We expect all thirty-three SWANs to be operational by March 2009



He is driving one of the most crucial projects in India. Once the project
is completed, it is likely to impact rural connectivity like never before. Ashis
Sanyal, senior director, Department of Information Technology, is the mission
leader Policy, Planning, Implementation, and Monitoring of Core e-Governance
Network Infrastructure Program, popularly known as state wide area network
(SWAN), for the entire country. The project is a Govt of India undertaking, and
the budget allocated for the project is approximately $850 mn. Sanyal is also
driving the implementation of 100,000 common services centers across India. In
an exclusive interview with Dataquest, he talks about his mission and its
progress Excerpts

Can you give us an update on the progress of the SWAN project? What
critical learnings do we have from the implementation of SWAN in various states?
The SWAN scheme was approved by the Indian government in March 2005, with
the modality that it would be a central sector scheme. This was to be
administered by the Department of IT, Government of India, with decentralized
implementation by states/UTs, desirous to participate in the scheme.

In the course of time, the UT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the state of
Goa did not participate in the scheme. A&N Islands had its departmental offices
well connected through the bandwidth provided by ISRO, and Goa had already
launched its state wide network scheme for ten years with a PPP partner.

Apart from Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Goa, the remaining thirty-three
states/UTs participated in the SWAN scheme. Two implementation options are
available in the SWAN scheme: the PPP option with the BOOT model and the NIC
option in which NIC would implement the network on behalf of the concerned
state/UT. While twenty-four states/UTs have gone for the PPP option, nine have
adopted for the NIC option.

Out of twenty-four states/UTs under the PPP option and nine under the NIC
option, eighteen states/UTs have either completed the implementation or are at
an advanced stage of implementation.

The states of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and the national capital
territory of Delhi have completed implementation of the scheme. The others are
expected to complete it by September-October 2008. We expect that all the
thirty-three SWANs would be operational by March 2009.

Ashis Sanyal,
 senior director, ministry
of Communications
and Information Technology,
Government of India

As far as critical learnings are concerned, we have taken note of important
points for taking corrective measures in future implementation of similar
schemes. The most important point is to forecast a realistic timeline for
various activities.

From the very beginning, we were determined that the ownership of the project
should be with the concerned state/UT. We have appreciated the enormous benefits
in this approach for the scheme. Consequently, responsibilities for a lot of
implementation activities are directly vested on the concerned
state/UT-designated implementation agency. And this had necessitated significant
processing time in the states/UTs concerned because the dynamics of approval
process, availability of technical skill sets, e-readiness of the concerned
state/UT vary across the country. As a result, the actual time taken for each
activity has been significantly higher than estimated.

Himachal Pradesh and Haryana have led by example in enabling
technology-led governance, by becoming the first two states to officially launch
the ambitious SWAN project under NeGP. However, with thirty states and union
territories progressing at their own pace, are we ready for the March 2009
deadline?

It is true that Himachal Pradesh and Haryana have really gone ahead in
implementation of SWAN. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, having a larger size SWAN
network, about 700 points-of-presence (PoP), has also completed the
implementation.

The other point is that the states/UTs that were otherwise considered less
ICT-savvy have shown great eagerness to implement e-governance infrastructure
and applications. This attitude has resulted in faster implementation of
e-governance projects there. I feel that the progress in implementation of SWANs
has gathered adequate momentum in all states/UTs, and if the current pace is
maintained, all the thirty-three SWANs will become operational by March 2009.

We have been talking about SWAN for the last 2-3 years, but it is only now
that the momentum is building up. Is enough happening in terms of building up
awareness across all states and UTs about extensive usage of SWAN or is there
still a long way to go before we touch the post?
In terms of building up awareness across all states/UTs on SWAN and its
extensive usage, I feel that all stakeholders are adequately aware of the
importance of core e-governance infrastructure for implementing NeGP as a whole.
The Department of IT had back-to-back government approval of three important
e-governance infrastructure schemes like SWAN, CSC and, very recently, SDC
(state data centers).

We periodically conducted awareness workshops for states/UTs on a regional
basis in 2006 and 2007. Moreover, in most e-governance
conferences/seminars/workshops conducted by the state government or by
organizations like Dataquest, the Department of IT actively participated and
took the opportunity to carry the message to stakeholders.

I feel enough awareness has already been built up and the `what and `why
have been answered adequately. It is now time to find out quick answers for
`how, and implement the solution meticulously.

When it comes to fund allocation, are you getting enough support and push
from the government, considering that it is a huge project, directly linked to
the creation of CSCs across states and UTs?
As far as funding support is concerned, the scheme is approved with a total
fund support of Rs 3,334 crore. This amount has got four broad components:
capital expenditure, operational expenditure for five years, one-time site
preparation cost for all SWAN PoP sites, and the cost of bandwidth for five
years.

Since the approval was obtained in March 2005, there are some reductions in
the cost of ICT equipment and the bandwidth cost. I feel that the SWAN scheme
would be implemented without any fund constraint, and within the provisions of
the sanctioned fund. Separate fund is available for the CSC scheme, approved for
each state/UT individually, and there is no inter-dependency of funding between
the two schemes.

Urvashi Kaul
urvashik@cybermedia.co.in

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