Speaking with Santosh K Misra, I.A.S., Commissioner of e-Governance & CEO, Voice&Data explores how he is spearheading the department with the support of emerging technologies

Tamil Nadu is developing a ‘Unified App’ for all government services using AI/ML technologies: Santosh K Misra, IAS, TNeGA

Recently, the southern state of Tamil Nadu was adjudged as the leader in the Good Governance Index among 18 other states. The report was released by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions. The Index takes 10 sectors into consideration: agriculture and allied, commerce & industries, human resource development, public health, public infrastructure & utilities, economic governance, social welfare & development, judicial & public security, environment, and citizen-centric governance.

With respect to the citizen-centric governance score, the Tamil Nadu e-Governance (TNeGA) wing has been an immense contributor to it. Speaking with Santosh K Misra, I.A.S., Commissioner of e-Governance & CEO, TNeGA, Voice&Data explores how he is spearheading the department with the support of emerging technologies and an ecosystem of stakeholders to build a world-class e-Governance model.

Voice&Data: The Tamil Nadu e-Governance department under your leadership has made tremendous in-roads into servicing the citizens with the help of digital solutions. How have those digital solutions resulted in good governance?

Santosh Misra: Now, the first thing to know here that the entire e-Governance initiative of Tamil Nadu is people-centric. This is the foremost vision and directive given to us by both the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and TN Minister of IT R B Udhayakumar. So, the guiding principle given to us by the state leadership is to use new-age technologies to make lives easier for the citizens. The biggest advantage of these new-age technologies is that solutions can be customized appropriately to every individual’s needs. All our projects and efforts are geared up towards using a combination of traditional and new-age technology in making solutions that help improve the government’s service to the citizens.

So, the guiding principle given to us by the state leadership is to use new-age technologies to make lives easier for the citizens.

So, when I say service, I mean we want to digitally deliver to the citizens the host of services offered by various government departments. There are 200 or more services offered, like issuing the birth certificate, nativity certificate, graduation certificate, old age pension application, patta transfer, and many more. All these services of the government should be made easily procurable, smoothly and in a transparent way, to a citizen without having to go through the pain points of manual applications. This is the main crux of using these new-age solutions to give the citizen the services that are essential.

Voice&Data: Agreed that the TNeGA is doing its best to promote the usage of online application facilities but the offline channel is still the most preferred medium for a citizen. How is TNeGA addressing this digital divide and convincing citizens on the benefits of the online applications and other services?

Santhosh Misra: Yes! citizens do opt for the e-Seva centers over the online services offered by the TNeGA. But, TNeGA has created several ease-of-use solutions that can turn around this situation to address and bridge the digital divide. We have created a native Tamil language-based YouTube explanatory video channel called TNeGA Official that offers a walkthrough, step-by-step guidance to the citizen on the working of the online procedures. The ‘Uzhavan App’ created specifically for the farmers also guides on usage of the online services. We have 300 Digi Volunteers signed up with the agency to educate the public on approaching the TNeGA for procuring their certificates or other services.

We are also looking at one angle through a common-sense approach. We know for a fact that the TN Government under the Amma Laptop Distribution Scheme has accomplished in distributing over 6 million laptops. Logically speaking, with this distribution, every second house should have a laptop and the BharatNet project should have enabled the internet too. This accessibility is what encourages us to offer online services to our citizens at the comfort of their house and reduce the movement of files and person saving cost and time.

This PICME program is a brilliant digital system we have on hand and the question is why not take this system forward for other services.

But the most revolutionary service, probably the first-of-its-kind in the world is the predictive service TNeGA is in the process of offering citizens. Now through the Pregnancy and Infant Cohort Monitoring and Evaluation (PICME) program of Tamil Nadu, we have an online registry data of the birth of a child. This PICME program is a brilliant digital system we have on hand and the question is why not take this system forward for other services. What TNeGA wants to do with this data is to offer predictive services at every stage of life beginning with intimating the parents on vaccination to school certifications, the addition of a name to ration card, etc. So at appropriate stages of life TNeGA will use a messaging platform to prompt the concerned person to seek the necessary Government service.

Hence, the TN Government wants to take responsibility to deliver these statutory services that are on-demand at every stage of the citizen’s life without the person approaching the government. We want these services to be predictive from our end. This is the first time in the world such a system is attempted and TNeGA has received the Government Order on go-ahead and the appropriate funds for building this system.

TNeGA loves working with startups.  Also, the Tamil Nadu Government has set up Centres of Excellence in Emerging Technologies, which is a major support to aid in technology development.

Voice&Data: You have constantly stressed on the fact that TNeGA is using predictive services. Does this mean Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are exploited? How is TNeGA building the platform of predictive services with AI/ML?

Santosh Misra: That’s right! To a large extent, we are exploiting new-age technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Blockchain. TNeGA loves working with startups. The startups that support us are doing a great job in building technology solutions. Also, the Tamil Nadu Government has set up Centres of Excellence in Emerging Technologies, which is a major support to aid in technology development. We then have our academic partnerships with prestigious institutions like IIT Madras, Anna University, VIT, and many others who support us with guidance from their eminent faculty. We have initiated Friday Seminars. This is a knowledge exchange initiative where research papers on emerging technologies are discussed by eminent thought leaders. Guest lectures are organized to educate our staff to progress along with the technologies and build the most effective system.

Apart from all this, TNeGA also recruits candidates from the market with expertise in emerging technologies. Their remuneration is also on par with market rates. They are expected to deliver the development goals the system expects. One the whole we have an entire ecosystem comprising the government, startups, and academicians in the TNeGA ambit.

Voice&Data: This knowledge exchange prompts me to ask you about your participation in international seminars and forums on e-Governance and emerging technologies. What have been the learnings so far from those international seminars? Is there something you could bring back to Tamil Nadu?

Santosh Misra: This question is very relevant. I have been a very active participant in key seminars both in India and abroad, the recent one being in Germany. Even though there is no model that can be replicated for our Indian Government conditions, which is rather unique, there is certainly one thing that adds value to our knowledge. TNeGA, as well as similar agencies, house a lot of critical data and all this data, which is extremely valuable. The data gives us a lot of leads on attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Being part of these seminars and conferences sets us on a benchmark and also gives an insight into our strengths and weakness.

Voice&Data: What is the long-term plan for TNeGA?

Santosh Misra: We do have a long and ambitious plan ahead of us! Tamil Nadu Government has now embarked on building ONE SINGLE APP for all Government related services. Whether it is police-related services, agriculture services, EB services, revenue services, all these will be offered on one single app. So multiple apps need not be downloaded. One App, one website will be a single stop for all services. We have got the Government order for this project. The government has committed resources and the work has begun for this.

As far as I know, no other country in this world, except maybe Estonia, is exploiting Blockchain for e-Governance.

Along with this, Tamil Nadu, being the pioneer in building a state-wide, state-of-the-art blockchain backbone, which will be TNeGA’s focus. As far as I know, no other country in this world, except maybe Estonia, is exploiting Blockchain for e-Governance. TNeGA aims to set up and maintains the state-wide blockchain infrastructure that can be leveraged by all Government departments and agencies, public sector enterprises and others. This blockchain will be used to build transparent, efficient and secure citizen-centric and inter-organizational workflows. Enterprise-grade G2G and G2C products and services will be implemented using this infrastructure.

This platform is called Nambikkai Inaiyam (NI), which translates to ‘Trust Link’. This platform will enable the government of Tamil Nadu to establish a single trusted source of truth that will be used to create an efficient fraud resilient system for government processes. The platform will be hosted on a hybrid infrastructure. The platform will also function as a Blockchain As A Service (BAAS) provider to Government departments and Public sector organizations, agencies and companies.

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