Passport Seva Project offers true example of integrated governance in India
Over the years, passport delivery services have improved, so does the people perception about passport division. In an interview with EC’s Mohd Ujaley, Golok Kumar Simli, Chief of Technology, Passport Seva Project, says, “The most important learning from Passport Seva Project (PSP) is that it teaches about integrated and collaborative governance. All the key elements of the project such as business model, sustainability, infrastructure, revenue, skill enhancement and service quality are synced together. They are in auto-pliot mode and I personally, feel that this should be the standard of all the e-governance projects in the country.”
What is the learning from Passport Seva Project?
The most important learning from Passport Seva Project (PSP) is that it teaches about integrated and collaborative governance. All the key elements of the project such as business model, sustainability, infrastructure, revenue, skill enhancement and service quality have been taken care and synced together. They are in auto-pliot mode. That is why, over the last five years there has been differentiating change and continuous improvement is visible in the passport service delivery system and people are happy about it. I personally feel that this should be the standard of all the e-governance projects in the country.
Passport Seva Project has been taken as a mission mode project (MMP). Was there any special reason for that?
It was not about any special reason as such but the decision was based on learning from previous experiences. Projects have been happening in traditional way before too. In fact, the Government had invested huge money in many projects but it was observed that after initial buzz, project used to go down itself and they were not successful in long run in terms of service quality and service assurance. People engagement and inclusiveness was missing.
In 2006-07, when government decided to set-up core IT infrastructure and run services in a (Mission Mode Approach) on top of it under National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), it was decided that Passport Seva Project would be taken as a mission mode project (MMP) with the clear objectives and goals. And, over the years, we have ensured sustainability, accountability, transparency, and have worked on process re-engineering and capacity building resulting into service delivery excellence. Citizens now feel connected and empowered as part of passport delivery system. So to say, we have tried to create a digital eco-system under Passport Seva Program.
In fact, to make this project sustainable, a private (PPP) partner through competitive bidding process was roped in to invest in this project with bare minimum investment from government for creation of required facilities, amenities, IT infrastructure and requisite manpower to perform the task of non-sovereign functions. This not only ensures long term sustainability but also helped to create the requisite infrastructure and system including manpower in record time. It also helped to create an accountable and transparent service delivery system by leveraging the information and communication technology at its maximum. To add, as the PPP partner only gets the money in the form of service delivery charge per passport only if he delivers the services as per the desired service levels.
These critical aspects were missing in the e-government projects earlier but under MMP, they were not repeated and that is why PSP is a huge success today.
Baring few MMPs like PSP, UID, I-T, we don’t see huge success. What is the cause of this disparity in the outcomes?
There is disparity in the performance or outcome because of two-three reasons. First, department feels that by outsourcing the project to a service provider will ensure everything in terms of service delivery but in reality it’s completely different. In fact, the service provider is the support system and department must play the lead role right from its planning and conceptualisation stage to its implementation and operational phase. This should not have happened but unfortunately this is the reality with many departments. For example, there is rules, acts, regulations, guidelines for issuing the passport. Do you really feel that this knowledge will be coming from the private partner? Absolutely not, these are the responsibility of the department and the process is a continues transformation process. The kind of leadership and guidance the Ministry has given in Passport Seva Program while engaging the PPP partner, I wish this could be replicated in other projects too.
Second, when it comes to the ICT enablement, it is not only about informing about rules and regulations to the service partner, the departments should get involved with the project right from conceptualisation stage to freezing of business requirements and defining the eco-system as a whole. For example, service partners create the IT infrastructure and write the code, but the basic work-flow and business requirements must come from the department. Also, the application so written should be vetted, tested through a third party certifying agency including the production test by the department users for its business functionality and usability. This can be achieved provided department has domain experts who understand both (technical and functional) and be able to match the business process with ICT system. Today, ICT is not mere a support system but it is sitting in the core of the business and we must ensure that every bit of investment we do in procurement of hardware/software do have a business value and RoI (return on investment).
Presently, the technology experts are seriously lacking in the departments. You go to the line ministry or state government, you will not find an IT cadre. Even for writing request for proposal (RFP) and freezing techno-functional requirements, they rely on private consulting agency. Of late you can’t blame the private partner. Whatever, you asked them, they will do. Its upto the department how focused you are when conceptualising and writing the detailed project report from AS-IS to TO-BE. I personally believe if an expertise is needed for a job in a continuous manner , it is always better to hire someone or engage him in a long-term period, because the person who works directly under you and the consultant who provides consultancy are two different things. There may be a huge difference between improving your own house or improving a rented house.
That is why under NeGP, it was envisaged to bring experts to handle project management unit (PMU) in a long term assignments.
But PMU has its own sets of challenges. What is your view on this?
The major problem with this type of set-up is related to job security and lack of appraisal. Lot of young people join the project on contract, but there is no guarantee that they will get extension once their contract gets over which is mostly for 1-2 years. A experience person will be able to handle it but what about somebody who only have 3-5 years experience. What will he do? He will be jobless once the contract is over. That is why, it is very tough to find quality young talent in this set-up. Even if you get the one, he comes, he learns and he is always looking for a permanent or long-term career prospects. The danger here is that we don’t have a good institutional mechanism which ensure the welfare of the staff of PMU set-up. Specially, people who are young and aspiring, they always look for their promotion, increment etc. That is why things are not shaping and taking up. In ICT enablement, it feels easy, it looks easy, but if you are not rightly taking it you may be completely going wrong.
Tell us what have you done to bring in Digital over-reach to the masses as a whole?
I am true to say that Passport Seva starts with Digital. Citizens first touch-point is digital, when they apply for Passport related services through our portal www.passportindia.gov.in . From thereon, we move digitally i.e. right from application submission online to cashless payment to appointment scheduling. The next step is in-person visit to Passport Seva Kendra, the facilitation center created for citizen’s convenience for processing and in-person granting of Passport application in secured and transparent manner. Further, creation of digital file for the citizens to end-to-end service delivery making stakeholders accountable as part of digital connect, the Passport Seva also ensures a paperless flow of citizens grievance and feedback mechanism system and providing a wow factor to Generation-Y by way of empowering them through social media platform like Twitter and Facebook. Mobility and Cloud-way would be our next target.
We can very well say that we have marched ahead from silos-to-integrated-to-collaborative way, governance-to-egovernance-to-mgovernance, digitisation-to-over the net-to-digital connect, technology procurement-to-automation-to- technology explosion, MIS-to-analytics-to-BigData and finally improvements-to-inclusiveness-to-empowerment.