Rajesh Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Financial Services, Government of India, shares his experiences of working in Maharashtra as the State’s Principal Secretary-IT in an interview with Kartik Sharma of Elets News Network (ENN).
In your previous capacity as Principal Secretary of Departmentn of IT in Maharashtra, what have been the highlights under eGovernance to make life easier for a common man
Direct Cash Transfer is one of the major achievements which we are focussed on. It is a process in which maximum portion of a person’s salary is transferred to his bank account. We have been doing it in Maharashtra for many years and in the last two-three years, we have been very successful.
We are trying to ensure that whatever money is paid by the government towards salaries, pensions, scholarships, flood and drought aid to farmers, etc., now goes straight to banks. Since banking structure is robust in Maharashtra, an approximate amount of `1,200 crore of scholarships goes into the bank accounts. In all, nearly `1,25,000 crore from the State treasury goes straight into the bank accounts.
In addition to it, the money coming from the public to the government is another big issue. The government receives money by way of electricity bill, water bill, municipality tax, etc. We are trying that people are able to pay these bills through net banking. Last year, the overall recovery of the Sales Tax Department amounting to `62,000 crore was done through net banking, out of which about `30,000 crore was collected through MahaOnline. Similarly, nearly `90,000 crore was transacted across India through net banking. Once you have done computerisation of transactions, it creates an automatic database.
What steps were taken to bring overall transparency in the government ecosystem?
We have undertaken several initiatives to bringing transparency in the system, though states like Karnataka and Andhra started those initiatives much earlier. We have been doing it for the past four years by providing knowledge and training people on digital signatures. We have already started e-tenders to ensure transparency. From this year, we have made it mandatory that any tender above `3 lakh will be an e-tender in Maharashtra. For the first 10 months of this year, we are planning to have tenders worth `50, 000 crore. Likewise, any auction above one lakh would be done online.
Transparency has been adopted in recruitments too. Inviting applications online leaves minimal scope for discrepancies in the selection of candidates. From filling applications forms to the declaration of results, everything is online.
Earlier, Congress party ruled both the Centre and the State of Maharashtra. Now, the same goes for BJP. In such a scenario, what opportunities and challenges did you face in regulating the government schemes?
Whether it is the present government or the previous one, IT has always been a priority. Luckily, the IT portfolio has always been with the Chief Ministers in Maharashtra. The former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was computer-savvy and the same goes true for the new Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as well. We have started a good number of schemes from 1st January. On the first day, we started online RTI, on 15th January, we issued online passes for Mantralaya, and on 26th January, we started ‘Aaple Sarkar’ platform, a grievance redressal portal. Furthermore, there are various digital programmes under progress, like CCTV programme in the Home Department, CCTNS, jail computerisation, Revenue, Excise, Social Justice and Education Department, among others.
As the Principal Secretary-IT, you ware responsible for making other departments eReady. How challenging was the task?
The first and foremost task of the Department of IT is to provide a good centralised system that helps every department. We have made a very good data centre and developed it into a Cloud-based structure, which doesn’t exist in any other state. We tell other departments to provide their software and assure them of arranging hardware within two to three hours. Otherwise, it takes two to three years to buy a server and other related processes. So, we commit to accomplish two years’ task in two hours now.
We have informed all the departments that they can plug in with the Cloud, and have created the payment gateway and SMS gateway on MahaOnline. Consultant empanelment has also been provided to different departments for their IT requirements. We have also made processes and systems very simple by getting eGgovernance policy approved by the State Cabinet. Now, a Project Implementation Committee (PIC) will be there for projects costing less than `5 crore. Instead of rotating files for project approval, the interested department is just required to call the PIC and bring the agenda to other concerned departments like finance and industry. After recommendation from PIC, project goes to the Chief Secretary, who further helps in completion of the projects.
You are personally passionate about IT. How your interest in IT helps you leverage efficient delivery of your responsibilities?
Nowadays, IT can be used in any area of life. When I came to this State, I was Secretary of the Animal Husbandry Department. You cannot imagine what could be the role of IT in such a department. Though, being from the IT sector, I used it to break a problem into simpler pieces and then provide solutions. However, the real role of IT is in the banking, finance and insurance sector.
You are recognised as an expert on Cloud technology in India in various state secretariats. How do you see the growth of Cloud in India as a technology for the future?
Cloud released various departments from thinking of the cumbersome process of hardware acquisition. In the last two-three years, co-operative and other banks have changed to Cloud technology for their core banking activities, and it has improved their efficiency. Previously, developing software and putting it on a server would take four to five years. There are two-three companies that provide Cloud solutions. It is simple like opening a Gmail account, which then is connected to a Cloud service provider, and soon after sendingreceiving of e-mails can begin. Simultaneously, banks have also started using core banking. So, if one wants to start any service or software, we can literally provide it in the next three hours on Cloud.
We are trying to ensure that whatever money is paid by the government towards salaries, pensions, scholarships, flood and drought aid to farmers, etc., go straight to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts
What will you miss about working in Maharashtra?
In Maharashtra, in IT luckily, we had a very good team. Along with IT professionals from the government, there is a good team of young professionals even from different consultant firms, who are working in various government departments. More than IT, I will miss Mumbai as a city for its weather, people and level of professionalism.