Classified as a Bimaru state in the 1980s for its poor standing on social and economic indicators, Rajasthan today is changing that perception with a strong focus on citizen-driven schemes and e-governance.
The government has taken several initiatives in this regard, starting from the basics such as providing direct benefit transfer to citizens’ bank accounts and ensuring proper distribution of rations to those that would propel the state in terms of economic standing such as internet connectivity to every village and gram panchayat to having a robust and vibrant startup policy.
In Part I of an interview with YourStory, Rajasthan's Principal Secretary for Information Technology & Communication Akhil Arora details the various initiatives taken by the state government in its quest towards digitisation and e-governance:
YS: Tell us about the digital policies initiated and completed in Rajasthan to ensure better governance.
Under the leadership of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, my team has worked hard to establish Rajasthan as the digital leader in the country.
When she took the chair in 2014 for her second term, the Chief Minister had a vision to transform the state from merely a cultural or tourist destination to the next digital superpower. Working on her vision, we have created an integrated e-governance infrastructure, penetrated to the last mile, and are growing ten-fold faster than any other state in the country. Let me back my statement with some figures.
The multiple schemes initiated by Department of Information Technology and Communication, Government of Rajasthan under Vasundhara Raje have seen many milestones, with best in class success figures. These schemes touch the 6.89 crore residents in the state with widespread viable benefits to ensure their defined objective, making Rajasthan a digital a digital hub.
From running the biggest Direct Benefit Transfer scheme in the country, that transferred over Rs 18,000 crore to the bank accounts of 5.66+ crore members, to building 51,000 Common Services Centers in the state that offer more than 400 government and non-government services, the state government has achieved much.
We have also established an online grievance redressal system that has solved 20.6 lakh cases so far, and are creating a digitally advanced public distribution system that distributes products through Aadhaar-based biometric verification of the beneficiary via the PoS machine at 25,000+ fair price shops. The state has also made significant strides in improving residents’ quality of life, starting six Abhay and Control Command Centres to provide healthcare services to more than 19.7 lakh residents.
Rajasthan has also proven to be a trendsetter in eGovernance initiatives, ensuring maximum ease to residents when it comes to connecting with the government, as well as getting benefits at their doorstep.
We are India’s first state to implement an integrated and unified eGovernance Framework, ensuring a world-class coherent environment of integrated platforms. Through this, we have maximised utilisation and minimised investment for the betterment of eGovernance initiatives.
YS: What have been the outcomes in digital governance?
The Digital Rajasthan programme has proved to be a benchmark in the field of eGovernance. In last four years, Rajasthan has gained tremendously when it comes to eGovernance, and the same has become possible only due to the aggressive approach towards creation of Digital Rajasthan Program. It is the vision of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who also is the state’s IT minister, that the Happiness Index of the state should go higher, and all initiatives should be implemented with residents at the core. Rajasthan has come up with game-changing platforms for the residents. Some of the initiatives, integrated under the Rajasthan eGovernance Framework and Architecture and that can well explain the outcomes of digital governance are:
If numbers don’t showcase the digital excellence of our state, our numerous awards will certainly do so. Some of the awards won by the state and the Chief Minister
YS: Are information and communication technologies changing citizen participation? How have they impacted various stakeholders such as small businesses and farmers?
The Government of Rajasthan believes that technology is for all, and is not limited to those residing in cities. We strongly adhere to the notion that IT has the power to change the way we work. Technology is the key to productivity - it is not a thing of the future, but a present we should all accept.
Following this, state departments introduce and implement e-governance initiatives that are resident-centric in nature. It has been mandated by the chief minister that all eGovernance initiatives are to be first implemented in the villages, and not the state headquarter, to ensure people at the last mile are the first to receive benefits.
Every initiative is multi-modal; it is available on the internet, mobile, at kiosks, and apps to ensure the availability of the government to its residents. In addition, a state-wide capacity building and skill building plan is also integral to Digital Rajasthan – which will ensure that people can utilise the programme to its maximum.
Today, a woman from a small village in Rajasthan gets her pension directly transferred to her bank account. She can go to the nearest e-Mitra and collect her money simply by showing her card, and verifying her identity through biometrics. This is the change that we have bought in the society.
For farmers, we have introduced the e-Mandi system that helps them find out the current auction rates of their commodities, and also submit and receive claims under the Rajiv Gandhi Krishak Saathi Yojana. The e-Mandi mobile application helps farmers garner information on the go.
YS: What, according to you, is a Smart City and how does Rajasthan approach this concept? What are some of the cues on this subject?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Smart City Mission in June 2015, and Rajasthan was the first state to submit a Smart City plan to the Urban Development Ministry in December 2015.
The Government of Rajasthan has proposed a total investment of Rs 6,457 crore for five years to develop four cities - Jaipur, Udaipur, Kota, and Ajmer - as smart cities. The Smart City Project is creating a balance of heritage with modernism in the state cities. We wish to be smart, while keeping our heritage protected. We are committed to creating seven Smart Cities in Rajasthan by 2020.
JDA Smart City project and Rajasthan Smart Grid will step forward to ensure a Smarter Rajasthan. The smart city project will also have the dual impact of improved productivity in transmission network, leveraging the same infrastructure for broadband network required to deliver e-services, saving huge costs.
YS: Fintech is a buzz word now; have you initiated any cashless ecosystem for the people of Rajasthan?
The state government has launched Rajasthan Payment Platform. RPP allows citizens to pay bills, and make other payments online in a secure and convenient manner. The platform provides a single point of contact for most of the recurring payment needs. RPP also facilitates disbursement facility for the department users to disburse/remit funds to beneficiaries/vendors etc using digitally signed payment file transfer to the bank.
Along with this, the Department of Information Technology and Communication will soon launch the Bhamashah Wallet.
The wallet will change the face of digital payments in the state, and turn PM Modi’s dream of cashless India into a reality. Bhamashah Wallet mobile application will work on the concept of Aadhaar-enabled payment system, and will be free of cost for all citizens of the state.
YS: On government departments going digital, how successful has track and trace been on policy implementation within each department? Do you see departments becoming digital or is that some way away?
Technology has touched all aspects of governance, and it is impossible for our government departments to be left untouched. We have ensured all our government departments undergo a process of re-engineering to streamline every process, and reduce the paperwork by making everything digital. CM Dashboard is one such example through which the chief minister and top-level officers of the state can monitor various departments/ projects/ schemes at a single platform. It provides live data directly from respective applications database, and no secondary-entry is recorded.
Raj Kaj is another initiative that has automated all the administrative functions in an integrated fashion to enhance office productivity and streamline internal processes associated with service delivery to end-users. With the launch of Electronic Public Distribution System to ensure accountable distribution of goods through Aadhaar identification, we have reduced malpractices in the system and made sure that ration is only given to the right beneficiary.
For monitoring of works performed under Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan, we have adopted high-end technology. Planning and monitoring of all works under MJSA is done through Rajasthan GIS portal - RajDharaa. Along with this, the progress and completion of work is also captured through drone photography. The state’s GIS platform RajDharaa has leveraged Geo-Spatial technology to support the accelerated implementation and monitoring of projects, and has created virtual walkthroughs and 3D models of monuments, and important buildings with heritage infrastructure and colonies, giving a one-of-a-kind tourism experience.
Along with this, we ensure that every initiative launched by us has a high technology quotient. Transforming the state through technological advancements and niche technology implementations is our mission and we are achieving it one initiative at a time.
YS: What would you say were some of the best IT-related policies over the last eight years?
The vision of Rajasthan eGovernance and IT/ITeS Policy 2015 was to achieve Good Governance by harnessing ICT and evolving eGovernance with improvement in the delivery of services. We have bridged the digital divide and created DigiSthan. But if I have to choose top initiatives, Bhamashah Yojana will be the top contender.
It is the largest integrated DBT scheme run by any state in India and has revolutionised financial inclusion, benefit transfer and women empowerment in the state. The state has recorded more than 40 crore transactions, transferring more than Rs 18,000 crore directly in the bank accounts of 1.5+ crore families. Along with creating an integrated, effective and transparent DBT platform, Bhamashah Yojana has also given a new definition to women’s empowerment in Rajasthan.
Next one would be e-Mitra. When service delivery is now becoming a priority for all the states across India, Rajasthan is already a ground-breaker, ensuring service delivery with more than 51,000 CSCs, or eMitra, extending the reach of the government to practically every doorstep in Rajasthan.
We have penetrated eMitra centres in all 33 districts, 300 blocks and more than 1,000 Gram Panchayats. With our recent launch - eMitra+, we have ensured that technological advancements in e-governance offer unhindered service delivery possible for every citizen of the state.
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s brainchild Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan is another such initiative that has changed the face of Rajasthan. The scheme is providing a long-term solution for water scarcity. The MJSA project has made a huge difference in the water scarcity scenario of Rajasthan. Till date, MJSA has been successful in making more than 7,726 villages water self-reliant. More than two lakh water reservoirs have been constructed, accumulating a massive 11, 1270 million cubic feet of water that benefited 41 lakh people and 45 lakh animals.
Rajasthan DigiKit is another such initiative that strives towards establishing high-end technological reforms in the ecosystem that benefit the masses in easing their day to day life. Rajasthan DigiKit comprises of Raj e-Vault, Single Sign On, Raj e-Sign and RajMail.
All four services allow residents to have a personal digital space. Rajasthan has become the first state to offer vernacular e-mail addresses in Hindi to its citizens. This initiative will ensure maximum participation of people towards e-governance and also that maximum facilities are available in the vernacular language.
In addition to this, various other services such as CM Helpline, Electronic Public Distribution System, iStart startup platform, Abhay Command Centre, Rajasthan e-Gyan and many other are the best IT-related policies and initiatives taken by any state for the betterment of its residents.
YS: What, according to you, are some of the challenges that the State faces from an IT policy perspective, and how would you want to address them?
Whenever you take on a task as big as turning the complete state digital, you are bound to have challenges. In our journey, we faced a few challenges, but they were turned into successes under the leadership of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. The biggest challenge was to shed the tag and stigma of ‘Bimaru State’ that was attached with Rajasthan. As you know, one-third of our population resides in rural areas, and one of the biggest challenges we faced was creating IT infrastructure till the last mile.
Spectrum available in villages is about one-tenth that in cities, and this posed the biggest problem, but also the biggest opportunity.
To solve this, we launched Raj Net - a multi-mode connectivity network, connecting Jaipur with all the 9,894 Gram Panchayats, and 183 municipal areas in Rajasthan. Today, IT infrastructure has expanded across all districts up to the Gram Panchayat level through Raj Net. We have also ensured that the capacity of internet connectivity available is up to 1MB per second. The state is also currently under the statewide implementation of WiFi. Soon, every nook and corner of Rajasthan will be WiFi enabled.
Another challenge we faced was lack of Digital literacy in the state. Introducing e-governance initiatives at the city level would not bring the change we had in mind. To ensure the creation of a digitally viable state, we wanted our villages to also become digital. We launched various programmes for computerisation till the last mile offices to ensure electronic delivery of high volume resident-centric services at the district level.
Rajasthan Knowledge Corporation Limited was established to train the rural and urban population. Our agenda was to train women in the family, as we strongly believe that by teaching one woman, you teach the entire family. Skill training programmes, and computer learning classes were started at the Gram Panchayat level to ensure digital literacy. Even in government departments, extensive capacity building and training of field level functionaries was conducted to ensure a smooth migration to electronic delivery of e-district services.
The people of Rajasthan have been very gracious to accept this digital transformation. They not only realised the importance of IT, but also implemented it to ease their daily lives. With the ‘People First’ attitude, we have been able to embark upon a digital revolution. With the continued efforts of our leader, government departments, and residents, the dream of DigiSthan took flight.