The third and final day of the 16th edition of Express Technology Sabha, India’s leading new age forum to exchange pioneering ideas on e-governance, came to a scintillating end on June 14 in Goa.
Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director & Head – New Media, The Indian Express Ltd, felicitated three luminaries from the world of ICT and e-governance, who all graced the occasion in a rare such gathering.
It is seldom that one sees such pioneers of e-governance share centrestage at the same time: R Chandrashekhar, President of Nasscom, J Satyanarayana, former Secretary of the Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY), and RS Sharma, the current DeitY Secretary were honoured with the Editor’s Award for Excellence in e-Governance.
The three awardees are credited with some of the most ground-breaking work in the fields of information and communication technology, and e-governance—and all of them are widely acknowledged as leaders with their own respective strengths and contributions.
While Chandrashekhar is best known for strengthening the bonds between government and industry, particularly in putting Hyderabad on the IT map of not only the country but the world, Satyanarayana has helped found the National Institute for Smart Government (NISG) as a leading institute for training and capacity building for key e-governance projects. RS Sharma, a hands-on man with his legendary tenacity, was the prime mover (in addition to Nandan Nilekani of Infosys as the driver) behind the Aadhaar unique ID project (it delivered over 600 million IDs nine months ahead of schedule).
But it would not be fully possible—or even appropriate—to separate and list all their achievements. Because, together these three gentlemen, in various stints and roles in government, have helped devise the policies, programmes and frameworks over decades of work to bring the e-governance movement (including the NeGP or National e-Governance Plan) to what many say is now the inflection point.
After the awards ceremony, Goenka sat down with the three personalities for an engaging chat on the challenges and possibilities in e-governance. Below are some edited excerpts:
Goenka: One theme that keeps on coming is that the government is operating in silos. Will it change?
Satyanarayana: For any large organisation there will have to be some structure. The larger the organisation, the more siloed it is. These silos make monitoring the performance of work done more complicated…that is where standardisation makes a huge difference.
Sharma: Standards had to be set for the UID project. Sometimes, you see, the IT silos are worse than the non-IT ones. The team was taking time in making the interface through which citizens could feed in data. On a couple of weekends I wrote the software, so people could go out on the field and start enrolments…sometimes, things related to IT are simple, but the consultants make it complex! They must be told to keep IT simple and not make things unnecessarily complex.
Goenka: Is it getting difficult to hire technology talent for government?
Chandrashekhar: Well, the answer is both yes and no. we have some of the very talented people in NIC, but it needs to be re-invented. Fortunately, things have changed.
It was pretty difficult to hire because govt. cannot pay much and there were rules that were coming in the way of hiring. But when NISG came onto the scene, we created an environment where people could be hired at near-market salaries. A new HR policy was created for e-governance and a two-way channel was created for the industry to work on for a couple for years.
Goenka: There is speculation about the new government keeping a distance from UID. What do you think will be the future of Aadhaar?
Sharma: It is for the government to decide what to do on UID. From the standpoint of policy it is one of the best things done in the country. A large no. of [UID-related] programmes is aimed at the citizens. The entire cost of Aadhaar is around Rs80,000 crore in one year…now is the time to leverage it.
Chandrashekhar: The emphasis now has to shift to actual application. Getting the project started at citizen interface is very important to stabilise it. Getting the ecosystem in place, as we see more and more applications like banking, telecom, etc… when these large apps start using Aadhaar, it will stabilise and, given the sheer convenience it brings, will spread like wildfire.