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Punjab working on an overarching information architecture for targeted policy decisions

The Govt is looking at filling the gaps in having a single view of the truth by integrating data from various departments and agencies, says Alok Shekhar, Principal Secretary, Departments of Information Technology, Investment Promotion and Industries & Commerce, Punjab

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Please share some of the technology initiatives powering the state’s governance infrastructure and how does it enable coordination with various departments ?
The Govt is looking at filling the gaps in having a single view of the truth by integrating data from various departments and agencies. Currently, the operational environment is siloed in nature and given that the Govt sector is a big generator and repository of data, this is an area that we are looking at. It’s working in progress. The plan is to have an overarching architecture by integrating data from departments and agencies for making better policy decisions and targeted governance.

The adoption of the NIC developed e-office application by Punjab has improved the productivity and efficiency in governance. Now, more than ninety percent of the Govt files move digitally embedded with a time imprint. This has made the process more transparent. The human resource management involving leave, attendance, salary management has been shifted to the Human Resource Management System (HRMS).

Additional features have been added in the portal for providing a single window clearance to industries. This is largely a state Govt initiative in addition to various mandates issued by the central Govt.

Punjab has also upgraded to a new Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) in 2020, which is used for revenue management. The need is also to integrate emerging technologies like Blockchain, AI, ML, IoT with other solutions.

Which were some of the Digital initiatives adopted by Punjab in the new normal ?
The pandemic has brought about a substantial change in the Citizen – Government interactions. The adoption of digital platforms has gone up both at the Govt and the citizen’s level. Thus the importance of the digital platforms has increased leading to a burden on the digital infrastructure.

Many measures were taken especially, e-Governance initiatives in the area of software application enhancements to ease the G2B and G2C services.

The public grievance redressal system has been improved significantly over the last year. There are set metrics of grievance redressal in terms of time, which has to be adhered to. The seva kendras in Punjab have been operational for many years, but this application has been improved over the years for better service delivery.

The Govt of Punjab, towards the end of 2020 has introduced changes in the Right of Way (RoW) policy in order to adapt to the new normal, which will see a major shift in the favour of the digital solutions, which in turn will bring a drastic rise in the bandwidth requirements.The fee structure in the RoW policy has been brought in sync with the rules of the central Govt and secondly, the approvals have now been routed through a single window clearance. We hope these steps will attract more investment in the state to sustain the new digital way of life.

Another major step taken by the state was to distribute tablets and computers to the 1.75 lakh students in class 12. These students are at a critical juncture of appearing for their board examinations and the lockdown disrupted their education. It was critical, they had access to mobility devices or computers to access online education.

For me, at a personal level, a major positive has been the work getting done without physically attending meetings. The Govt officials are more punctual and virtual meetings are productive with the work getting done by sitting in the office. In fact, ever since the lockdown, there hasn’t been a single day when I have not attended office.

Punjab is looking for more applications and solutions to fulfill the Govt services over a digital platform, for e.g. the CoVA app launched by the state, among providing other citizen services, was of great use to the migrants in getting information about trains they are supposed to board to return back home. The migrant crisis was one of the highlights of the lockdown and providing trains to them had become a major issue.

As a precondition of sorts, for any state to develop its IT/ITeS industry, an ecosystem has to be developed to woo investments. How do you see Punjab in this light and how has the state performed ?            
There are largely four factors for any state to have a thriving IT/ITeS sector: Digital Infrastructure, skilled manpower and ease of mobility, cost of operations and quality of life. Punjab in general and Mohali in particular scores well in all the aforementioned areas.

Digital Infrastructure
– Punjab is ranked second in the country in tele-density, which will only inch upwards after the changes in the RoW policy.
– The state tops the list of mobile subscribers per hundred population.
– Punjab is ranked as one of the top five states in optical fibre connectivity.   

Skilled manpower
Punjab has almost 90 engineering colleges, 200 polytechnics and 340 ITIs. Some of the top education and research institutes of the country are based in Punjab. To name a few: Indian Science and Education Research Institute, IIT Ropar, Punjab Agricultural University, ISB Punjab (Mohali), Indian Institute of Nanotechnology, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) and National Agricultural Food and Biotechnology Institute, among many others. Punjab and Mohali is home to over 35000 IT professionals.

Quality of Life 
– Punjab ranks second in the health index of the central Govt.
– Major hospital chains like AIIMS, Apollo, Fortis, etc have their presence in the state.
– As per the data of the NCRB, among major industrial towns, Punjab has the lowest cases of cognisable offence.

Cost of operations
According to the statistics released by the Govt, Mohali has about fifteen percent lesser cost of operations compared to other tier one cities. 

Mohali has established a 1700 acre IT city, where campuses of major IT/ITeS companies have either been set up or will soon come up. Major names include Infosys, Emerson, Fidelity, QuarkXPress, etc.

What are some of the biggest challenges with respect to implementing technologies in the new normal ?
Cost of the digital infrastructure and applications in providing G2C and G2B services is a major challenge. We need more investments in the state to move towards providing free internet and open access, similar to developed countries.

In the new paradigm, for IT and many other industries, which has invested in infrastructure, like offices etc., but can get their work done remotely, will face challenges as they are coming to a realisation that the investments in infrastructure have proved unnecessary now.

A major challenge will be to have technology interventions in the MSME sector, which has undergone unprecedented stress due to the pandemic. The MSMEs suffered losses and closed down during pandemic but are back to normal operations now with return of the labourers. Punjab has over 2.6 lakh MSMEs and   

The Industry, Govt and academia will have to exercise collective thinking and put their minds together to ideate solutions.

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