“PAWAN is our top priority”

Nirmaljeet Singh Kalsi, managing director, Punjab Infotech, and
director-cum-secretary, Department of IT, Government of Punjab, in a chat with
Jasmine Kaur of Dataquest, talks about how Punjab’s IT policy powers its
e-governance engines and how it has helped roll out initiatives ranging from IT
education for school kids to easy pension plans for retired people. Excerpts:

What is the status of SWAN implementation?
The state-wide area network (SWAN), which the departments can utilize for
e-governance applications, would be ready in the next nine to twelve months. The
state government is also working out details for setting up state data centers
and district data centers for housing the applications and data, in consultation
with the DIT.

Punjab leads in the DIT e-readiness report. How has the state’s IT
policy steered the development on this front?
As per the Punjab IT policy, the state government has been working under
four thrust areas: IT infrastructure, e-governance, HRD, and incentives for the
IT industry. An Empowered Committee on Computerization (ECC), under the
chairmanship of chief secretary of Punjab, has been set up for single-window
clearance and review of all e-governance projects. Videoconferencing facility is
already functional in all the districts. Tele-meetings with state officials can
now be held remotely, saving traveling expenses and valuable time.

Nirmaljeet Singh

While doing so, business process reengineering (BPR) and administrative
reforms (AR) have also been taken up simultaneously for ensuring maximum benefit
of e-governance.

What is the Suwidha project and what is its reach?
To provide convenient services at the grassroots level, more than 20 basic
services of the deputy commissioner’s (DC) office have been made available to
citizens under the Suwidha project in all the 17 DC offices in an integrated
manner. The project has been developed by the National Informatics Center (NIC),
with an objective to improve government officials—citizen interface.

This facility is now being extended to the subdivision level. The government
is also planning to open more than 250 delivery channels at subdivision and
block levels.

How have the more complex e-governance projects related to taxation and
social security been tackled?
Punjab is the first state in the country, to have implemented value added
tax (VAT) software for management of business records. The model adopted has
been appreciated at the center. The state government has already introduced
significant computerization in the social security department for the pension

Major pilot projects are also nearing completion in the important public
interface areas like land records, its integration with property registration
and transport services (Sarathi and Vahan). The successes of these pilots are
being implemented in the entire state on a public-private partnership (PPP).
Expressions of interest for integrating the two projects, namely land records
and property registration have already been invited, in which delivery of
services would be rendered through 150 plus centers up to the tehsil level. Very
soon, bids would be floated for the replication of transport services project in
the entire state.

What is Punjab’s annual IT spend and how is the planning done?
In a year, about 2-3% of the state’s planned budget is spent on IT
activities. The state government is taking up the public-dealing and
revenue-generating departments for the first phase of e-governance. At the time
of preparing budget estimates, IT projects are identified in the above-mentioned
areas and the requisite funds are provisioned.

Other than Suwidha, what are the other projects?
Compulsory computer education in schools has been successfully launched
through the ‘ICT Literacy programme’. In the first phase, computer education
is being provided to about 7.5 lakh students, out of the total 13.5 lakh
students of classes 6 to 12 in the 1,299 government schools. In the second
phase, it is proposed to cover 1,572 higher and senior secondary schools.
Students and their parents have shown keen interest in computer education in the
first phase and the enrolment in ICT schools has gone up by about 15%. For
establishing IT infrastructure in schools, the government has used the BOOT
(build operate, own, and transfer) model by which PCs, UPSs, printers,
networking of computer lab, system and applications, and software will be taken
on a five-year lease on a maintain and transfer (LMT) basis. After five years,
the complete infrastructure shall be transferred to the department of school

Punjab Registration Information System Management (PRISM) has provided an
innovative approach to the deeds registration. This avoids frauds related to
impersonation, change of photographs, etc. The valuation of the property is done
on the spot with PRISM, by dividing the whole jurisdiction into various segments
having government-defined rates, thus plugging the revenue leakage. PRISM
maintains a database of the market value of segments of habitation, depending on
type/sub-type of properties, both urban as well as rural.

What are the areas on which Punjab still has to work?
To interconnect all the e-governance initiatives, the state is establishing
Punjab State Wide Area Network (PAWAN) to act as the IT backbone for data,
voice, and video applications on a build, own, operate, and transfer (BOOT)
model; with financial and technical support of Department of Information
Technology (DIT), Government of India. All departments would use this network
for data, video, and voice services.

Punjab government is presently working to make the tendering process more
efficient and transparent. The pilot project is in progress and trial
e-procurement has been done. The state is progressing towards a statewide policy
for implementation of e-procurement. Some of the other areas include healthcare
services, police, rollout of municipal services in local government,
agriculture, establishment of state and district data centers and geographical
information system (GIS), and rural development and Gram Panchayat.

Can you summarize the e-gov works of the past six months, and give a
preview of what is on the cards for the next six months?
During the past six months, pilot implementations for transport applications
and multi service card (MSC) have been underway for on-the-spot services. NIC
has been developing Suwidha backend software for DC office applications. As far
as frontend services are concerned, replication of Suwidha-DC office application
has already been started in a few SDM offices with a plan to cover all SDM
offices in the state.

In the next six months, the state government would implement public-interface
applications, namely, land records, registration of the property and transport
vehicles, with participation of the private sector. At the top of the agenda is
establishment of SWAN, connecting the state headquarter with district
headquarters, subdivisions, and blocks on 2 Mbps bandwidth. We are moving
towards a stage where all our applications will be integrated and will talk to
each other in a secured manner for internal communication as well as for
delivery of citizen services.

What is the state government’s vision and how does your IT action plan
fit into it?
Punjab Government’s IT Vision states: "To improve the quality of life
of the people of Punjab by enriching their social, economic and cultural
well-being through the sustainable knowledge based development of the economy
and society".

As part of the Mission Mode Project program, the government of Punjab is
preparing two important documents: e-Governance Roadmap and Capacity-Building
Roadmap, for 20 selected departments. Based on these, department-wide IT action
plan would be prepared for implementation.

The key objectives of the present IT policy

  • Improve the overall economy of Punjab by generating more
    jobs as well as domestic and export revenues, and ensuring even spread of
    such benefits to one and all.

  • Creation of high-value employment potential through human
    resource development in IT and related areas.

  • Make Punjab a favored industry destination for attracting
    investment from outside the state, by facilitating the creation of
    world-class infrastructure, institutional framework, and an enabling

  • Provide citizen-centered governance that is efficient, low
    cost, effective, transparent, friendly, affordable, convenient, and ensures
    full accountability of employees. The government would empower citizen
    through deployment of IT and e-governance.

  • Make Punjab globally competitive.

  • Turn the state into a smart and intelligent state and a
    knowledge society through IT education and e-governance, by promoting
    knowledge as the key resource for economic progress of individuals and

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