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A pledge to bridge the digital divide

In an exclusive interaction, Manoj Kumar Mishra, Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of Odisha, affirms that digital democracy is the key to empower people in the new world

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Odisha is one of the leading states which is leveraging ICT in a major way. Recently, Odisha Government has unveiled the ambitious ‘Mo Sarkar’ (My Government) scheme to ensure accountability of government officials in delivering public services. Please brief us on some of the mega ICT projects of the department of Electronics & Information Technology to strengthen citizen services?
Odisha has always been at the forefront at adopting and absorbing technology for the benefit of citizens. But the present government, led by Hon’ble Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, has put huge focus on technology as the condition for transformation is ideal. The state no longer struggles with the basic infrastructure, nor it gets pegged back massively because of a catastrophic cyclone. Now is the time the state can take giant steps in qualitative services for its citizens. That is where ICT comes in and plays a key role. Mo Sarkar is an ambitious experimentation to effect behavioural changes in government officials while dealing with citizens. It’s not just like another grievance handling system, rather it’s a system where citizen doesn’t run after government officials to lodge complaints.

Mo Sarkar makes government run after citizens to get feedback and based on randomised and collective feedback take measures to improve professional and ethical behaviour of government officials involved in delivering services to people. Interestingly, the entire back-end of this humane process is based on very cutting edge IT. We have very big plans to do business process re-engineering in all government processes. The CM has given a talisman to all of us, where we have pledged to believe in goodness of people than in integrity of government processes. With that objective, the aim is to redesign processes, by using IT and innovation, so that a citizen unless mandated by a statute or law, need not visit any government office for services. Service delivery therefore is undergoing a massive transformation in all departments of government and IT department is at the centre of these transformations.

How have the people actually benefited from scores of state-run IT projects?
IT projects must not be seen in isolation. We don’t believe in adopting technology for the sake of technology. What sets this state apart is its clear identification of a purpose before we bring in technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Over the last few years, the implementation of IT in diverse areas of agriculture produce procurement, mining, college admission among others have been extremely fulfilling and credible, solving real problems. In Odisha, entire college admission takes place online and it’s going on for the past many years and is entirely glitch-free. Such transparent process could only be done with right application of IT.

The same case with the mining sector. The software that Odisha implemented in tracking mining produce from source to consumption is praised nationally and being adopted by other mining rich states. In food procurement, the use of IT has been extensive and that has resulted in solving most of procurement issues including reducing harassment of farmers as well as traders and millers. Now, even blockchain and iris authentication have been incorporated to ensure data security and process genuinity, leading to very high satisfaction amongst the farmer community.We do believe that the future needs digital democracy or an inclusive environment. Therefore the appetite of the government to blur the digital divide is immense. With BharatNet phase two implementation, we expect a huge surge in digital democracy that will make citizens more empowered.

What is the progress on electronics manufacturing in Odisha?
The state has created an Electronics Manufacturing Cluster, just off the city limits of Bhubaneswar. We have four units functioning at this time and a few more proposals are under various stages of approval. But yes, the scale is more medium and small scale and no very large anchor manufacturers has come in yet to the state in this sector. As you know, the macro economic scenario has been depressed since a while and the existing manufacturing units all over the country are undergoing challenging times. Therefore, we don’t expect consumer electronics manufacturing to shift operations away from major consumption centres, yet. But there is a very viable silver lining. We are making a specific to ESDM sector policy and expect it to come along with a revamped and one of the best ICT policy in the country by April 2020. With the right policy, developed infrastructure, quality power and water supplies, a great pool of engineering talents in the colleges and ITIs and a stable government, we expect some major investment declarations coming through in the 2020-21 fiscal and we hope to be able to unveil them during the upcoming ‘Make In Odisha 3.0’ event.

Please shed some light on the state’s IT Policy’s current status and how it has helped the government to bring in investments into Odisha?
The present ICT Policy of the state has come into effect in 2014-15 and is valid up to April 2020. The policy was ahead of its time at the time it came into being. The expansion of IT industry, mainly on the service side, has been quite good thanks to the industry supportive policy. But, now the time has come to have a revamp of the entire policy, by giving attention to specific areas like ESDM, BPO and New Age Technologies. Come April, the new ICT policy will make the entire IT industry take a serious look at Odisha as a preferred investment destination.

What is the ambitious road-map of the Odisha government to give a boost to employment generation and attract investments by using ICT?
Employment generation is a priority for every state and every country today. The first wave of industrialisation and job creation happened in the metal and mineral sector as Odisha is naturally blessed with ample mineral resources viz coal, iron ore, manganese, bauxite. But now with more and more automaton, job creation in large industries are getting reduced. Now, therefore it’s time for the next phase and in the next phase, Odisha is well poised to maximise because it ticks all boxes for development of non-metal industries such as ITES, ESDM and BPO segments.

Today, Odisha has become a strong technical educational hub with IIT, NISER, IIIT, NIT, KIIT, CET and a host of other premium technical institutions churning out more than 20,000 BTech students every year. Coupled with this fact that the state has prioritised skilling and “Skilled in Odisha” in a massively successful manner, the ecosystem is ripe for a major expansion in IT sector in the state. We are also looking at making our students stand apart by equipping them with new age technology to make them more than industry ready.

The government is funding certification training like SAP and establishing centres of excellence in AI, robotics, VR/AR, data analytics, cybersecurity and cloud computing. This will give our students an edge over others in the job market. Similarly, we are also looking at jobs for our non-BTech students by making Odisha a major BPO Hub. We are bringing in a policy which has already started attracting the best of companies like Tech Mahindra and Concentrix.

Where do you see the Department of Electronics & Information Technology in the next three years?
We have a vision for the E&IT Department which has short, medium and long term perspectives. In three years, I expect OCAC to become the premier IT implementing agency in the state. We have a clear road map for it and the key would be to enhance its technical bandwidth by getting top knowledge partners and creating more and more partnerships with industry and institutions to have its capacity enhanced for all times to come.

Also, we are betting big on Digital Democracy. Mobile, broadband and cloud services need to be made available at every Gram Panchayat and so also service delivery institutions at the Gram Panchayat level.

We want to be the backbone of the state in terms of its capacity to deliver services to citizens at their doorsteps. At the same time, the department plans to handhold local IT industries, bring in more and more international companies and make the IT space vibrant and unique.

Please share some of the challenges involved in taking digital citizen services to the doorsteps of the people? Do you agree with the fact that there is a need for digital literacy among the people in the state?
Challenges are there everywhere in this country. It’s the will to do something purposeful for the society and state is what would find solutions to all challenges. We are not really much worried about the challenges as we know and believe we have the strength in the state and leadership of our CM to find solution to every challenge.

As mentioned earlier, it’s the talisman of CM Naveen Patnaik, that gives us the clear purpose and also empowers us to do the very best in our respective areas. Digital democracy is the key to empower people in the new world. Without that, no matter what we promise, people will be left behind. We will provide education and skilling at every level, be it a senior citizen wanting to know how to operate a smart phone, or a BTech student wanting to expertise in blockchain.

We will cover the entire spectrum with a special focus at areas which are uncovered still. Mobile connectivity, broadband at GP level, CSC centres at every village, training of all kinds at block levels; these are some of the initiatives that will bridge the digital divide, empower citizens and make the government transparent and efficient.

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