In the early weeks of July 2019, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on behalf of the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA) announced two new e-governance measures for better e-service delivery to the State’s citizens. Spearheading this IT services led operation is Indian Administrative Service official Dr. Santhosh Babu, Principal Information Technology Secretary to TN Government.
Recipient of the Dataquest Magazine e-Governance Champion Award, South India, 2008, Dr. Santhosh Babu in an interaction with Voice&Data reveals all about the scaling up or rather re-imagining of e-services offered by the government and its impact on strengthening the State’s startup ecosystem.
Voice&Data: Recently, the Tamil Nadu Government has proposed to harness Blockchain technology to aid in the development of technologically advanced e-governance. What is this plan and how is it going to put the state in the eyes of the IT industry?
Dr. Santhosh: On July 11th, 2019, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami made a key announcement at the Assembly. This announcement is by the far the best in terms of scaling up of IT infrastructure the State possesses. The State’s IT department has conceived and developed a new Blockchain Backbone infrastructure that will be set up for enhancing the e-services offered by the Tamil Nadu government. The Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA) will build this Blockchain platform for Tamil Nadu at a cost of approximately Rs 40.80 crores. The technology will be offered as a service to all government departments.
Blockchain being an emerging technology has several potentials especially that it can be deployed wherever genuine transactions need to be established.
Blockchain being an emerging technology has several potentials especially that it can be deployed wherever genuine transactions need to be established. Since the data stored using Blockchain technology cannot be altered, TN’s IT department wanted to fully exploit this powerful technology. The IT department has developed a system that eliminates the need to maintain a Blockchain node. The officials will be able to verify their data in the Blockchain independently without hosting the node. What we have in mind is that the Blockchain technology should be able to provide a tamper-proof digital data to citizens without dependence on any third party. It also provides cybersecurity and data integrity to applications focused on citizen engagement and experience.
What we have in mind is that the Blockchain technology should be able to provide a tamper-proof digital data to citizens without dependence on any third party.
Voice&Data: Along with developing a Blockchain Backbone, TNeGA is also creating a Zero Knowledge Proof-based Predictive Services Delivery platform for all Government services. How is this predictive service unique to Tamil Nadu?
Dr. Santhosh: On the same day as the Blockchain Backbone announcement, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister announced the launch of the plan by TNeGA to create a Zero Knowledge Proof based Predictive Services Delivery Platform for all government services.
This service is very unique to Tamil Nadu and I can admit that we are the pioneering state to offer such a technology for the benefit of a common man. My motto is very straightforward. As a government, we are indebted to offer our citizens convenient procedures and services that ease their life and not make them run pillar to post seeking essential certificates/documents that validate their birth, caste, and education. I want to save the reputation of Government office bearers by making available several statutory certificates on the click of the mouse rather than waiting for ages to receive a hard copy of those essential certificates.
Assuming that Citizens are entitled to these services, it is incumbent on any Government to make this interaction between Government and Citizen as hassle-free as possible.
Even though several certificates from birth to death are registered online and can be procured online each of those certificates have to be procured from different intra-department government websites. In the current scenario of e-Governance, citizens have to apply for various Government services like certificates, documents, licenses, etc to various government departments and its agencies, either by going over to their offices or through Arasu e‑Sevai Centres or from their homes. Assuming that Citizens are entitled to these services, it is incumbent on any Government to make this interaction between Government and Citizen as hassle-free as possible.
With the technology available today, it is possible to ensure that citizens need not apply for any statutory service, rather the Government takes responsibility to provide it as a predictive service, from birth to death. The application software used for issuing certificates will be suitably modified so that the document issued shall electronically hit the Makkal Number already created by TNeGA for 7 crore people of Tamil Nadu and electronically reach a Citizen Vault to be created for each resident of Tamil Nadu.
A system on Blockchain, without human intervention, will prompt the software of each Government Department/Agency to issue the certificate/document as and when the citizen becomes eligible for it.
The resident can view his certificates/documents in this vault using his mobile number as a user ID and OTP as a password. Right from the Birth Certificate to the Death Certificate and numerous certificates/documents in between issued by various Government Departments/Agencies, a system on Blockchain, without human intervention, will prompt the software of each Government Department/Agency to issue the certificate/document as and when the citizen becomes eligible for it. For example, if a child’s birth certificate is issued, the system at our end will send vaccination information through an SMS at the 6th month of age of the child. Likewise, when the child turns 5, an SMS to the parents is sent for creation of Aadhar Card. This single unified portal can also issue certificates of caste/community/educational degrees and several other statutory certificates electronically thus reducing the paper consumption and saving the citizen’s time. It is also possible that Government departments/agencies/private employers can with the consent of the applicant to verify the genuinity of his/her qualifications, electronically. This scheme will soon be rolled out at a cost of Rs 90.00 crores.
Voice&Data: The Blockchain and Predictive services designed by the TN Government requires a lot of work. Does this mean that these technologies will open an avenue for startups in the Blockchain space to innovate for Tamil Nadu?
Dr. Santhosh: Of course, yes! To achieve rapid development of IT & ITeS sector in Tamil Nadu, the state is identifying innovative startups in the Blockchain, AI space to partner or collaborate. The two unique services also seek support from innovative startups. The Government in Information Technology Department has accorded administrative sanction and approval for establishing a Warehouse for Startups at Chennai and Coimbatore and a state Startup Warehouse Board. Infrastructure facilities required for SMAC and Data Centers are being provided by the Government. It has also set up rural BPOs and Common Service Centres.
More specifically, the Government has established several Centers of Excellence (CoE) in emerging technologies to encourage industries to collaborate with colleges in creating in new technologies.
More specifically, the Government has established several Centers of Excellence (CoE) in emerging technologies to encourage industries to collaborate with colleges in creating in new technologies and research. The National Knowledge Network (NKN) which is a National Level High Speed Network for connecting academic institutions across India and also for linking with the global scientific community, will be leveraged for industry-academia interface.
Tamil Nadu Government in partnership with FICCI and CII is organizing a series of 5 startup events called CONNECT. There would be roadshows, investors meet and mentoring sessions as part of these events.
The Government is soon going to begin the necessary co-ordination and groundwork to improve teledensity and broadband penetration and ensure 100% reliable and efficient telecom network.
Voice&Data: When you say rural BPOs and predictive services, are they not dependent on internet connectivity? How is TN’s internet infrastructure planned for this need?
Dr. Santhosh: The Government is soon going to begin the necessary co-ordination and groundwork to improve teledensity and broadband penetration and ensure 100% reliable and efficient telecom network throughout the State including through the Tamil Nadu State Wide Area Network (TNSWAN), National Knowledge Network (NKN), BharatNet and TamilNet Projects. The government will soon sanction a project worth Rs 2400 crores to lay 55,000 km of cable to carry internet to more than 10,000 panchayats. MPLS-IP technology would be leveraged for this deployment. About 1 Gbps of the internet can be delivered to each panchayat building. This internet availability will open up to the Government rendering services like e-education, entertainment, IP TV and several other essential e-services.
Increased impetus on emerging technologies such as mobile technology, localization, virtualization, and cloud computing will be constantly aided by the IT sector.
The Government of Tamil Nadu has set up a State Data Centre and Disaster Recovery Centre, Cloud computing facilities, Common Service Centres, etc. for enhancing citizen access to online Government services. Increased impetus on emerging technologies such as mobile technology, localization, virtualization, and cloud computing will be constantly aided by the IT sector.
TN’s IT department is working round-the-clock in association with other departments to re-imagine and bring about a transformational e-governance system that enhances our citizen’s digital experience and easing their lives to a great extent.