M-Governance transforming rural India

Rural India led a record 35 percent surge over a year in mobile phone and computer-based transactions with the government and that clearly indicates huge demand and future potential of m-governance in the hinterland
M-Governance transforming rural India

As the industrial revolution is referred to demarcate an era; 100 years from now, the digital revolution would also do the same for our times. India has become the third largest subscriber base of mobile telephony and will soon occupy second place. With the launch of Digital India on mission mode, m-governance has been accorded top priority. Mobile governance is catching up very fast in India. Various mobile-based channels are being leveraged to deliver the services to citizens through mobile devices. The amalgamation of mobile devices and new media applications — which support quick access to integrated data, location-based services and empowered citizens from any place at any time — is the cornerstone of the emerging impact of mobile governance.

Addressing Nasscom annual event in March this year, Prime Minister had said there is immense potential for the Indian IT sector to innovate and provide mobile applications to deliver citizen-centric services and mobile governance. About the Digital India initiative, he said e-governance also implies easy and economical governance. A framework for m-governance to ensure inclusive delivery of public services in a time-bound manner has been prepared by the government.

Digital India Initiative

India wants to become a knowledge economy and for that we need a digitally empowered society. There are three key vision areas in the overall ‘Digital India’ programme — digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen, governance and services on demand and digital empowerment of citizens.This can happen only through a combination of creation of digital infrastructure, re-engineering the software programmes to suit the delivery of services and enable people to access these, using the same infrastructure.

“In order to reform and improve the ecosystem of public services in the country, the government has initiated the ‘Digital India’ programme,” says Dr Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), who is incharge of e-governance project.

“The focus is on ensuring that the citizens in all parts of the country have easy access of a range of necessary services. Digital India will also make it much easier for businesses to do their work. Most of the initiatives under ‘Digital India’ programme will be completed in the next three years,” he adds.

With nearly 1 billion telephone subscribers and 970 million mobile users, e-governance is certainly transitioning into m-governance. However, under Digital India initiative, high speed broadband connectivity at panchayat level will be brought in through the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project which is being implemented and 2.5 lakh village panchayats will be covered under the project.

Rural Transformation

Rural India is in focus with regard to e-governance and m-governance. In 2013, 2.4 billion e-transactions were recorded across the country of which 480 million were related to e-governance projects in rural India.

Credited with many digital initiatives in the country, DeitY Secretary Ram Sevak Sharma says, “Government of India is planning to take the e-governance programme a step forward by launching a village level mobile governance system for speedy delivery of services to the rural people.”

The department has prepared a framework for m-governance to ensure inclusive delivery of public services in a time-bound manner, he adds.

Provision for last mile connectivity through appropriate mechanisms, including the involvement of telecom service providers, will enable rural India to become an active participant in the digital revolution. Experiments in rural areas and for farmers find success. mKisan, a portal run by the Agriculture ministry, is a success story.

“It connects farmers to all government departments and institutions including India Meteorological Department and Krishi Vigyan Kendras. It leverages the spread of mobile technology in rural areas to increase agriculture production and improve the lives of farmers,” Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh says.

“Information, services and advisories to farmers are provided through SMS in their languages, preference of agricultural practices and locations. It strives to provide a one-stop-shop for farmers,” he adds.

Since its inception in July 2013, more than a billion messages have been sent to farmers across the country through mKisan. Since May 2014 over 5 billion messages have been sent.

Interestingly, of the 3.5 billion electronic transactions reported in 2014, half came from rural areas, which contributed only 20 percent of e-transactions the previous year, according to a market research data available on the e-governance dashboard, e-taal (Electronic Transaction Aggregate & Analysis Layer).

E-taal aggregates, in real-time (or live), e-transactions between Indians and 2,848 central and state organisations and departments across 29 services, including land records, agriculture, information, education, health, bill payments and agriculture. The data shows a three-fold increase in the number of farmers registering for agriculture- related advisories, from 3.7 million in 2013 the figure rose to 9.3 million in 2014.

With 330 million of India’s 687 million GSM mobile phones now in rural areas, according to Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), e-transactions with the government are likely to grow rapidly. There is little doubt that farmers are enthusiastic adopters of technology via mobile phones.

States and M-Governance

Some states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have taken huge leap in m-governance. Gujaratis are India’s most enthusiastic adopters of e-government services, leading other Indian states in e-transactions, although it offers fewer services than close competitors Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Andhra Pradesh tops the list of e-government services offered: 224, followed by Telangana and Gujarat, which offer 186 and 181 e-services respectively.

After agriculture, the next most used e-service is the public distribution system (PDS), which recorded 530 million transactions, mainly in four states including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Digitising the subsidised-food distribution system – a network that loses 42 percent of money to corruption according to government admission in Parliament this year – could also clean up its corruption. For instance, end-to-end computerisation of PDS in Gujarat has helped the state eliminate bogus or duplicate ration cards which were the primary reason for leakage.

There is no doubt that m-governance helps cut corruption, empower citizens through information and improve their engagement with the government.

After agriculture and food, the third most commonly used e-governance service relates to bill payment and other utility services. Gujarat again leads the pack, with about 60 million transactions followed by Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

“The reach of m-services helps in eliminating intermediaries and faster delivery of government services. Considering the size and diversity of India, the only way to deliver essential services to people in remotest corners is m-governance, says Sameer Kochhar, an IT expert.

The 3.5 billion e-transactions, he said, is proof that citizens would rather use their mobile phones than stand in queue.

Role of Telecom and IT Companies

All big players of Telecom, Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled services eye on huge potential of e and m-governance in the country. Sunil Sood, MD and CEO, Vodafone India, says, “The basis for the next green revolution in India will be a ‘knowledge revolution’, and technology, particularly mobile, will play a key role in driving it.”

Vodafone claims to handle e and m-governance projects in several countries and is in position to partner with the government for taking the vision of Digital India forward. Its mobile payment service M-Pesa is a success story in African countries and can be an integral part of public distribution and direct business transfer (DBT) mechanism in India. It enables millions of people who have access to a mobile phone, but have only limited access to a bank account, to send and receive money, top-up airtime and make bill payments.

Telecom companies like Vodafone and Airtel have been working with governments of Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand and other states for scholarship, NREGA wage and NRHM subsidy disbursements. Thus, these companies are contributing to the financial inclusion agenda of government through their money transfer platform.

The earlier system of governance was based on G2C (Government to Citizen) model, but now the government is working towards the C2G (Citizen to Government) model, which is a step further. Certainly, e-governance is transitioning into m-governance, which is based on leveraging the omni-presence of mobile devices.

Undoubtedly, the mobility solutions developed by Telcos can significantly expand the government’s capacity to deliver positive outcomes to the citizens and businesses. Telcos and IT-enabled service providers have come together to serve their government clients. They have deployed dedicated teams for health, education, urban development, rural development and other ministries/departments for understanding their challenges and accordingly tailor solutions for their needs. This public-private partnership is building an ecosystem to address issues related to mHealth, mEducation, mAgriculture and mCitizen.

For example, TCS’s mKrishi platform uses mobile technology to cater to the absolute needs of the rural sector. It offers personalised advisory services in voice and visual using communication devices like mobile phones.

Sajan Pillai, CEO, UST Global, says that increased mobility, improved internet connectivity and the focus of the central government on digitisation will further help grow the pace of e-governance. He says that his company has recently signed up with the Madhya Pradesh government for digitising over 300 local bodies. Headquartered in California, UST Global is a leading provider of end-to-end IT services and solutions.

Mobile Seva, launched in December 2013 by DeitY, is yet another success story. It
primarily develops and provides mobile apps for government and citizen use. Available on the government website, some of the active 299 apps include those for passport services, election commission or more.

However, experts say that websites of all government departments and agencies need to be made mobile compliant, using the ‘one web’ approach. Open standards have officially been adopted for mobile applications for ensuring the interoperability of applications across various operating systems and devices as per the government policy on open standards for e-governance. Uniform or single predesignated numbers (long and short codes) will be used for mobile-based services to ensure convenience.

Thus e-governance can be transformed to m-governance in better way which will be more closer to citizen who can access government services more effectively. The m-governance facility will still not help a large percentage of rural population, who are not comfortable with English. They only use mobiles to make and receive calls. The government should introduce the service in local language so that more people could benefit.

Good governance

India is battling other developmental issues like economic cyclicality, weak infrastructure and poor education and health outcomes, amongst others. It recognises the urgent need of reinventing these symptoms of inherited governance structure. Thus m-governance will play an important role.

Cloud computing, which is one of the best practices, is gaining momentum these days. The government has restructured in cloud and renamed it as ‘Meghraj.’ More and more organisations are starting to embrace the movement of computing infrastructure from on-premises to the cloud. The cloud is picking up speed in the tech world. It has the power to reduce total cost of operation and adaptable to customer needs.

M-governance utilises information technology and mobile phones to produce benefits and deliver outcomes for citizens, businesses and government. With ever rising internet penetration and over 970 million mobile connections, India has a unique opportunity to leverage the technology to take good governance to its citizens across the country.

The Way Forward

Information technology has been a transformational catalyst to good governance and in delivery of public services. Further, the uptake of m-governance will be propelled due to the demographic advantage as youngsters are more likely to use smartphones and access internet and transact online, going forward. Hence, m-governance in India is a developing story, and the realisation of its full potential will require all stakeholders – private sector, non-profits and government – to play their part. Adoption of the best practices can bring them together as well to make delivery system very effective.

The government needs to facilitate the adoption and adaption of best practices be it e-governance or m-governance initiatives to address the pressing socio-economic challenges that India faces and realise the vision of Digital India. We urgently need to address the governance deficit and bring good governance to the most remote corners of the country. Government agencies need to optimise the processes, implement efficient technologies and eliminate redundancies.

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BK Jha is the Special Correspondent of Rural & Marketing. Prior to this he has been associated with The Hindustan Times, Political and Business Daily along with many other media organisations.
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