E-governance for Conservation in India ( A Public Private Partnership Model )

This paper was presented at “The e-Government Conference” Conflux 2005 which took place at The Grand, New Delhi from 17-19 October, 2005. The e-Government Conference was jointly organized by Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies, GIS Development Private Ltd and the Department of Information Technology, Government of India.

-Susan Sharma, PhD
Founder, IndianWildlifeClub.com, Wildscapes.net and Wildbytes.tv

Abstract

With the Tiger Task Force having made its detailed report available in public domain, the stage is now set for e-governance in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) to be attempted as an idea whose time has come. The paper looks at the need to co-ordinate and link existing Information Systems (IS) regarding conservation issues in India as a first step to arriving at a framework for e-governance. Throughout the paper, we stress the fact that it is not hardware and software that makes e-governance possible- but management and organization.

This concept paper is thus divided into linking together existing data on conservation, re engineering the functionalities of MOEF and creating a framework for e-governance taking into account the ministry, forest department, research organizations and NGOs.

Conservation issues affect the core economy of any country. Conservation involves protecting the forests of the country along with the flora and fauna as forests are the custodians of water sources, clean air and irreplaceable natural resources. The way these precious assets are managed will have a bearing on the country's revenues (tourism, mining), well being (clean air and water) and social equity (tribal rights, exploitation). The paper proposes a model where the synergies of a complex e-governance system generate livelihood options for the rural unemployed in and around the forests. These options are by way of entrepreneurship opportunities and not by way of government jobs.

Key Words: e-governance, Information Systems, e-democracy

Contextual Background

India is the only country in the world where the magnificent Bengal Tiger roams free in the wild. The onus of protecting this flagship species in the wild is with the people of India , in particular with India 's chief environmental guardian, the Ministry of Environment and Forest . In an effort to secure a safe haven for the tiger in the wild, the Government of India declared 28 tracts of forests as tiger reserves since 1972, when the Project Tiger initiative was undertaken by the government. The recent discovery that despite these efforts, the tiger numbers are dwindling-mainly due to habitat destruction and poaching- has brought home serious lapses in governance. At the same time it has raised questions about the democratic aspect of governance. There is a felt need to expand the scope of governance to include the participation of all the citizens whose lives are linked to the forests and the need for ongoing consultations from those who study the forests, its flora and fauna as a science. The road map to e-governance for conservation (of our natural resources) is thus a combination of e-governance and e-democracy.

Since the inception of Project Tiger in the early 1970s, the country has consistently invested in the protection and conservation of the tiger. The Tiger Task Force report of August 2005 has reviewed the work done over the last 35 years in conservation, especially conservation of tiger, and has advocated the following action points to be taken up urgently. The tiger, being on top of the food chain is accepted universally as a symbol of conservation for conserving the other flora fauna of the forests where they live.
  • Reinvigorate the institutions of governance
  • Strengthen efforts geared towards protection of the tiger, checking poaching, convicting wildlife criminals and breaking the international trade network.
  • Expand inviolate spaces for the tiger by minimizing human pressure in these areas.
  • Repair the relationships with the people who share the tiger's habitat by building strategies of coexistence.
  • Regenerate the forest habitats in the fringes of the tiger's protective enclaves by investing in forest, water and grassland economies of the people.
The sum and substance of the above recommendations are embodied in the simple flow chart diagram below.

Fig 1. Resource flow between different components of conservation

Literature Review

Multiple case studies done in developed countries suggest that very few e-democracy proposals survive the stage of formal political decision –making, to become e-government projects to be implemented (Mahrer & Krimmer, 2005). The hesitant evolution of e-democracy has been attributed to the “middleman paradox” which results in implicit and explicit resistance to further development in this critical feature of e-government.

However India has already proved an exception to this finding in the huge success of ‘e-rail' for train ticket booking which is an initiative at the national level and the ongoing success stories of many grass root level e-governance initiatives under public-private partnerships.

A developing country which has had democratic traditions guiding its growth, India has a tremendous potential to increase “social capital” as the guiding spirit to prosperity. The concept of social capital (Putnam, 1993 and Coleman, 1988) added a social component to the traditional factors shaping economic growth and prosperity. A more specific sub-component of the social capital is entrepreneurship capital. The entrepreneurship capital of an economy or a society refers to the institutions, culture, and historical context that is conducive to the creation of new firms. This involves a number of aspects such as social acceptance of entrepreneurial behaviour but of course also individuals who are willing to deal with the risk of creating new firms and the activity of bankers and venture capital agents that are willing to share risks and benefits involved.

India has a tremendous potential to increase social capital – to be more specific entrepreneurship capital- to be on the road to economic and ecological prosperity.

A case study on computerization of the Income tax department (Kanungo and Gupta, 2004) provides a critique on the e-governance being attempted in a major citizen centric department of the country. The researchers found evidence of limited benefits (at the efficiency level) that have been provided by Information Technology (IT) for the Department of Income Tax (DIT). However most of the problems and impediments faced by DIT, in the context of IS effectiveness, have come in the form of softer aspects like people-related and complementary investments like process improvements and organizational restructuring.

They concluded that in most Government Departments in India , the notion of complementarities and simultaneity has to necessarily operate.

A complementary investment in IS is one that will result in a pay off that is greater than the pay off based on IS investment alone. Simultaneity refers to events that are happening or existing or are done at the same time. IT enabled fast track organizational effectiveness has proved a non starter in Indian conditions-especially in bureaucratic organizations. The notion of simultaneity is appropriate in such cases. Advocates of concurrent approaches to IT investments make the argument that it is possible to simultaneously or concurrently change/ improve processes as well as introduce or enhance the existing IT infrastructure and application portfolio. In the case of departments like DIT, the study found that for IT to be effective, process investments must take precedence over IT investments. To quote Sam Pitroda, Chairman, Knowledge Commission “We are computerizing the left-overs of the British Raj. ……in e-governance the biggest challenge for India is to redo all our processes. But that is the biggest challenge for India today, because it means you have to rethink our entire governance- relationships, roles, processes.” Large bureaucratic organizations should strive for mature processes and then automate the mature processes. A minimum level of governance has to be ensured before attempting to implement e-governance. It is unreasonable to expect processes to mature and get automated concurrently.

Limitations of a predominantly top-down/technology centric policy-planning model in India have been studied in detail by many researchers. An emergent complex systems approach to e-governance ( Amity S.Pande, 2004) focuses on including all stake holders, linkages and communication loops as part of the initial design considerations of an e-governance system. The framework for e-governance in conservation suggested in this paper draws from the aspects of a complex system perspective and open standards with intuitive, multi language interfaces to establish a dynamically evolving, self-organizing e-governance system.

E-government for Management of Reform Efforts

Many e-government applications are crisis –driven. While analyzing the computerization of the DIT, Kanungo et.al ( 2004 ) made a crucial observation that IT based process change is not a good idea when it comes to large government set-ups. In the corporate sector, a larger degree of control is experienced and hence use of I.T can lead process changes. In the case of the Institutions responsible for conservation in the country, it is necessary to reengineer the present set-up on the lines suggested in the latest task force report before attempting to implement a system. One of the most fundamental policy issues confronting the MOEF is how to achieve a trade off between decentralization and democracy. Before going into the need for achieving this, it will be worthwhile to dwell briefly on two schools of current economic thoughts-the “Solow”economy( Solow, 1956) and the “Romer” economy ( Romer, 1986). If physical capital was at the heart of the Solow economy, knowledge capital replaced it in the Romer economy. While the policy goals of economic growth remained relatively unchanged, the Romer model reflected the emergence of a new emphasis on a strikingly different policy mechanism, knowledge capital, involving very different policy instruments( David B. Audretsch, 2001). Entrepreneurship is an endogenous response to opportunities created. In a comprehensive study at the Max Planck Institute, it was found that regions rich in knowledge generated a greater amount of entrepreneurial opportunities than regions with impoverished knowledge. (Audretch et.al, 2005) Knowledge created with one context and purpose spills over from the organization actually attempting to commercialize that knowledge.

The rural information systems which form part of the complex e-governance we propose for MOEF are self sustainable after the initial period of handholding is over.

The biggest threat to conservation in our country is habitat degradation prompted by economic pursuits. The flow chart of the complex e-governance system we are proposing will result in alternative employment for the unemployed-they will create jobs for themselves by becoming entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who will help implement the e-governance system and entrepreneurs who will seize the opportunities unleashed by the e-governance system.

Fig.2. Flow Chart for a Complex E-government system for MOEFF

The above flow chart expands on fig.1 by substituting concepts of conservation with the bodies responsible for it. The MOEF, as the Chief Environment Authority of the land, is directly responsible for conservation of bio diversity. Its bundle of services must include the major stakeholders, which are,
  • Forest resources like water, trees, wild life etc
  • The people who dwell in forests
  • The villagers who are in the fringe of forests
  • The tour operators who take the tourists into protected areas
  • The Forest department staff.
We are proposing a complex system of bundled services involving personalized portals for each of the major stakeholders. Interactions of the stakeholders with the various agencies involved in conservation apart from MOEF have the potential of creating employment within the complex system, thereby enriching it as well as taking it forward. Most of the employment created, however will not be planned government jobs but entrepreneurial in nature, born out of the synergy of rural information systems.

Current Initiatives on E-Governance in India

One cannot deny the fact that Chief Environment Authority of the country is the “State”. It thus becomes imperative to strengthen institutions at the Centre that oversee conservation in the country. It becomes necessary to improve state capacities and coax governmental institutions to involve local communities. The work relating to conservation of bio-diversity in the country gets complicated due to the fact that forest is also generating revenue for dependent communities. Conservation can never really take off unless we can ensure alternate income sources for these villagers and forest dwellers. The e-governance system proposed has within itself the seeds for commercializing the knowledge base. A brief comparison of the successful e-governance initiatives currently on in India supports this view.

Table 1. Initiatives in E-governance

Name & Year of starting Brief details States covered Entrepreneurship potential
Gyandoot, 2000 Low cost rural intranet on optical fibre or UHF links.

In addition to agricultural produce and land records the kiosks have updated information regarding beneficiaries of social security pension, beneficiaries of rural development schemes, information regarding government grants given to village communities, public distributions, data on families below the poverty line, etc.

Madhya Pradesh User fees are charged for the services provided.

Rural youth as entrepreneurs

ITC's E-Choupal Started as a cost- effective supply chain system to deal directly with the farmer bypassing the middlemen in the Mandi. The ITC virtual mandi is emerging as a one stop shop for selling and buying of all kinds of products and services including government services in the rural market. Pradesh. 3800 villages in four states- which include Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra ITC charges transaction fee and pays commission to kiosk owners for sales.
Amul's Dairy portal

Services offered include delivery of information related to dairying, including best practices in breeding and rearing milch cattle, scheduling of government and other private sector agency services, and collecting feedback on the quality of service provided to the catchment area.. Use of a communication centre, Internet banking services and ATMs which enable the milk societies to credit payments directly to sellers bank accounts. 2500 milk co-operative societies are computerized- with each farmer holding a plastic card id. Electronic fat testing machines enable instant valuation of milk brought in by the farmer and the banking infrastructure ensures instant payment to the farmer.

Access to a multimedia database on innovations captured by SRISHTI an NGO-from hundreds of villages, covering agricultural practices, medicinal plants, home remedies, tools and implements etc.

TARAhaat, 2000 Technology and Action for Rural advancement ( TARA ) brings relevant information, products and services to rural market. Primarily a horizontal portal, with a super bazzar on the net and information kiosks Goods ordered are delivered by franchised TARA vans U.P. TV entertainment, public telephones and other offline services help generate a wider range of revenue streams.
e- Shringala The community information kiosks being set up in all the panchayats in Kerala. The kiosks are designed to provide information of various schemes, downloading of applications, farmer counseling. Kerala Kiosks owned and operated by entrepreneurs
e-Seva The government portal is designed to the requirements of citizens providing information and citizen's services. It has brought transparency in service delivery Andhra Pradesh Improved infrastructure and knowledge database giving rise to entrepreneurship. Rural kiosks in West Godavari District are run by women self help groups.
"Parrys Corners" The Agri portal of EID Parry, is an attempt to catalyze e-commerce in agricultural and non-farm products by offering a network of partnerships. . . Tamil Nadu Sugar cane growers and suppliers to EID Parry encouraged to become entrepreneurs


A comparative analysis of the above projects shows that all projects are developmental in nature and all are self sustaining. In all the above sited projects, the incentive to develop new business models, services for rural consumers, and engage all members of the e-governance system, is evident. The capacity limitations of stake holders are generally overcome by the creative synergy and sharing that happens in a complex, emergent e-governance system.

While Govt plays the role of facilitator and promoter in some, it is commerce that drives e-governance in many cases. Some major lessons from these initiatives are
  • Literacy is not a major constraint in implementing IT related projects. The rural folks are quick to adopt any new developments.
  • The government only needs to be a facilitator and not the promoter.
  • It is not viable to have stand-alone e-governance projects. It makes sense to bundle the same with community development, commerce and education.
  • The projects can be self-sustaining. It is not necessary to fund them for long. People are ready to pay for the services received through the kiosks and the same should be enough to sustain and develop the project further.
  • Make education an integral part of the initiative.
(M.J Xavier and RP Pillai, 2004)

The government-society-technology unit generates new sectors of activity, contexts of use, and resource pools to survive. Anecdotic examples from Gujarat ( e-gram panchayat) and Kerala ( Akshaya Project in Malappuram ) bear this as true. A Panchayat of four villages in the Aravalis has started generating surplus revenue after being a part of GSWAN ( Gujarat State Wide Area Network). Akshaya computer literacy program initiated by the State Government has produced more than 600 entrepreneurs in a sleepy village called Malappuram, in Kerala.

Proposed Conservation Model

In the conservation model we propose, there will be five “personalized internet portals” for Forest Department, Forest Resources, Tour operators, Forest dwellers and Fringe Villages . Each of these portals will have integrated service bundles of both public administrations and enterprises connected to the MOEF. The integrated service bundles are provided after the process integration of the involved service suppliers is achieved with suitable technical interventions. A glance at the five portals reveal two or three external influences which could prove contingent and unpredictable but the majority of service loops are controllable. Customers of each personalized portal have access to the bundled services. This kind of collaboration leads to new synergies. New synergies often result in new revenue models and entrepreneurs are born.

Figure 3. Personalized internet portal for the Forest Department


Figure 4. Personalized internet portal for Forest Resources


Figure 5. Personalized internet portal for the Forest Dwellers


Figure 6. Personalized internet portal for the Tour Operators


Figure 7. Personalized internet portal for the Fringe Villagers

Maturity of E-governance Processes

E-governance projects mature in four phases, Information, Interaction. Transaction and Transformation. This framework revolves around the citizen, NGOs on the one side and the Central Government, State Government and Local Government on the other side. The challenges for development are listed out in four major categories viz.

1. Political aspects include strategy and policy, laws and legislation, leadership, decision-making process, funding issues and political stability.
2. Social aspects include people, education, employment, income, digital divide, literacy and IT skills.
3. Economic aspects include funding, cost-savings, business models and e-commerce and 4. Technological aspects include software, hardware, infrastructure, telecom, IT skilled people, and maintenance, safety and security issues.
The aim of any e-governance project must be the fourth phase, that is, Transformation. The Transformation effect must be the vision which drives any e-governance project.

Information, Communication Technologies (ICT) involved in any e-governance project carries with it enormous potential for transforming poor people's lives (Gudgeon, 2001) connecting them to markets, improving their access to government services, and better enabling them to express their voice in decisions that affect their lives. The result of this transformation is creation of livelihood opportunities for entrepreneurs. The rise and rise of entrepreneurship has paved the way for growth in countries ranging from Taiwan to United States of America . Rural entrepreneurship has become more a way of life and an engine for economic transformation among the rural poor in Kenya ( Peter B. Kibas, 2005).

Capability building

E-governance projects need to employ a large number of personnel in handholding which must continue till the projects are self sustaining. The aim of introducing e-governance is not to reduce manpower but to achieve efficiency and transparency.

E-government can be effective only if internet is widely used. Otherwise manipulation of the public and media by giving selected information, by taking things out of context, will continue. The pervasive influence of e-government can be a reality only if the backbone for e-commerce which is the internet is in place.

Many western countries have a citizenry majority of whom are already exposed to internet. For them there is ‘nothing new” in e-governance. In fact it just fulfills an expectation from the citizenry that Government services too- like many private services –must become an extension of the backbone of internet one is familiar with and used to.

The grass root reality in India , however is very different. Any movement associated with e-government can expect results only after familiarizing the citizen with the possibilities and capabilities of the internet.

The route for the development of e-governance follows the three-fold path of publish, interact and transact models. In order to implement the later two, information handling has to be changed from the traditionally used papers in the brick and mortar world, to digital documents to be used in the new E-world. This leaves the government with the Herculian task of restructuring its various organizations and to make them digitally aware. The government must stick to its primary responsibility as a service provider and delegate the responsibility of the interface provider to various private/public sector corporate; entrepreneurs, web portals and citizens. These bodies can incorporate such user interfaces to their existing and popular sites, thereby saving the efforts of the government in bringing up and maintaining the required infrastructure. Such a model would provide for a cost-effective solution for the deployment of e-governance on the net.

Implementation

A collaborative platform from IBM India Research Lab , I.I.T Delhi

There are several issues involved in developing a complex application; some of them are:
  • Integrating applications: The e-governance applications that have been developed and deployed in the past often address specific needs and provide isolated functionality. In the case of MOEF there are several functions which are already computerized and several databases which are already in existence. To harness the full potential of e-governance, it should be possible to integrate these distributed applications to create automated complex processes spanning multiple government departments and institutions. However government applications implemented by multiple vendors are difficult to integrate into a seamless solution. In order to ensure multi-vendor support and modularity of the e-governance solution, the integration must be based on open standards.
  • Enabling ease of application management: Government processes are frequently modified based on the changes in policies, work – realignment, etc. This requires identification of possible modifications to business process or application logic that may be required in future and creation of appropriate extension points in the application at the time of application development. Further, since this reconfiguration process typically needs to be carried out by a non-IT skilled official, a tool with intuitive interfaces is needed to ease the application extension and modification.
  • Enabling ease of use: Government applications are required to communicate with the user in the user's preferred language, by means of intuitive graphical or conversational interfaces. The Indian Government recognizes 18 languages for citizen –government interactions. Interface consistency across applications is also desirable.
(Parul A. Mittal, Prasan Roy & Anupam Saronwala, 2004)

ICT based interventions run a high risk of failure unless macro and micro level contingencies are inbuilt within the initial system design to reduce brittleness. In the present scenario, individual stakeholders, such as a bureaucrat with an ideological axe to grind, or a politician focused on the elections, can easily jeopardize the success of e-governance. As with other complex systems, humans with conflicting agendas are the weakest links in the e-governance system. (Amit S.Pande, 2004).

Positive and negative feedback loops built into the initial design encourage participation, active involvement, critical questioning, sharing of data and better awareness among all participants in an e-governance system. Let us now look at figure 8. given below. The stakeholder service modules are the same as in figure2. But figure 8. presents forward and backward linkages among the stakeholders represented by two- way block arrows in the flow-chart. diagram. The possibilities of data generation and idea generation multiply with such a system. The e-governance unit is able to organically create and sustain their resources and their information needs. The various information modules act as support systems for nurturing/creating livelihood opportunities. In the absence of support measures, sweat shop strategy will be adopted by entrepreneurs. ( M. K Nair, 2005) the entrepreneurship firms generated by the complex system must think of themselves as a cluster and explore potential benefits of close relationship with other local organizations. There is collective efficiency in clusters.

The unused synergy potential of e-government through the integration of public and private services can be used by the individual who is the information broker to create an entrepreneurial business (Oner Gungoz, 2004)

Fig. 8 E-governance system with feedback loops ( forward and backward linkages)

Concluding Remarks

This paper presents a case for creating a complex, emergent e-governance system for MOEF. It focuses on including all stake holders, linkages and communication loops as part of the initial design considerations. The rural information systems which form part of the initial design, are projected as self-sustainable units after the initial hand-holding period is over. The Government- Society-Technology unit which forms the backbone of the e-conservation system is expected to throw up alternate livelihood options for the rural unemployed among forest dwellers and fringe dwellers, which are in the form of entrepreneurship opportunities.

The goal of conserving our forest resources and bio-diversity becomes more tangible and participative.

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