PricewaterhouseCoopers e-governance group, headed by its executive director
Neel Ratan, has been working with the central and state governments in India to
design and implement ICT projects. Associated with over eighty large projects,
right from SDCs, SWANs, CSCs, passports processing to the Right to Information
Act and so on, Ratan has been a key strategizer. He is also credited with
e-governance strategy work for over fifteen countries including Sri Lanka,
Bahrain, Kenya, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. In a freewheeling interview with
Governance, he talks through his experiences. Excerpts
After being associated with various ICT projects across the states, what
would you say if asked to compare their pace of growth on the e-gov roadmap?
Some states have moved very fast in certain projects, while others have been
slower. It is absolutely circumstantial. For eg, Andhra Pradesh was running fast
on SWAN, but had a setback in the gigabit network they were setting up. So it
has now actually become a laggard. Karnataka was also doing well and had a data
center in place earlier, though a smaller one. But now it is also facing some
issues with the data center scheme.
The North East has been a difficult terrain in terms of getting the required
capability and skills. Jharkhand has tried very hard to move forward, and though
it had started the SWAN much earlier, the completion has been a little slow.
Overall, states across are progressing well in some area or the other.
E-gov has not been a smooth ride, and there is a lot to achieve. What are
the more serious challenges?
What next after SWAN, SDC and CSCs is the bigger issue we should focus on.
These three will be ready for at least 20-25 states by sometime mid-next year.
But what about applications? For most states, it is the larger problem. Over the
next few months, this is one of the main directions in which DIT should think.
All states should also think about how to use this critical infrastructure to
provide real e-governance to citizens because we are not creating the
infrastructure for the sake of it. We have to use the infrastructure.
Capacity building is another big issue. We need to augment capacity in most
ministries for them to be able to conceptualize and implement projects properly.
Some additional capacity is required, and that capacity is going to be very
critical for successful implementation of projects.
Is there pressure from the central government on the states to put e-gov on
track? Can we say that awareness is being pushed from the top?
No, I dont think that awareness is pushed from the top. That is required in
the central level too. DIT is the custodian for those three, four or five
integrated infrastructure projects. So awareness has to be there in DIT. This is
not about central government knowing it and state government not knowing it.
Understanding has improved but it is not the Center versus State. Awareness is
there at both center and the states. Though awareness at the center is required
more and so is the capacity. Personally, I feel somebody at the center is not
necessarily smarter or can do things better. Thats the syndrome which must be
broken. Yes, the center has a role to play, to think through and conceptualize
other projects. But the people on the ground know they are very smart too.
How helpful has the PPP model been in the whole drive toward delivering
these services? Is it a viable model?
There are arguments for and against PPP. What was the option available in
the North East? What was the cost spent on CIC, which was set up with pure
government funding? And if the same amount was spent in creating a full
government setup, what would the cost be? Taking any of the other existing
setups also, what would the incremental cost be? We need to do this comparison.
The other is that we need to enhance the monetary mechanism to ensure what
obligation we put on the CSCs, whether they are delivering on that, and that we
need to simultaneously provide the services they can deliver through CSCs. Some
states havent set it (CSC) up. They also dont have the services to provide
here. We need to strengthen that side.
Providing services is the beauty of the PPP model and we need to understand
that. Its not a government infrastructure. The government could have more than
created the infrastructure, whether there is service or not. But a private
player will wait till the service comes, and till CSC becomes viable. So, in
terms of overall efficiency, I think the PPP model will be better.
You have been associated with the e-governance strategy of over fifteen
countries. Can you compare Indias pace with them?
The core issues remain the same for all of them. Initially when we hadnt
done so much work with governments globally, the shallow mentality is much
stronger in India and that the bureaucracy tries to pull projects down. But
issues are prevalent in every country, though situation, size, and complexity
may be different. Most of them want to do e-governance, as they want to bring
down the cost of governance. I think India has done very well in the last two or
three years in terms of conceptualization and thinking on what we want to do.
Is your global model same as what you have here?
We are a very large public sector organization, as we work with governments
across the world. Government is a very important client for us globally. The
delivery model we follow from methodology perspective here is identical with our
global model. But the solutions are designed keeping the specific requirements
of a country in mind and therefore that differs from project to project, and
country to country. We also apply a framework to reach a decision, which stays
consistent. But the recommendations on specific designs depend on their
requirements. More or less, the issues and challenges are very similar, though
the focus of a project may be different at times about what they want to
So finally do you think we are on the right track as far as the thinking on
the policy side goes?
Capacity building, which got delayed by two years or so, should have been
among the first things to happen. If capacity was created before, then the
execution would have been faster. Capacity building was approved two years after
SWAN. This is not a thinking issue possibly, but more of an execution challenge.
It is always said the devil is in the detail. It is the execution details where
we are feeling the pains.