being approach these two wings of the Government for getting their needs satisfied. There is inefficiency and corruption in these offices due to the large clientele and the large scale of funds being channalised through these offices.
In the above context, the champion decided to being in a fresh air in the public services offered by these two vital wings of district administration. He succeeded in automating majority of their operations with total user involvement and a very high rate of success.
Tiruvarur had been rated as ’20 years ahead of rest of India’ by a leading news paper ‘Times of India’
The WEEK magazine chose the champion of this experiment Mr.Umashankar as the ‘man of the next millennium from among bureaucrats in India’ in its millennium edition during January 2000.
To provide easy access to government services to common man, especially the people belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.
To enhance the bargaining power of the common man in his dealings with the bureaucracy.
To reduce the workload of the government servants thus enabling them to do contribute more with less effort.
To set a trend for true e-governance to the rest of India.
To make it easy for the District Collector to administer the district efficiently in such a manner that the citizen gets a much better deal than earlier.
To achieve a life’s mission in serving the common man of India.
To learn more about public services using e-governance.
A sum of Rs.25 million was used for the implementation of the e-district concept. These resources were mobilized locally. The Members of State legislature (MLAs) and Members of Parliament (MPs) contributed nearly half the sum mentioned above from their Local Area Development funds.
The district floated a non profit organization titled ‘District Welfare Committee’ to mobilize resources for e-governance. This organisation is headed by the District Collector himself and participated by all the MPs and MLAs.
The implementation had the following areas:
1. Application Software development for various e-governance functioning.
2. Creating infrastructure in the Collectorate for positioning the software development centres.
3. Selecting the right technical people for application software development.
4. Data capture to convert the existing paper data into electronic data.
5. Training and motivation of the Government servants.
6. Educating the citizens about the e-services.
7. Purchase of computer hardware
8. Making the 20 government offices fit for e-governance based administration. Creation of additional infrastructure to enable them fit to keep servers, clients, UPS etc.
9. Finding resources for the application software, hardware and networking products.
10. Interaction with the Government for policy support.
11. Implementation of the e-governance applications.
12. Ensuring the citizen benefit focus of the e-governance activities.
The implementation strategy had been based on the common man requirements. The district chose the areas where the services to the citizens were too poor in the first phase. This was followed by other phases gradually. The first two application software packages introduced within 90 days of commencing the e-district project were the grievances handling software and National Old Age pension software. These packages were commissioned in the Collectorate and all 7 Taluk offices on the 16th May 1999. The Collectorate was deluged with petitioners and petitions and it became physically impossible to manage the service at all. The grievances handling software had to be developed in a hurry. The package was stabilised by the end of the 3 month period but the actual implementation started side by side as the district had no other way except to proceed in these lines due to the heavy rush of petitioners.
The OAP section in the Taluk offices was the neglected area in Taluk administration. This wing is manned by a Tahsildar level officer. But the staff allocated to these wings were usually compassionate ground appointees or peon promotees. As a result, this section in the Taluk office was considered as punishment posting. But this wing was in charge of serving the citizens in distress such as agriculture labourers who had crossed 65 years of age and have lost the ability to do labour anymore, widows, physically challenged persons, deserted house wives etc. The beneficiaries under the OAP scheme get a life long pension of Rs.200 per month. The problems faced by this segment of citizens were two fold. Firstly, the application processing took as long as one year or more. Corruption and red tape were the order of the day. Secondly, the selected beneficiaries got their monthly pension through money orders very late, usually next month. The OAP wing of the Taluk offices had been saddled with huge arrear work. This area badly needed attention. With the introduction of process based automation software for handling all the OAP schemes on 16th May 1999, the entire district migrated to paperless stage with regard to OAP schemes. The paper based registers were done away with. All the transactions were routed through the online procedure. The money orders were generated by the system instead of manually being written. A fresh breeze of air indeed. The turnaround was rather dramatic. From huge backlog of work, this wing became no backlog wing. The turnaround took place in less than 9 months. Due to the no backlog of work, whenever the visitors from outside wanted to see the OAP software functioning, the district administration had to send out an alert to the Taluks to keep at least some work pending so that the visiting team could see the online functioning. To that extent the offices migrated to an efficient level. This had been documented by leading news magazines and newspapers such as CNN, NDTC, The Week, Statesman and Times of India.
This was followed by the other difficult areas such as land record administration online, DRDA online and Block offices online.
Software development centres:
The district had no financial allocation to pay for the application software development. No IT company was willing to sponsor the application software development. In the circumstances, the district had to mobilize its own resources. When the resources were not certain, the district was not in a position to engage private partners for software development. So, a novel concept of converting a part of the Collectorate building itself as a software development wing was adopted. Four software development centres were set up in the Collectorate building and the 30 and above programmers were accommodated in these centres. These software development centres were provided with quality infrastructure including air conditioning, LAN and continuous power supply facility.
The District Collector himself headed the technical team involved in the software development. The role of the District Collector was front end and back end design, validation and implementation.
The District Collector involved himself in the software development work from 6.30 to 8.30 a.m everyday in the Collectorate. The entire software development team used to work from 6.30 in the morning. The young software programmers coped with the rigors of the Tiruvarur expectations.
Today the IPRs of these valuable packages are owned by the Tiruvarur district administration.
The net effect of this strategy was that a total number of 20 application software packages were developed, validated and implemented within a short period of 24 months. This was possible as the users themselves were fully involved in the design of the application software and they were eager to own these packages as and when the development was completed.
An institutional arrangement was made through the District Welfare Committee to continue the support for the application software and database.
Hardware requirement and the Tender procedure adopted:
The district had acquired servers, fat client machines, thin client machines, UPS, laser and dot matrix printers, LCD projector and power back up generators.
Thin clients: 100
Laser printers: 18 Nos.
DMPs: 22 (This includes 7 heavy duty DMPs for Taluk offices to print the Money Orders)
5 KVA UPS – 4 Nos (for Collectorate)
3 KVA UPS – 7 Nos (For Taluk offices)
2 KVA UPS – 12 Nos (For 10 Block offices and two Revenue Divisional Offices)
15 KVA Generator set – For Collectorate to support the UPS only
6 KVA UPS – 2 Nos for Two Taluk offices.
As organized funding was not forthcoming the district had to make its own funding arrangements. Instead of waiting for the funds to materialize, the district went ahead with open tender procedure and finalized the lowest bidder before mobilizing the funds. By the time the tenders neared their logical end, the requisite resources were mobilized from various sources. In this way there was no wastage of time in the acquisition of hardware. When the hardware acquisition process was on, the application software were developed using the minimum infrastructure available. Training and orientation programmes commenced during June 1999 even before the first batch of computers arrived. The entire government staff were to be oriented towards e-governance before the actual implementation process. The motivation level of these government staff was so high that the district administration had no difficulty in orienting them. By the time the first batch of computers (79 numbers) arrived during July 1999, the initial application software for land record administration was ready. The newly acquired computers were directly taken to a marriage hall where they were used as training infrastructure to train the entire Revenue machinery, including over 650 village administrative officers. After a week long training session, these machines were dispatched to their respective Taluk offices.
The next batch of purchases followed a similar pathway.
For the Wireless LAN towers and Microwave radios, a sum of Rs.4 million was allocated by the Member of Parliament, Nagapattinam. The district could set the trend for the rest of India in using wi-fi technology for high speed networking during April 2001.
50 metre towers at Collectorate – one
45 metre tower at Mannargudi (Police tower) – one
30 metre towers in Tiruthuraipoondi and Muthupet – Two
24 metre tower at Valangaiman Taluk – one
18 metre towers at Kodavasal , Needamangalam and Nannilam Taluks – Three
6-12 metre towers – 6
802.11b wireless bridges (CISCO) – three
802.11b wireless access devices – 5. (six more to be installed)
Training to staff:
Staff training was undertaken on a continuous basis. In majority of the training sessions, the senior officials of the district administration, including the District Collector took part. The trainees were given hands on experience during these sessions. The District Collectorate became the centralized training facility. Whenever any new module was about to be introduced, the resource persons from each office was called to Collectorate and training was imparted.
The software professional in charge of the application software was made the nodal officer for handling the technical requirements of the training.
Training manuals were prepared before each such training session.
User feedback was obtained then and there and necessary modifications were carried out thus making the packages acceptable to the users.
Training was an integral part of the e-district exercise. Weekly training schedules were announced well in advance to enable the officials to attend the same.
To administer the Taluk/Block servers, clerical employees from each of the 20 offices were chosen on voluntary basis to undergo training to act as software administrators. In each office two such staff have been selected for a one week intensive training on server administration. Their main role was to administer the software installed in the server and to serve as server operators. They had not been given system administration password nor database administration password. The main role of the software administrator is to start the server in the morning and close the operations at end of the day. Other users had no right to shut down the system. In addition to this, the software administrators had the powers to assign and revoke rights on each of the application software. This enables them to handle the day to day variations in availability of staff. If the Software administrator goes on leave, then the standby software administrator takes over charge. A software based tool had been provided for such online handing over of charge. This procedure had enabled the staff to take complete ownership of the IT infrastructure and the database. The software programmers were barred from carrying out any transactions at the field offices. The Software programmers were permitted only to upgrade the database or application software. Within a period of 6 months, these software administrators became experts in server administration, application software administration and hardware trouble shooting. In this way, the dependency on the technical officials had been completely done away with.
To provide continuity to these software administrators, an order was issued barring their transfer to other assignments without the written orders of the District Collector.
Public awareness campaign:
Despite the online status of the Block offices and Taluk offices, the patronage of the citizens was concentrated only on the Collectorate services. To educate the citizens that they could avail online services in the Taluk and block offices, a special campaign in the name of ‘Power of e-governance’ was organized in 8 places, starting from 30th September 2000. The modus operandi was to move the Taluk office server from the Taluk office to a public place such as marriage hall on the day prior to the campaign. Through advertisement and publicity the citizens were requested to come to the campaign centre to avail of the online services. The promise was that the services would be provided within a maximum of 2 hours, including enquiry time, if any and no paper based register would be used in the whole exercise.
This campaign was greeted with huge success. In each such campaign the office concerned could transact work equivalent to nearly 6 months turnover.
Output and results
1. The entire land record transactions have been moved into manual register free online status with effect from February 2000. The agriculturists could get the cultivation and harvest certificates (Adangal extract) within minutes just by parting with Rs.20. Earlier it had a variable pricing mechanism due to corruption. Likewise the citizens could have their land purchases recorded in the Taluk and village land record registers just by paying Rs.20 in person or Rs.60 through VPL. All the final orders were dispatched through VPL when the applicant does not want to pick up the orders in person. Other land record extracts were made available at a cost of Rs.10 in all the Taluk office counters.
2. At the Collectorate, the entire grievance redressal mechanism was made online with effect from May 16, 1999. Each petitioner was handed over a computer generated acknowledgement and action taken report was sent within two weeks.
3. The OAP beneficiaries who were hitherto getting the money orders after a delay of one month started getting the MOs on the 2nd or 3rd of every month. This was made possible due to the e-governance based software commissioned in the OAP section with effect from May 16th, 1999.
4. Pendency of applications in OAP section was minimized to just one or two weeks only from more than one or two years. Thanks to the e-governance software that provided for effective monitoring from Collectorate upto the Taluk level.
5. Corruption in disposal of Distress Relief Scheme and Accident Relief Scheme where the family members who lost a bread winner had been completely done away with as the entire sanction procedure and fund disbursement procedure went online with sufficient checks and balances.
6. Earlier the pre and post matric students were getting Scholarship between February and April. After the introduction of e-governance package in Collectorate scholarship section, the task could be accomplished within one week after receipt of fund allocation from Government. That means, the students could get the Scholarship assistance well before August every year. Thanks to the fully automated paperless scholarship admin software.
7. RTO: Online processing of applications for issue of learners license and permanent driving licence and online registration of new vehicles was introduced to weed away corruption. It was found that the RTO was accepting applications only through touts. They were caught red handed by the District Collector himself. This was immediately followed by the online RTO software. The software had been made to issue the date for test driving on its own thus removing the touts in toto. This service was priced at Rs.5 for each transaction to keep the infrastructure going for long.
8. Rural Development: The family oriented rural development schemes which concentrated the poor among the villages and the SC/ST people had no transparent elements. This had resulted in delay and corruption. The Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) which offers free grant for construction of rural house had been fully automated, right from the receipt of application stage. Similarly, the credit cum subsidy scheme aimed at providing self employment opportunity to the rural masses was fully automated at the DRDA and Block level with vertical linkages.
9. In addition to the above, the entire scheme and financial accounting areas of rural development department were fully automated. The noon meal centres got their monthly ration allocation in time. The staff associated with rural development department got their salary, increment etc on time, thanks to the office manager software. The supervising officials and people’s representatives could monitor the financial and physical progress of each work from various locations, thus providing transparency to the whole system.
10. At Koradachery Town Panchayat office, the citizens could transact their entire requirement online. This includes property tax assessment, water tax assessment and payment of utility bills.
11. In 55 fair price shops where the optical mark read based automation was commissioned, the citizens could get their ration without any let up.
12. The policemen in Tiruvarur district started getting his salary and other emoluments without delay as the customized office manager software enabled their entire HR operations online.
13. The Revenue officers who used to be missing for nearly two months during the beginning of every calendar year due to preparation of Jamabanthi (annual audit of village accounts) accounts. The Jamabanthi accounts are comprehensive accounts that require a minimum of 40 days to prepare the same. So these officers used to be missing from public action during the Jamabanthi period. Tiruvarur had converted the Jamabanthi to paperless stage whereby the Revenue officials do not write any Jamabanthi account manually. The system generates all the Jamabanthi accounts within 2-3 minutes thus saving hundreds of man months. From February 2000 onwards, the district had undergone 5 such online Jamabanthi exercise. This had enabled the Revenue officials to won the Taluk Automation package as they consider the software more employee friendly as well. The late night/evening works in Taluk offices became thing of the past as the pendency of works came to minimum or just nil.
Lessons and conclusions
1. Politicians and political parties came forward to support the e-governance initiative at every stage. Without their support Tiruvarur initiative could have never become a success.
2. The general impression that older people among the government employees would have difficulty in learning computers was belied by Tiruvarur experience. It was found that the older people among the Government staff were more enthusiastic in leaning the computer skill. They took over the training task proudly. This had helped the district administration to train the rest of the employees through these senior staff.
3. Fears of resistance from government employees and employee unions were belied. The Staff unions passed a unanimous resolution supporting Tiruvarur e-governance. The Staff association leaders themselves led the pack.
4. A highly user friendly yet secure system would be quickly accepted by Government employees without any reservations or resistance. It was found in Tiruvarur that the employees were not willing to accept less efficient workflow in the front end design. They started demanding high quality front end design taking a cue from other packages already installed. Their demand had to be met before the packages were fully commissioned.
5. The bilingual interface was liked by the users to the extent that without even any exposure to typing skill, these government employees took a print out of the font layout and keyed in their work in vernacular language (Tamil). This was one of the most striking factors found during the implementation.
6. The ownership feeling of the employees was revealed to the Union Ministers Mr.T.R.Baalu and Mr.Raja when they came to Tiruvarur to formally inaugurate the Jamabanthi and Birth and Death Registration software during June 2000. When Mr.T.R.Baalu raised a hypothetical question about discontinuing the software in future, the employees, notably the Village administrative officers retorted by saying that they would resort to State wide strike to seeking restoration of the software.
7. Lack of organized financial support does not hinder a true initiative to bring in e-governance. However, organised funding is an absolute necessity to carry on an e-governance initiative in the long run.
8. A mission mode approach to e-governance with well defined milestones alone can bring about results.
9. Such a mission mode approach causes prejudice among the seniors.
10. Technically, without network infrastructure when such an initiative is taken, it takes three to four times effort to ground a project. With a high speed network backbone the output could be much higher. So a high speed network backbone is a must before commencing e-governance initiative.
11. Without policy framework revenue models cannot be resorted to. Even if resorted to, the same may not last long. So an organized policy support has to be provided by the State.
12. For professional e-governance, the systems should be developed only on open source.
References and links for the case
1. Tiruvarur had been rated as ’20 years ahead of rest of India’ by a leading news paper ‘Times of India’
2. The WEEK magazine chose the champion of this experiment Mr.Umashankar as the ‘man of the next millennium from among bureaucrats in India’ in its millennium edition during January 2000.
3. Book : e-governance – the success story of Tiruvarur – the road covered and the road ahead – authored by C.Umashankar IAS – April 2001.
4. Article: Nuts and bolts of e-governance by C.Umashankar IAS., (2000)
5. Power of e-governance videos 1. Mannargudi, 2. Tiruthuraipoondi and 3. Kodavasal.
6. NDTV coverage & publication in Good morning India dated 8th January 2000
7. CNN coverage and publication dated 7th January 2001.
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