We live in a region of the world where resources and infrastructure are in short supply. Yet, what drives us is the innovative use of these scarce resources. We have experienced this with the governance and processes of the Manthan Award itself, and also with several examples of e-governance projects that came in as nominations. This year the jurors had to choose eight awardees for the e-governance category from 85 valid nominations. Many of them were quite inspirational.
Meet Barun Mitra, of Empoweringindia.org, who has aggregated relevant information on each parliamentary and assembly constituency in the country, including the profile of electoral candidates, into an extensive online database. In fact, in the recently held parliamentary election, Google sourced data from Empowering India for election websites. Through Manthan Award, we would like this idea to become multilingual, widespread and implemented down to the panchayat level. (Manthan has already been working with panchayats on digital initiatives. If you want to know which 100 panchayats now have their own websites, come to the Manthan Award events on December 18-19.)
Let’s talk about Bihar, which has come a long way. Of the many Bihar-based e-governance projects submitted as nominees this year, the Manthan jury picked Jaankari. In this project the Bihar government provides a dedicated phone number for any information a Bihari would like to seek under Right to Information (RTI) Act. Basically, a simple service via telephone for public good. Jaankari works wonders for all without any literacy or technology barriers. It assists citizens in getting their RTI requests recorded and typed out by a Jaankari centre assistant and an email is sent to them and the officer concerned for record and action. Queries are responded to within 35 days.
Madhya Pradesh has been exemplary this year, and its forest department is a case worthy of note for the esteemed delegates in Copenhagen. Anil Oberoi and his team at Madhya Pradesh forest department (MPFD) has moved on from “e” to “m”(obile) and have stitched together several technologies vis-à-vis space, global information systems, mobile, satellite-based education and training and the Web. What do you get as a result? A fully digitized location-based monitoring system for 95,000 sq. km of the state’s forest area! MPFD is emphatic in a statement behind the motivation to launch this mammoth project: “The largest state of the country, about a hundred thousand square kilometres of forests, more than twenty five thousand personnel, more than twenty percent of the planet’s wild tigers and the weight of the country’s largest forest-fringe human population—the task is cut out and straight—balance conflicting objectives and expectations! Do it! Do it fast! Do it right! Do it with aplomb! And at the same time make it inexpensive enough to pinch no one and be transparent enough for all to see!”
These are the kind of initiatives that has made the Manthan Awards relevant to contemporary tech-enabled development. And has made the department of information technology work on a digital knowledge centre (DKC) where selected Manthan innovations could be showcased through Web 2.0 interfaces.
This is so that no government body works in silos, and replication of good ideas can take place across states. Digital Empowerment Foundation has been asked “in principle” to develop this DKC and make it public within the next year. No doubt, this will be the first step towards a South Asia knowledge repository of ICT innovations. Perhaps, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation can come forward to adopt and replicate this initiative.
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of the Manthan Award. He is also a member of the task force formed by the ministry of communication and information technology to give recommendations to boost the IT & ICT manufacturing industry. Mint is a partner of the Manthan Award 2009.
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