July 9, 2008 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
When we think of project that might qualify as an award-wining IT-enabled public delivery system in India, there are a number that could easily come to mind -- perhaps one from IT-savvy states like Karnataka, the Indian state that's home to the global IT hub in Bangalore. Or perhaps Andhra Pradesh which has Hyderabad -- home to most global IT companies -- as its state capital. For that matter, even Delhi (the capital city) or some development from states, like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, where the state governments have pursued e-Governance actively for years. All these could be states capable of siring award-wining projects.
But who would ever think that Gandhinagar might gain international award-winning distinction? Yet that's what has happened in this sleepy, sparsely-populated district (by Indian standards) in the Indian state of Gujarat.
Gandhinagar, which is yet to experience much of the modernization and globalization sweeping many other parts of India, has just grabbed a place in the digital communities world by wining this year's Stockholm Challenge Award in the public administration category.
This honor is awarded to Gandhinargr's Jan Seva Kendra (or JSK-- literally Center for Public Service), which is described as an initiative offerring "a citizen-friendly single window for providing a plethora of government-to-citizen (G2C) services to the citizens of Gandhinagar, transparently and efficiently."
What's particularly notable about JSK is that the project, according to its founders, was initiated not as something that "had to be done." Rather, its primary purpose was to provide positive governance, and the ICT components follow afterward as an enabler of efficiency and transparency.
"The significant difference between this and other similar projects is its basic driving force," says Sanjeev Kumar, the current District Collector of Gandhinagar. "While other projects are more reactive, JSK is an outcome of a proactive effort."
The aim, according to Kumar, was to replace the traditional governance with paperless and location-independent governance, and reaching effective e-Governance right down to the district level.
Conceived primarily by the earlier District Collector Sonal Mishra (who has now moved on to become Director of Municipalities for the state of Gujarat), JSK was launched in January 2006 with the motto of "Sarvajanah Sevabhilashi", which means the "desire to facilitate service to everybody."
"The objective was not only to offer government-to-citizen (G2C) services covered under the Citizens' Charter (of the Gujarat State Administration), but also to bring governance to the door-steps of people in remote places, online offered through distributed service outlets," says Mishra.
The other important objective was to ensure that the whole process of delivering services was transparent and corruption-free. "We wanted to ensure that red tape gets removed completely," says Kumar.
Concept to Reality
According to its founders, JSK is perhaps the only example of a successful public-private-partnership (PPP) e-Governance project in the Indian system. "And this concept was instilled right from its inception," says Haren Shah, chief executive officer of Gandhinagar -based Peach Computers, a software firm that runs the operations of JSK on "Build-Operate-Transfer" basis.
A good example of how the PPP model helped in successful deployment of JSK is the fact that although much of the funding was contributed by private entities, it still remains largely a government-controlled system.
"JSK required an estimated investment of $900,000, which far exceeded the state government grant of $11000," says Shah. "But thanks to the contributions of the local industries, organizations, NGOs, as well as the General Administration Department of the state government, mobilizing the rest of the money did not pose to be a problem at all. I would say that this project was an actual outcome of public-private partnership, rather than a total government-driven effort."
This is another reason why JSK was implemented in record time. It emerged from