Dr. Neeta Verma – Director General National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
National Informatics Centre is an attached office of the Ministry of Electronics & IT, set-up by the Government of India in 1976. In the last four decades, NIChas emerged as a premium institution of e-Governance in India and hasprovisioned ICT infrastructure and solutionsfor the government at various levels.NIC has played a key role in implementing ICT applications in the social and public administration and electronic delivery of services to citizens. Over a period, NIC has emerged as a promoter of digital solutions for sustainable development across various sectors in India.
What are some of the biggest achievements of NIC in the last 5 years?
NIC has been closely associated with the government in the application of technology in different dimensions of governance. Over a period, we have established a nationwide state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure for the government and built a wide range of digital solutions which cater to the needs of the central government, state government, and reaching up to the district administration. With an increased digital adoption across the country, one of the biggest achievements has been the development of digital platforms for end-to-end management (concept to the commission) of national initiatives and schemes.
Direct Benefit Transfer(DBT) and Digital Payments have brought-in a paradigm shift in the way benefits are transferred to the citizens. Platforms such as Public Financial Management System (PFMS) electronically interface with all banks and facilitate DBT in a big way for various government schemes.
e-Way Bill supplementing the GST system provides self-service for the generation of permits for the movement of goods and helped abolish the check posts In India. Similarly, the eInvoice system helps the taxpayers in reporting the invoices being issued by the taxpayers to their customers on the government portal on a near real-time basis and obtaining a unique Invoice Reference Number (IRN). The e-Invoicing system facilitates the taxpayers to integrate their ERP systems for the exchange of information between machines using APIs. The standardized e-invoice format has led to machine readability, enhanced interoperability, and uniform interpretation between various stakeholders. One-time reporting of invoices has reduced the reporting of the same in multiple forms.
Our Immigration and Visa platform is supporting the immigration services at all immigration checkpoints across India. E-Visa servicehas been extended tothe nationals of 171 countriesthrough this platform.
Similarly,Virtual Courts conceived in 2019, aims at reducing the footfall in the courts by reducing the presence of litigants or advocates in the court. National Informatics Centre has facilitated the end-to-end development and implementation of virtual courts in several states in India. These courts can be managed by a judge whose jurisdiction can be extended to the entire state with flexible working hours. More than 5 million cases have been adjudicated online where violators had pleaded guilty in more than 1.3 million cases resulting in a collection of Rs. 1460 million as fine.
Besides helping the government in the delivery of citizen services, we have also built national-level platforms for major initiatives of the government such a Swachh Bharat Mission, Soil Health Card, MyGov, PM-Awas (Housing for All). These platforms have introduced a lot of efficiency and agility in the management, implementation, and monitoring of these programmes through a data-driven approach.
What has been the trajectory of growth for NIC in terms of infrastructure and its relevance in projects of national importance?
Over a period, with the ever-evolving technology, our ICT infrastructural capability has seen exponential growth. NIC has been providing ICT infrastructure to the government for over four decades. We had introduced VSAT based communication to the government much before the internet was available in the country. Today, our ICT infrastructure encompasses multi-gigabit nationwide networks NICNET, NKN, National Data Centres, National Cloud (MeghRaj), and pan India Video Conferencing infrastructure.
NICNET, the pan India communication network for the exclusive use of government connects government offices across the country using a diverse combination of technologies. Our 2300+ video conferencing studios based at different locations along with web-based VC solutions have brought administration at all levels close to each other and have recorded more than 1.7 million hours of videoconferencing in the year 2020. Similarly,with a 3.4 million userbase,our messaging services are at the core of government communication and have also helped the government to connect with the citizens while delivering the services online.
Our own dedicated state-of-the-art large datacentres in Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, and Pune offer a robust, highly available infrastructure with adequate redundancy to enable the government to effectively render a variety of services to the citizens. Mini-Data Centres are also operational in all NIC State Centers to support the e-Governance requirements at the state level. Recently Hon’ble Prime Minister laid down the foundation of North-EastData Centre in Assam which would specifically cater to the growing digital needs of North-East India.
These Data Centres provide hosting support to a large number ofe-Governance Projects, portals, and websites such ase-Procurement, Public Financial Monitoring System (PFMS), eUrvarak, Public Distribution System (PDS), e-Courts, Digital Locker, e-Counselling, Fertilizer Management System, Cyber Swachhta Kendra, India Portal, and Human Resource Management Systems.
From when it started, how has MeghRaj strengthened over time and what are the plans for it ahead?
NIC set up the first national cloud, MeghRaj, for the Government of India in 2014, to utilize and harness the benefits of cloud computing. With a modest beginning, our cloud services have scaled up considerably catering to the needs of over 1000+e-Governance applications and citizen-centric services.
MeghRaj, our National cloud is a novel initiative as it was set-up by the government, for the use of government, and is also managed by the government. Today, MeghRaj cloud has accelerated the delivery of e-services to the citizens while optimizing the ICT spending of the government. With a robust cloud infrastructure, the turn-around time for end-to-end execution of any scheme has significantly reduced and scaling-up of the existing IT set-ups is much easier now.
Meghraj will continue to be the enabler of digital transformationin government. It has brought in a lot of convenience in the way citizen services are brought online by government departments. There has been a considerable saving of time and effort of the departments in terms of estimation, approval, procurement, and installation of infrastructure which earlier took months. To take this spirit further, we are currently exploring the model of Software as a Service (SaaS) and upscaling some of our services in SaaS mode.One such SaaS-based service is S3WaaS which powers the generation of secure, scalable, and accessible websites without writing a single line of code. 625 district portals have been powered through S3WaaS.
Recently, we have also launched Artificial Intelligence-as-a-Service through which AI users will explore the open-source tools for creating AI training datasets and developmental frameworks. Many innovative services such as AI-VANI (Chatbot Services), AI-Manthan (Train and Test AI Deep Learning models), AI- Satyapikaanan (Face Verification) have been developed under AI as a service model.
How is NIC embracing new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, etc. in Government initiatives?
Over the decades, NIC has continuously strived to explore the applications of new and emerging technologies for Governance, which has not only enhanced the functioning of government organizations but also made the lives of citizens easier. We have embraced the overall change in the technology landscape and are exploring the potential use of emerging technologies in governance across all levels, i.e. from Central to state to the district administration. The use of mobile technologies, geospatial technologies as well as big data and analytics has greatly helped in the delivery of services to citizens along with planning and decision making in the government.
To take the mission further, we have set-up the Centre of Excellence in Blockchain Technology, Centre of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence, and Centre of Excellence in Data Analytics. These Centres of Excellence are set up to deep dive into these emerging technologies and explore their potential applications and build proof of concepts for social good.
What is NIC’s take on amplifying cybercrime, are you well prepared for any unwanted situation of cyber-attack?
The Digital India Programme has accelerated the pace of digitalization in the country on many fronts. We have seen significant growth in the pace of digital transformation in the Government. Today, a large number of initiatives are born digital from concept to commission, and therefore, it is paramount for us to be aware of these ever-evolving threats and devise appropriate defense mechanisms.
At NIC, we treat cybersecurity with utmost priority and therefore we have a dedicated team to enhance the security posture of the government infrastructure. Today, cybersecurity efforts are not just restricted to network security but also application security. Our focus also lies on end-point security as a lot of threats emanate from the endpoint in the absence of proper security measures. As we manage almost 13,000 government ICT applications, portals, and websites, we have also set-up Centres of Excellence for Application Security across India to continually protect the government applications from cyber threats.
To address the ever-evolving threats perceived due to cyber-attacks, Computer Emergency Response Team (NIC-CERT) is set-up in NIC with the objective of analyzing, monitoring, and responding to cyber threats on government cyber infrastructure like websites, emails, and digital solutions. NIC-CERT coordinates with other stakeholders to mitigate the cyber threats by monitoring the network for security incidents and issuing a regular advisory for any vulnerability detected. NIC-CERT works in close coordination with CERT-In, which is the national nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents as and when they occur.
What will India see in the next phase of e-Governance?
Digital India Programme has provided a lot of push to digital transformation in the country. In India, we have seen a revolution of mobile and broadband with their penetration up to the far-flung areas. With digital identity for every Indian, widespread proliferation of digital payments, Direct Benefit Transfer, and e-Sign, we will witness more and more government services becoming cashless, paperless, and faceless. Mobile revolution along with conversational AI will help to offer government services to citizens in the language they speak.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has once again brought the significance of technology to the core. We will witness a wide range of digital transformation initiatives across different levels in governance and its ecosystem of government organizations. To help the government organizations in fast-tracking their journey of digital transformation, we have a bouquet of software productsfor digital governance to cater to the internal functioning of the government as well as delivery of services.
What is that one piece of advice, which you would like to share with all?
Technology is changing at a fast pace, while on one end existing technologies are maturing, on the other, we are witnessing new technologies taking up the center stage. Technology has paved its way in almost all walks of life and is ultimately redefining the way we used to work or live our lives. We have also experienced a significant increase in the adoption of various technology-led solutions with the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it will be imperative for organizations to incorporate technology at the core of their strategy. As digital technologies become an integral component of an organization’s strategy, applications of these technologies will bear a greater impact on the overall growth of any organization. It will introduce a lot of innovation in defining new businesses that were earlier not thought about. Thus, for organizations to leapfrog their businesses and to stay ahead of the curve, they will have to bring their digital strategy at the center of any initiative.