Friday, October 14, 2011

Delivering services the Kalyan-Dombivli way – Isher Judge Ahluwalia

Below is an article published by Mrs. Isher Judge Ahluwalia on the e-Governance Project in the Kalyan  Dombivali Municipal Corporation.  Some of the factors which impressed her were
a)  Aesthetically designed Citizen Facilitation Centres
b) Ease of service delivery / reduction in time in delivery of services like issue of Birth Certificate, Payment of property taxes, reduction in time for property assesment
c) Integration of different service delivery modules / back end integration
d) Strong bureaucratic leadership
e) Financial sustainability of the Project
Delivering services the Kalyan-Dombivli way – Isher Judge Ahluwalia
For over a decade now, we have taken pride in the great performance of India’s IT sector in the global market for software development and also in the Indian corporate space. But the benefit IT can bring in delivering a variety of public services, what is often called e-governance, has been less in focus in India. The potential from this activity is enormous and it is only just beginning to be realised.
An outstanding example of what IT can do to deliver public services in Indian cities is provided by the e-governance project of the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) in Thane district in Maharashtra. The project was conceived in 1999, started implementation in 2002, and is now being replicated across the 231 urban local bodies of Maharashtra. Its lessons are also being incorporated in the mission mode projects of the National e-Governance Action Plan which was launched in 2003.

KDMC covers an area of 67 square kilometres in the twin cities of Kalyan and Dombivli, about 54 km outside Mumbai. Like most municipalities, it provides services such as issuing birth and death certificates, granting permissions for building, licences for trading, water connections, and collecting payments for property tax and water. There are actually over 100 such services!  Citizens interact with the municipal authorities through enquiries, registration, submitting forms, paying bills, and placing complaints. Prior to 2002, the state of service delivery at Kalyan and Dombivli was no different from any other city in India. Sometimes the residents did not know whether to go to the municipal office at Kalyan or at Dombivli to get a specific job done.

Today, the services offered by KDMC are listed in a citizen charter. Six citizen facilitation centres (CFCs) have been set up by the corporation to offer services over the counter, and they are connected online with a central server. Simplified, standardised and user-friendly forms are available at the CFCs and can also be downloaded from the web. A nominal fee is charged for some of the services.
My visits to two CFCs at Kalyan were a very pleasant experience. The centres are aesthetically designed, very efficiently served by the employees of the corporation (specially trained for the job), and bustling with activity. The use of computers with twin terminals, one facing the customer and the other facing the service provider, and both showing the result of entries on the keyboard, carries transparency a step forward. 
I spoke to a happy father (with an authentic document from the hospital in hand) who was collecting the birth certificate of his daughter born two days ago. It took him 10 minutes to get the birth certificate and since he was registering within 21 days, there was no fee! There was also a very contented man in his early 30s paying property tax, a wad of notes in hand, smiling as he put in his registration number in the computer and seeing the correct tax demand emerge on the terminal. The fee for transfer of property is related to the ratable value of the property. Property tax and water bills can be paid online through an arrangement with some established commercial banks. These are revenue-generating propositions for KDMC.
All departmental software modules are integrated with each other and with accounts. The back-end integration of all the departments of KDMC ensures that an enquiry, submission, and/or complaint are delivered immediately at the concerned officer’s desk. Once a date is committed to the citizen, each application is watched at all levels and a colour code is used to signal “approaching time out.” The users can monitor the progress of their service application at every stage by going online by putting in their registration number.
The time taken for property assessment has come down from an average of 110 days before computerisation to 21 days, and for getting new water connections from over two months to 15 days. This is pretty much the story across the board as the complaint and redressal management system makes daily reports available online for all to see. E-tendering has been another major gain of the new system.
In looking for a private partner, pre-feasibility reports were invited by KDMC from four IT companies from among those empanelled by the government of Maharashtra, and ABM Knowledgeware was selected as the total solution provider for design, development and implementation of the project for the first five years, renewable at the end of the term. The solution involved revisiting and IT-enabling every facet of the corporation’s working.
An expert committee with persons drawn from institutions such as IIT and TIFR was set up at the outset for guidance during the life cycle of the project. The implementation was overseen by a steering committee of heads of department under the chairmanship of the municipal commissioner. Ramnath Sonawane, head of e-governance for three years from the inception of the project to its commissioning in 2002, is now back as municipal commissioner at KDMC. As he put it, “The biggest challenge in implementation was to change the mindset of the officers. Shree Kant Singh, then municipal commissioner played a crucial leadership role in bringing this about.” Sonawane further observed that “every project has to undergo three stages — ridicule, criticism and acceptance — and the trick is to persevere.”
The e-governance project at KDMC worked methodically to understand the then prevailing manual business processes of the old system, and reengineered over 400 such processes with a view to aligning the same with the broader process of administrative reform. This reengineering was crucial. Employees had to learn to do things differently because IT enabled them to improve efficiency. Training helped them to make the transition from working in a backroom paper-based corporation to a proactive electronic corporation.
Financial sustainability of the e-governance project is now established. The corporation made an initial total expenditure (investment included) of Rs 5.48 crore. The annual recurring cost, on average, has been Rs 40 lakh only. These costs have been fully recovered through increases in property tax collections and increased revenues from user-charge collections at CFCs. KDMC has also received Rs 2 crore from the state government for its intellectual property.
Among the many accolades, two awards won by KDMC deserve special mention: the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) Award in 2004 and the National Award for e-governance from the Government of India in 2007.
The government of Maharashtra has decided to roll out the e-Municipality solution across the 231 ULBs in the state. Manu Srivastava, the principal secretary for urban development, has played a significant role in demanding and ensuring that the roll-out be done in its true spirit. KDMC has been appointed the project management consultant and ABM Knowledgeware has been assigned the task of modifying/adapting the software package to make it work for the state-wide roll-out. If the cities of Maharashtra can do this, why not others?
The writer is chairperson of ICRIER and also of the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure services, which submitted its report in March 2011

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