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Reinvigorating E-Governance in India & Beyond with NeGD

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In the present era, digital has blended with human reality indispensably. Wide adoption of AI and ML has strengthened the existing government ecosystem and bolstered e-governance across countries. The National e-Governance Division (NeGD) of the Ministry of Electronics and IT is driving digitalisation in the government ecosystem. Shedding light on the success of India Stack beyond borders, AI implementation, and other e-governance initiatives, Prashant Kumar Mittal, Director – Infrastructure & E-services, Technology Management at NeGD joined Express Computer for an exclusive interview.

NeGD has been among the frontrunners in innovation in the government sector. Please share some recent innovations that further benchmarked NeGD’s contribution to the government ecosystem and citizens. Also, what’s the impact nationwide?

The National e-Governance Division or NeGD, under the Ministry of Electronics and IT, has earned a name for itself with the remarkable feat of introducing innovations in governance. We have introduced multiple ICT projects to bolster e-governance in the nation and we are constantly evolving and heading for further growth.

One of the innovations by NeGD that addressed a key factor in improving children’s health, especially newborns across the country, is the Poshan Tracker. Media widely covered the initiative and brought out the potential that it holds to induce a cultural shift among the people. To ensure Poshan Tracker serves the purpose, we are working in association with the Ministry of Rural Development and self-help groups (SHGs) in the countryside so technology-led solutions are deployed to serve the last-mile citizens effectively.

Therefore, respective measures have been taken to provide essentials to the poor, especially for newborns and lactating mothers to ensure the health and well-being of the families. Besides the Poshan Tracker, financial aid through various government schemes is benefitting the poor and the needy both on the healthcare and financial fronts. These two aspects mark the foundation of a progressive nation and NeGD has been playing a crucial role in strengthening the country’s healthcare through technology-led solutions.

To ensure effective adoption and implementation of digital initiatives, capacity building is a must, especially considering the pace at which technologies are evolving. How is NeGD helping build capacities among the government workforce?

The pace of technology development has been soaring and almost every second day we hear new models or tools coming in. Recently, in a short period we saw the inception of Generative AI models, LLM, and tools like ChatGPT almost driving a digital revolution across the globe. Such dynamics do call for upskilling and upgrading knowledge time and again to stay at par with industrial growth.

In the government ecosystem, NeGD is proactively working to build capacities for the center and state-level government officials and the workforce. We have helped in building iGOT, a learning management system that houses a bunch of courses that open doors for government employees to enhance their knowledge in digital applications in the government ecosystem. Through iGOT, we offer special programs in Digital Forensics and Governance.

The USP of iGOT is the multifaceted approach of the platform. It not only houses courses to help officials enhance knowledge it can also be leveraged to upskill and provide training sessions remotely to the workforce free of cost.

We are also supporting states in the form of a State e-Mission Team (SeMT). As a common observation, some states are proactive in ICT adoption while some still need handholding from the center to let emerging technologies pave the path to digitise their processes. Therefore, through SeMTs, these states observe the developments and failures of first-mover states and gain insights or learnings to ensure such mistakes are avoided and an improved approach towards digitalisation is adopted.

Today, Generative AI has become the talk of the town. How are you leveraging/ planning to deploy Gen AI tools to not only enhance output and optimise operations but also improve the overall service delivery?

The industry has welcomed Gen AI with open arms and businesses are readily adopting the technology. However, on the government’s end, we tend to be cautious with the adoption of newer technologies and prefer to be prepared beforehand. Also, we need to understand the areas where Gen AI-like tech is actually required before we move ahead to blindly adopt the tools. Further, considering the sensitivity and essentiality of data that we deal with we need to be geared up, especially on the cybersecurity front.

Nevertheless, we are committed and I’m elated to share that as a step towards the adoption of Gen AI, the Ministry has laid out proper guidelines and ethics for the technology. Exemplary feats by NeGD in terms of AI adoption are UMANG app and Digital India Bhashini. The UMANG mobile application offers e-services to citizens in 23 languages while Bhashini offers text-to-speech and speech-to-speech recognition in 12 Indian languages. The LLM-based Gen AI model power the Bhashini initiative of the Ministry.

Moving ahead, under the able leadership of the Ministry, both at the political and the bureaucratic level, we shall be effectively leveraging Gen AI models further and benefitting the people at large through the power of technology.

India Stack has formed the very foundation of India’s e-governance. How do you further envision to strengthen it?

India Stack is the need of the hour. Not limited to India specifically, we can help other countries too with the India Stack framework. In the year 2023, the Government of India signed eight MoUs with Armenia, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Papua New Guinea, and Mauritius to extend the India Stack and digital public infrastructure (DPI) at no cost with open source access.

Just to have a closer look, we have an excellent example of the unique identity system – Aadhaar and e-payments system – UPI. Both these systems have made a statement at a global scale and you can’t find a similar system elsewhere. Another major initiative is the E-Office. Today, in government offices we have completely digital processes that have enhanced efficiencies dramatically and improved e-governance across the nation in a major way. Further, we will be coming up with more applications based on the need to streamline processes and make it easier for citizens to avail government services.

Recently, we have added the E-Prison system to the stack. Besides India, other countries can also take the technology transfer from us to effectively manage their prisons and correction homes.

Such a technology stack also builds a healthy competitive environment inside. If we see, that these many projects have surfaced in the India Stack and have been successfully deployed, then the teams working on other projects push their boundaries to deliver better and turn those projects into effective products. Such a practice can help new upcoming projects to catch hold or even surpass the likes of the Aadhaar or UPI.

India Stack is a ‘win-win for all’ strategy. The government can keep on adding technology to the framework to enrich it and bolster the e-governance in the country while also opening up opportunities for other countries to adopt technologies from the stack.

NeGD has been a driver of e-governance in the country. What are your upcoming projects/ plans for the near future?

NeGD is working with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and building technology for connected roads. Likewise, the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) is another initiative that will benefit all the students largely.

A significant feat in the direction to democratise digitalisation across the country, NeGD launched MyScheme. The initiative aims to take e-services to the last-mile while making the citizens aware of the benefits and other services they are entitled to.

At present, there is a gap in awareness and adoption of e-services due to the lack of digital literacy among the people, especially in rural and remote areas. As of now, only the ones aware and digitally literate are able to avail of government benefits and schemes, however, with MyScheme we intend to open a window through which anyone and everyone can get information on their entitlements. The move will pose to be a benchmark in the direction of proactive governance.

If one may ask how people will get to know about MyScheme? The way they get to know about Paytm or PhonePe or let’s say Flipkart. Not emphasising that the government will advertise or market it, but there will be some awareness programs or sensitisation efforts that will be conducted around this. Also, no medium is better than the ‘word of mouth’ to propagate any effective solution among the people. Therefore, the focus of the Ministry is to deliver the best we can and if the people like it, the word will automatically go around and awareness will increase.

Besides, the Ministry’s existing initiatives like DigiLocker have played a crucial role in taking digital governance to the grassroots level. DigiLocker also added to the convenience of citizens as they can now carry all their government documents, id proofs, vehicle registration certificate, educational certificates, and more in their smartphones as authorised digital copies.

Further, necessary steps have been taken to strengthen the Digital India brand through AI-enabled public service delivery platforms. Robust awareness is being created by effectively communicating through electronic, print, and social media. Therefore, through such initiatives, we are making efforts that instead of people reaching out to the government, the government should go to the people and deliver their entitlements. Effectively deploying proactive governance!

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