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Citizen Services and ICT in Covid19 Pandemic

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Citizen Services and ICT in Covid19 Pandemic

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Shri Ajay Singh Chahal
SIO, Himachal Pradesh
ajay.chahal@nic.in

Covid19 pandemic in India is part of world-wide situation of corona virus disease, seriously affecting the way we speak, walk, interact socially, transact business, work in office, seek treatment and all. The lockdowns have continued since March 2020 and police, medical staff, essential service providers are working round the clock to meet the demands raised by this peculiar Covid19 situation. Work from home is going to become the norm, but to survive on long term basis, the economy needs to re-build itself by IT enabling of services, especially in the Government sector. NIC has done its own share of contribution by providing crucial e-services to the Governments and citizens across India.

NIC VC, Vidyo Desktop, Webex, Teams, Jitsi are some of the Video Conference (VC) tools which were extensively used in Government and Private sector during the initial lockdown period for controlling the Covid19 pandemic in India. While majority of the Government employees were working from home, NIC VC coordinators and FMS staff were over worked due to the large number of VC based meetings and consultations taking place at National, State, District and below District level. In Himachal, Hon’ble Chief Minister interacted with Panchayat functionaries using VC facility. Many Departments learnt to use VC tools at their own, becoming self-reliant, since NIC VC studios were already booked round the clock.

Since the lock down continued into the next financial year, addressing the budget allocation, its distribution to Heads of Departments and finally to the DDOs for passing of various bills was the next immediate requirement. These bills were related to salaries, pensions, payments to vendors for Government supplies/ works, disbursement for welfare pensions and subsidies/ financial benefits of various kinds to the different sections of society. This could be achieved because of the Integrated Finance Management System linked to the PFMS system. All payments were in cashless mode, a step towards cashless economy.

The lengthy lockdown period meant that people had to move to their homes from their work places. They needed to be given passes to travel from one place to another. However, no Government offices were entertaining any visitors. Hence, the requirement of ePasses arose and NIC’s ServicePlus framework enabled quick configuration of ePass system all over the country, including HP. The Department of IT, HP also developed the ePass system to enable people to come into the State as well as leave the State. This was required to properly monitor the visitors coming to State, to arrange for their movements, quarantine etc.

Arogya Setu mobile app was developed by NIC to contain the Covid19 epidemic. Capturing of correct mobile of the Covid19 positive person is the key to the success of this App. Dr. Neeta Verma, Director General NIC has been on the forefront as a Covid Warrior and she has been providing crucial ICT support to the Ministry of Health and ICMR at the country level. Foreseeing the rise in Covid19 cases, she planned to correctly capture the mobile number of every Covid19 suspect, undergoing RT-PCR and Rapid Antibody Test through mobile Apps. She assigned this job to NIC Himachal Pradesh, who came up with the two mobile Apps, namely Rati and RT-PCR and a portal to manage the authentication mechanism for Collection Centres, Laboratories and Sample Collectors along with an MIS system at https://covid19cc.nic.in, in a very short time.

It’s another story, how the 20 officers of NIC HP managed the mobile app and portal development stage right from opening the office, cleaning it, preparing tea, cleaning utensils, managing curfew passes, picking and dropping officers, arranging food and keeping the morale high, in the  curfew imposed lockdown period. The good point is that the RT-PCR app is handling more than 1 lakh test samples data every day, with capturing of correct Lat/Long and patient mobile through OTP verification for correct identification of the Covid19 positive individuals.

While ICT has is proving crucial in these testing times, new kinds of initiatives are coming up in Government sector like delivery of medicines, milk products, groceries, vegetables and fruits through rapidly developed mobile Apps.

Every set of citizens like, general public, employees, pensioners, businessmen benefitted from the online services provided for downloading digitally signed land records copies, eService book, pension disbursement, payments to  contractors, registration of volunteers for Covid19 related work, extensions in the dates of registration of vehicles, driving licenses etc. The websites were kept updated so that correct and authentic information is available to citizens all the time. The websites also carried the mobile phones of Government officials who could be contacted in case of any kind of emergency, by public. Lots of emails through these portals were received and replied in the true spirit of helping the citizens.

Hon’ble Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh has been interacting with Panchayat representatives in all Panchayats using VC facility. In order to communicate the link, date and time to the participating persons, an SMS with appropriate details is sent to all persons. The process is simple but innovative and has proved to be very useful.

The Smart phone has been a boon to the citizens as they can access lots of Government services and avail of other benefits through these. The Government entities who were reluctant to use ICT for their day to day functioning have realized that they have to automate their back-end office operations and offer all citizen services through online and cashless mode, preferably through efficient mobile apps. Well, as they say, difficult times teach you to adjust to new circumstances and treat these as opportunities!

Let’s hope we fight the Covid19 pandemic in our own manner by extending more services to citizens in a contactless manner and come out victorious.

-Ajay Singh Chahal, NIC, Shimla

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