Govt’s ambitious e-governance projects fall behind schedule

Govt’s ambitious e-governance projects fall behind schedule

New Delhi: Common service centres (CSC), state-wide area networks and state data centres’ e-governance projects, part of the National e-Governance Plan, or NeGP, approved by the Union government in May 2006 are already running six to nine months late and unlikely to meet their March deadline.

“By and large, these projects are on track but are slower than expected because of last minute issues and the complexity of penetration and structure involved, particularly in the CSCs. However, by the second half of 2008, we expect to have all these three projects in place," said R. Chandrashekhar, additional secretary and head of the e-governance division at the ministry of information technology.

The service centres, which are designed as computer kiosks, form the front end for the delivery of government, private and social sector services including telemedicine, education and entertainment facilities to rural citizens.

SWAN, or state-wide area network, is largely a government-to-government initiative providing connectivity and Intranet between government offices and ministries.

The three projects or pillars, as they are called, form the core and support infrastructure of the NeGP plan for enabling anytime, anywhere delivery of government services to the common man.

The projects work on the public-private partnership model, and are backed by leading private firms such as Bharti Airtel Ltd, Wipro Ltd, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Infosys Ltd. 

Around 100,000 CSCs to reach across 600,000 villages were approved at a cost of Rs5,742 crore over four years, of which the Union government is estimated to contribute Rs856 crore, the state governments Rs793 crore and the balance to be pooled in by the private sector. The cost of implementing the SWAN project, is Rs3,334 crore and the state data centres entail a total cost of Rs1,600 crore.

“While the government is optimistic in their planning, the current federal structure, the decision-making priorities of the state-holders and the current infrastructure available in rural India such as tehsils and districts may lead to further delays than what is currently being estimated," said Sivarama Krishnan, executive director at research and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which advises the government on e-governance projects.

In states such as Haryana, Karnataka, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh, court cases filed by private bidders who have lost bids, have been major cause of delays. The bid process takes about nine months.

The minimum bandwidth provided under the SWAN scheme is around two 2mbps (millions of bits per second) between districts and up to 8mbps between states. SWANs will be spread out across 6,000 locations in India. The state data centres project, which entails having one data centre in each state to securely host government as well as private data and applications, is still awaiting the Union cabinet nod likely to come within the next two months. Once the approval comes through, implementation will take over a year.

“By the middle of next year, we will have 80,000 CSCs on the ground and SWANs will be operational in 20 states. Currently around 60,000 centres are in various stages of implementation. In the states of Haryana, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu, the SWANs will be ready within two months," Chandrashekhar said. Currently, 14 states have got the approval to set up SWANs and are at different levels of implementation. Experts say that substantial completion of 10 out of these 14 states is a possible target.

Jharkhand, West Bengal and Haryana have initiated implementation of more than 12,000 centres, which are scheduled to roll out by April. In Jharkhand, out of a total 5,000 kiosks, around 1,000 are already functional. In Bihar, the master service agreement has been signed with the state and over 8,000 kiosks are in the process of being set up. They are scheduled for completion by October. CSCs and SWANs usually take around nine months for implementation. But the shortest time frame for implementation has been 12 months, in the state of Jharkhand.