Bangalore based eGovernments Foundation was started in February this year by Nandan Nilekani (CEO, Infosys Technologies Ltd) & Srikanth Nadhamuni with a goal of creating an eGovernance system that would enable ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) to better their delivery of services to their citizens. The technology non-profit describes itself on its website as "a social startup with IT professionals and 'investors' who are looking for a huge return on investment not in terms of money but in terms of the positive change towards better governance in India."
This month, less than a year later, the Chief Minister of Karnataka is launching new systems for Bangalore's muncipal government as well as the local govt. of Byatrayanapura, a township north of Bangalore. Amongst the enhancements completed by the eGovernments Foundation for this launch are electronic property tax payments and birth and death certificate processing. These systems are being offering free of cost to Karnataka's local governments.
Nandan Nilekani has personally funded much of the development work and infrastructure of the eGovernments Foundation. Srikanth Nadhamuni is the Managing Trustee and has a track record spanning 14 years in Silicon valley, California. He has built technology solutions at companies such as Sun Microsystems, Intel, Silicon Graphics, WebMD and his own startup GlobeTrades. Based at Bangalore, Nadhamuni has also worked with NGOs in India extensively over this period. The non-profit works with a full time staff of engineers and has several volunteer projects open as well.
India Together caught up with Srikanth Nadhamuni briefly on the organization's plans and directions.
What are the gains that Karnataka's citizens are going to see that they otherwise might not?
Karnatakas cities and towns will see better governance from their urban local bodies such as municipal corporations. This directly translates to smoother delivery of services to the citizens with lesser hassles in these cities. In specific they will see:
a) Simpler Property Tax payment with no harassment and improved revenue collection towards better city infrastructure.
b) Better accountability of the money coming in and leaving the city corporation or municipalities.
c) Ability to register complaints online or offline and track the complaint until it is resolved.
d) Ability to get a Birth/Death certificate in a matter of minutes from the city or over post.
e) 18 of the 42 cities will also have a GIS(Geographic Information System) with accurate maps of the City, that will be the basis of better city planning and governance.
Tell us a little bit about the areas your group has covered since you commenced work in February this year. You have scaled the operation state-wide.
We started with the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (Bangalore City Corporation) and developed a Property Tax system for its revenue department. In the process we computerized the 5.24 lakh properties in the assessment books and about 12 lakhs payment records. We also built a Public Grievance and Redressal system and a Birth/Death registration and certification module.
We are also working on standardization of the various modules. This is a key issue for us. For instance we have co-authored a GeoDatabase model for Urban GIS with the Survey of India (a 200 year old premier organization dedicated to surveying). We are also working with the office of the Registrar General of India to come up with standards for Birth & Death registration and Certification. These standards will be published for all to use and benefit.
Why are you keeping the software free of cost to governments? What are the governments' plan for hardware infrastructure and upgrades as the scale-up happens?
We believe that these eGovernance systems should be available to each and every ULB (Urban Local Body) big or small across the country. We also think that this system can be standardized and packaged to work out-of-the-box to a large extent. Since Information Technology is not a core competency of our local governments, there have been many false starts in the past and large amounts of money has been spent that have come to naught. So we would like to garner the IT strengths of our country and people and provide an entire eGovernance package with detailed processes and documentation included, free of cost to all cities throughout India. We do require the cities to sign an MoU with the eGovernments Foundation.
If there is a commissioner of a local body with the interest to improve service delivery and planning at his/her local body, but the city has little or no resources to implement the systems, we would still like to provide a solution.
Tell us briefly about the technology direction your non-profit has taken and how is this different/better from those offered by private sector players?
We are using OpenSource technologies whereever prudent and possible. This keeps the cost of software down. We also use a 3-tier architecture (called Webnative) so that our applications can work in a variety of different environments.
A LAN (local are network) environment within a Municipal corporations head office
A WAN (wide area network) environment connecting other department offices
An internet environment available at homes and cyber cafes for citizens.
We have developed a layer of software that has abstracted away a lot of the complexities of a sophisticated eGovernance system such as Security/Authentication/Access-Control, Workflow processing, Payment Interface and so forth. We have not seen any system in this space, from the private-sector or otherwise that addresses the specific needs of Indian cities.
What is your perception and attitude to the idea of government and the people you have interacted within government?
We have found working with the Govt. at the local city level and at the State levels quite productive and enjoyable. We have found many good Govt. officials coming from various quarters that are rallying around our idea of a low-cost and technology-enabled eGovernance solution and working with us towards cleaner and smoother governance.
Yes there have been challenges, especially with respect to the skill sets and work cultures available within government; but these are the challenges that need to be faced head on to actually address the problems nagging our cities and governance in general.
Your organizations website says you are looking for volunteer software developers and project leaders. Among the people reading this interview are software engineers and managers in Silicon Valley/USA as well as India.