T.S. Sudhir, Hyderabad
When US President Bill Clinton visited Hyderabad in March 2000, what bowled him over was how he got a driving licence in 15 minutes. The then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, used the tech-gesture to emphasise that Hyderabad, and not Bangalore, was India’s IT capital.
Twelve years later, Hyderabad is once again making efforts to seize the crown of e-governance from Bangalore. Its ‘Mee Seva’ initiative, which is an upgraded version of the e-Seva platform that Naidu had rolled out amidst much fanfare, is now being feted as the model that India should follow. The e-district project of the Government of India (GoI) has in fact incorporated all the features of the Mee Seva initiative. If e-Seva was the iPhone, Mee Seva is iPhone 5, is how a bureaucrat in the IT department colourfully described it.
For people in Andhra Pradesh, used to visiting e-Seva centres to pay their utility bills for electricity and water and municipal taxes, Mee Seva may appear to be just Congress packaging for a Telugu Desam initiative. But probe deeper and you will find that while e-Seva just scratched the surface of e-governance, Mee Seva, is easier and faster.
“Mee Seva offers complete seamless integration end to end,” says Sanjay Jaju, IT secretary in the Andhra Pradesh government. “The idea is to cover the entire gamut of G2C – the government to citizen spectrum – using web-based architecture and linking it to databases acrossall departments.”
Jaju explained that earlier citizens had to run to the same office several times to get different types of documents they needed. They would fall prey to touts. There was no stipulated time-frame of delivery nor any system of monitoring their requests. Likewise, during the admission season, there would be queues of students asking for income, residence and caste certificates. “Due to heavy demand and short time, all these officers had to work overtime. This overload of work combined with lack of transparency and monitoring in the processing of requests, began to breed corruption. It was presenting the government in a bad light. Mee Seva has changed all that,” says Jaju.
The proof that Mee Seva has clicked with the people of Andhra Pradesh is in its outcome, namely the number of transactions. Inaugurated in November last year, 5.7 million transactions have been recorded till October this year. There are over 5,000 Mee Seva centres including e-Seva centres in urban areas and kiosks in rural areas, in a 20:80 ratio. Together, they record 60,000 transactions every day and provide over 40 services, ranging from payment of utility bills to land records to encumbrance and caste certificates. By the end of the year, the plan is to bring 100 services under the Mee Seva umbrella, with 100,000 transactions daily.
Ashok Selvan is one such user. He pays all his utility bills at the nearest e-Seva centre in Hyderabad but he would prefer to do it from his laptop or even better, his mobile phone. “E-Seva if you notice has a paper environment because the centre still accepts paper applications,” he says. For people like Selvan, who would prefer a paperless way of life, Mee Seva is the answer as the new services under it are completely in electronic form.
Since land records form a bulk of the transactions, the IT department along with the Revenue Department has digitised 40 million land records in the state. Officials say most records were in bad shape with many of them in contentious and impure form. This meant they had to be validated on the ground with elaborate fieldwork. Once that was done, all land records were signed digitally by the tehsildars concerned. Officials say Andhra Pradesh, therefore, is the only state in the country where all land records are digitally stored and have been signed digitally.
The challenges have been many. Although tehsildars were happy that their work was getting easier and there were no longer queues of people waiting to get their paper certificates, it took some convincing to get the departmental heads to come on board. But now that has been done, Andhra Pradesh is home to a virtual room of records concerning citizens, and what’s best, completely tamper-proof.
The effort was worth it. Thirty-three per cent of all transactions daily pertain to land records, with income and caste certificates coming a close second. Citizens pay user charges of Rs 25 to Rs 35 to get certificates of various kinds from different government departments.
The next step is to make citizens like Selvan feel at home while paying bills. The first step in that direction has been taken with a tie-up between Mee Seva and Airtel, which has a 40 per cent market share of the telecom market in Andhra Pradesh. “This is the right time to join with e-Seva to make it Mee Seva. Now it will truly become mobile-enabled,” says Sharlin Thayil, CEO of Bharti Airtel in Andhra Pradesh. This would mean Airtel customers in Hyderabad will be able to pay 12 different utility bills through Airtel Money, initially.
“We want to eventually usher in a cashless revolution in rural areas, where even without banks or ATMs, transactions are possible. We think many more telecom service providers too want to join and help the government deliver cash through a cashless system,” says Jaju.
The cost incurred on going digital has been minimal as Mee Seva has made good use of the existing Andhra Pradesh state data centre and its statewide area network. The kiosks were built on a public-private partnership model. The only expenditure was on capacity building which cost around Rs 10 crores.
The effort has paid off with Mee Seva winning two national awards in September – the Skoch award instituted by the Skoch Development Foundation for its contribution as a programme of national significance and the India-Tech Foundation’s excellence award.