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Raising the bar for e-governance

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Every year, different e-governance thought leaders from different states have set benchmarks by carving out a new path on the road to better governance using technology. At Express Computer, as an independent observer, we have seen the rise and impact of e-governance on the common man. This year too, amidst the pandemic, several thought leaders have used technology innovatively to help citizens have better access to services.

Recognizing the critical role of government thought leaders, Express Computer recently conducted a virtual thought leaders round table, ‘Raising the bar for e-governance’, in partnership with Oracle.
The virtual event was graced by keynote speaker, Pramod Chandra Mody, the Chairman of Central Board Taxes of India, and other thought leaders from different government segments. This included Rama Kamaraju, Senior Consultant, Niti Aayog; Sanjay Mathur, Joint Director, NCRB; Golok Kumar Simli, CTO, Passport Seva; Dr BK Murthy, Senior Director, MeitY and Lily Prasad, Vice President, GeM. Oracle was represented by Debapriya Nandan, Senior Director and Head, Public Sector, Business Development, Oracle India and Vamsicharan Mudiam, Director, Infrastructure Platform Cloud Business Development, Oracle India.

As the Chairman for the Central Board of Taxes in India, Pramod Chandra Mody, has led from the front to ensure that the maximum potential of technology is utilized for the benefit of the common man. As the Chairman, he has led a major transformation in ushering in ICT enabled innovations such as faceless assessment that has immensely benefited the common tax paying citizen of India. In his keynote address, the Chairman touched upon several points with respect to using the power of technology. “The Income Tax department has been in the forefront of embracing the latest technological developments. We are trying to ensure that the use of technology not only gives the ease of compliance to the taxpayers, but also helps the government in processing information faster. For example, we launched a facility for instant allotment of PAN on an almost near to real time basis. Any person who has a valid Aadhaar number and has a mobile number registered in Aadhaar, can apply for this through this facility, and he would get his PAN and e-PAN instantaneously. This facility was launched on 28th of May this year. And so far, it’s interesting to note that more than 30 lakh instant PANs have been allotted. We have also the system of e-filing, which gives you the ability to file your income tax returns and also respond to the notices issued by the department. It also allows the registration of grievances if any faced by the taxpayer and which is also attended to in an electronic mode only. So from allotment of PAN to the filing of various returns and submissions, we have taken a number of steps to help the common citizen.”

The Chairman also highlighted the facility of pre-filling of income tax returns, which can be utilized by the tax payer for filling up his tax returns quickly and accurately. This makes it possible to electronically verify the ITR filed by him or her. “We are also close to launching the Central Processing Center (CPC) version 2.0, which would enable processing of returns at a super fast speed. We anticipate that now, it would be possible to process the returns and issue the reference, maybe within a week of the filing, which would be a paradigm shift in the manner in which the department is trying to serve the taxpayers.”

The Chairman also spoke about faceless assessment, a game changer in the way the income tax assessment returns are traditionally assessed. Explaining the faceless assessment process, the Chairman said, “We have made a very big change in the assessment process by the launch of what we now call it as the faceless assessment scheme. Now, no longer there would be any sort of territorial jurisdiction. Today, it is a dynamic jurisdiction, which means that a particular taxpayer’s case from say, Delhi could get assessed by any assessing officer from anywhere in India. Sitting from the comfort of his home or office, he can file his return of income, and respond to those notices. And his assessment would be done in a faceless manner. It would also ensure objectivity in the assessment process and enable a fair and judicious assessment of his return. If for some reason there is a dispute between the department and the taxpayer, we have also rolled out another scheme whereby if the taxpayer wishes to appeal against an assessment order, he would be able to file an appeal electronically and his entire appellate process also would be faceless.” Debapriya Nandan, Senior Director and Head, Public Sector, Business Development, Oracle India, thanked the Chairman for his visionary steps, and spoke briefly about the deep relationship that Oracle and the Central Board of Direct Taxes had.

Another highlight of this event was a thought leaders roundtable which was represented by Rama Kamaraju, Senior Consultant, Niti Aayog; Sanjay Mathur, Joint Director, NCRB; Golok Kumar Simli, CTO, Passport Seva; Dr BK Murthy, Senior Director, MeitY and Lily Prasad, Vice President, GeM. Oracle was represented by Debapriya Nandan, Senior Director and Head, Public Sector, Business Development, Oracle India and Vamsicharan Mudiam, Director, Infrastructure Platform Cloud Business Development, Oracle India.

Dr BK Murthy, Senior Director, MeitY, spoke about how e-governance services are witnessing exponential growth. “E-governance has brought in a lot of online services on your fingertips. We are witnessing sharing of data using open APIs. For example, DigiLocker can be used for directly verifying some of the government related documents. We are now trying to raise the bar further by harnessing the power of digital technologies and fostering inverse innovation using emerging technologies like AI and IoT. The JAM trinity (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) has given huge impetus to the growth of digital payments. The Umang app itself gives access to more than 1200 services on a single platform. We are trying to use technology to create domain focused platforms such as agriculture and healthcare. This would mean that the stakeholders can consume all related services on a single platform.”

The aspirational districts programme driven by Niti Aayog, has been a landmark initiative, which uses the power of technology to improve the economic development of some of India’s most backward regions.

Rama Kamaraju, Senior Consultant, Niti Aayog, shared with us some of the key highlights of the programme, “We have created a unique platform where we have all the data that are required for performing the required analytics. We even have AI and ML tools embedded within the system. The district administration can look at some of the key socio economic indicators such as health and nutrition education, agriculture, water, financial inclusion, skill development and basic infrastructure. For any decision maker, all the data is available to take a decision or create a strategy for improving the socio economic indicators. Today, all district magistrates involved in this initiative have near real time data. They can create their own visualizations using this data using simple drag and drop tools, and make comparisons. Based on the analysis, they can improve the service delivery to citizens. They are all empowered, and have access to access the data on their mobile phones. This can be very useful when they are on a tour of a certain village, and can take proper decisions at that point of time. So this experience and this particular framework has definitely encouraged many states and today almost around 10 to 12 states apply this particular framework to all the remaining districts in the state. Today, there is a lot of sense of ownership and commitment and accountability in terms of data, data quality, and using real time data for effective planning and implementation.”

Debapriya Nandan, Senior Director & Head, Public Sector, Business Development, Oracle India Pvt Ltd

One of the key players in the e-governance space in India, Oracle has had a rich history of participating in some of the most landmark e-governance initiatives in the country. Explaining Oracle’s role in the e-governance space, Debapriya Nandan, Senior Director and Head, Public Sector, Business Development, Oracle India, said, “Data is now the important commodity in e-governance. We are closely associated with Niti Aayog in the aspirational districts programme, and we are working with many more state and central government departments. Today, every department relies on analytics, and data is the basic foundation for powering analytics. If you hear Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, MeitY, he always talks about creating national platforms for areas such as health, logistics, agriculture etc. In all these areas, Oracle has been at the forefront of offering the best secure database. Today, the main issue is ingesting data from the various sources which comes in at a very high speed, storing them, accessing them, and creating reports and trends. For a human being, it is difficult to identify trends and information out of that data in a much more systematic manner. How do you achieve that? How do you get in so much of data coming in at breakneck speed and ensure that it is stored without a single byte getting corrupted? How do you provide real time analytics? At Oracle, we are privileged to be a part in many of the landmark e-governance initiatives using the power of our technology.”

Golok Kumar Simli, CTO, Passport e-Seva, from the Ministry of external affairs, spoke about the importance of using technology in improving the speed of delivery of passports. “In the passport Seva program, we are moving from a system to an ecosystem. This means that I am not now restricted within my own ministry. This connected ecosystem includes police authorities or a department of post who will dispatch your passport. Thanks to technology, the entire ecosystem is available for everyone on a 24/7 basis. If a citizen tweets a complaint or logs a feedback, it is a responsive system. You can simply tweet and I respond back immediately. So today, the entire ecosystem is responsive. Aadhaar and Digilocker are stellar examples of how a connected ecosystem can be leveraged for uplifting the standards of e-governance in the country.”

Lily Prasad, Vice President at GeM, spoke about the huge transformation that has been brought about by GeM in the procurement of services and products by government departments. “While procurement in itself is a humongous task, which involves the creation of the RFP and a lot of manpower at various levels, maintaining the consistency of the document, proofreading selection of the criteria terms and conditions, has been something that has been smoothly handled by GeM. Today, we have a dynamic marketplace where buyer gets at one place the services or the products as in the form of catalog to choose from, and then they can go ahead and call creation of the bid for the product or services. I can very confidently and happily inform you that GeM is the only portal where you can go for procurement of services. Today, we have around 150 plus services available on the portal. All end to end transactions can be performed by the buyer and seller on the portal without manual intervention. And we have been looking forward to all the views which have been given to us in the form of query issues or suggestions to improvise on the features and functionality which have been available. We also have the dashboards available for the service providers, sellers and the buyers so that they can at any point of time have a look at their performance, how they have been going on as far as the selling business is concerned for the seller or the service provider or for the buyers, how payment has been another made.”

The progress on the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS), an important and landmark initiative for collecting crime related data was explained by Sanjay Mathur, Joint Director, NCRB, “The NCRB was entrusted with the responsibility of implementing CCTNS across the country. It was a very challenging assignment. As on today there are more than 16,000 police stations across the country. And I’m happy to inform that in almost 95% police stations, this project has been implemented. Officers are able to use the CCTNS for entering information in the system. The only limitation we have is that in some places, there is limited connectivity. We are trying to address this by connecting the remaining police stations to BharatNet, which aims to connect more than 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayat across the country. Using the same network, we are trying to connect the police stations where there is limited connectivity. Today, besides tracking crime, we are able to start a service of matching of missing persons with the recovered persons by police or and find dead bodies. There are many instances where the police have recovered children or people that they cannot identify. This could include children or mentally unstable people who are not able to tell their whereabouts. So using this database, we have we have started this service for citizens through the district police portal. We also have a service wherein if anyone wants to buy a secondhand vehicle, they can verify whether this car or vehicle is involved in crime or not using the CCTNS national database. The citizen can verify themselves through an online system that whether the vehicle which they intend to buy has been involved in any crime or it is a stolen vehicle. They can get a computer generated certificate immediately. We also have a database of proclaimed offenders across the country, and citizens can use this information to inform the concerned authorities immediately. The CCTNS also aims to help investigating officers in their investigation. We have started a service of automatic matching alerts. For example, if some vehicles are stolen from one place in a particular state and taken to another state for selling them, the system can notify them immediately. So it helps the investigating officer in recovering and disposing of cases of stolen vehicles. Because many times vehicles stolen from Delhi are taken from other states and it’s very difficult for police to contact police officers from other states unless he has got information from other channels. But nowadays automatic through nation level database of CCTVs alerts are generated and sent to police stations on a daily basis. This is done also for missing persons or unidentified dead bodies. Here also, automatic matching alerts are sent to both the police station from where the missing person is reported. This service has proved to be very useful for the states. We are getting good feedback from states that on that basis of alerts, they’re able to trace so many stolen vehicles and match missing persons and unite them with their families.”

In almost all initiatives, there is a need for a centralized platform, as there are huge number of sources of data. Vamsicharan Mudiam, Director, Infrastructure Platform Cloud Business Development, Oracle India, said, “The cloud is automatically a natural choice for e-governance initiatives, because you’re able to scale up and scale down, and you are able to do a lot of activities on the fly. There is also a need for security, which a cloud-enabled platform can ensure. At Oracle, we have shown how the customer access, and the cloud provider access is separated in the physical form, so that you don’t have access to the data from a customer or government in this case, and the government doesn’t have access to the control of how we are managing the cloud so that there is a zero trust, security philosophy. We are also started this concept of dedicated data centers, so which is basically have the best of the public cloud, but dedicated for a ministry, or a particular department in the ministry. So that if, for example, if you are from Defence and you want an air gapped data center, you don’t even want the cloud data center to be talking to another Internet. So we have what is called as a national security reason for which dedicated data center data centers can be built and customized. A ministry like Defence does not have to worry about that infrastructure, at any point of time being shared by any other private entity. We have also been in association with government organizations such as NIC and MeitY launched hackathons. One prize winning option was on how we can use blockchain to actually do seed certification. As a as a farmer, as a consumer, how can I certify the seed, which I’m taking right from where it was produced all the way through the chain of distribution? And how do I use blockchain? Another interesting hackathon project, was on how do you use AI or ML to help farmers to choose what is the best crop based on various factors. These could be geographical factors, forecast factors, financial factors or where the market is moving. For example, in this pandemic, is it possible to do a remote vehicle fitness test instead of taking it to a particular location. How do you use a mobile to take pictures of your vehicle, so that majority of the vehicle test fitness test criteria can be cleared remotely, rather than, you know, spending hours waiting for your vehicle to be inspected? The cloud today can enable many such possibilities.”

In India, as the panelists shared, huge progress has already been made. But almost all the government departments are not resting on the laurels that they have already got, but they are constantly pushing and raising the bar for e-governance to new levels!

The entire event can be viewed at this link:
https://www.expresscomputer.in/videos/webinars/raising-the-bar-for-e-governance-2/69768/

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