On the eve of his retirement, NIC's director general N Vijayaditya spoke to Sunil Jain about the organisation he joined three decades ago and then headed for over six years.
NIC really began to get noticed in the Asian Games, right?
Yes, we spent over 120 man years of effort to ensure the 1982 Games were computerised, created databases of records, and so on and ensured that results could be processed immediately - today, this is taken for granted, but at that time it was a first and we developed the software, everything. The Asian Games had never been computerised before and people from Korea, for instance, came to see what we had done. We were the first to begin using V-Sats to connect the country and today all districts are connected through this by NICNET.
You've done Bhoomi, Card, Sarita the list goes on. But most people talk about TCS, for instance, when it comes to the NREGA
I can't comment on that, but we created the software for implementation/monitoring even before the scheme was on the ground and it was fully vetted by the rural development ministry. You can register through our software, this generates job cards, and monitors funds flow, the project work done, payments made, everything. We have created even an offline module that allows village-level data to be uploaded once a week or so. We gave a demonstration to the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission the other day and he was able to see village-level implementation of the scheme.
But the TCS NREGA module in Andhra Pradesh even prepares work estimates (how many bricks are required for a well, for instance) - creation of such estimates is typically a major source of corruption in most such social programmes.
We've done this in Tamil Nadu after the government asked for it. This is not difficult, but we can do it only if the implementing agency asks for it. We can link payments to bank accounts if you like, but for that, the banks have to be ready. Our package is being used in 16 states, in 150 districts and 89,000 panchayats with four crore (40 million) job seekers registered with us - today, sitting in your office, you can download information on any aspect of NREGA and then have it physically verified.
Can you check the proliferation of fake BPL cards with your software? After all, if you can monitor NREGA, you can monitor even PDS spending where fake cards are a big issue.
As far as NREGA is concerned, our data is on the web, and anyone can check if the people actually exist at the village level - this is not our job per se. We are, though, trying to adapt a tool to identify duplication of cards by searching for patterns in names, father's name and so on. We've done a pilot in a block in Gujarat, which was very successful.
Pilot! Why do we have so many pilots, why is there no national rollout?
That's completely incorrect. You have to recognise that each state is the size of a country in Europe, even bigger. Each has a history of doing things differently for over a hundred years if not more. In Karnataka, our Bhoomi software has created a system where three different types of land record processes can be accommodated.
In Orissa, they even measure land differently, in Himachal the land records have details of the full family history, some states want details of the crop in land records. We've taken care of all this and digitised land records in 3,125 tehsils across 16 states, 1,500 of these can even do online mutation thanks to this all this has been done in 7-8 years, what's all the talk of only pilots?
In Andhra Pradesh, there are 5 lakh land records accessed each year, it's 12 lakh in Haryana, 41 lakh in Maharashtra, 18 lakh each in Orissa and Gujarat. Obviously people are finding some use, otherwise why would they pay to access the records? The system is working.
Thanks to NIC, all 31 passport offices across the country are computerised and online, they can generate machine-readable passports and the system can be accessed at all Indian embassies across the world. Uttar Pradesh is in the process of rolling out a public grievance monitoring system called Lokwani after 18 months of trial in Seethapur. There are 2,000 such kiosks operating already in 40 districts and the average earning for a kiosk operator is Rs 5,000 a month, so the demand for such services is there.
How is the FCI project doing?
We've done pilots in Haryana and debugged the software. By the end of next year, all depots of FCI will be networked and you'll know the stock position in any depot on a 24x7 basis. Linking PDS shops to each depot (to monitor any diversion from the depots to the shops) has, however, still not been rolled out.
Computerisation of courts hasn't moved beyond the Supreme Courts has it?
Even high courts have been computerised and daily cause lists are available on the Internet, but you're right that the bunching of cases on points of law and then clearing them in bulk happened only in the Supreme Court - this can happen only if the chief justices want it to happen, we've given the software. We're now working on computerising district courts.
What is your staff strength and how serious is the problem of attrition? After all an Infosys can easily double your people's salary
We have 3,500 people of whom 2,900 are engineers and software specialists. We can't compete in salaries, but we give them challenges they'll never get anywhere else, we have network and other tools that are cutting edge, so that's another reason to stay. Our attrition was 15-20 per cent a few years ago but is now down to 6-7 per cent. At the higher level, this is down to around one per cent. We have 60,000 man years of experience in e-governance, so newcomers have a lot to learn and get a lot of exposure. If they stay for three years, I've more than recovered my investment in them.