Duare Sarkar (DS) (Government @ the Doorstep- https://ds.wb.gov.in) launched by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal, India, is a two-fold innovative ICT driven administrative mass outreach initiative for:-
(a) time-bound delivery of pro-poor, citizen-centric services through community level outreach camps, attended by government functionaries with IT setup, for enrolling eligible citizens, focusing on senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PwD), women and the poorest who hitherto faced access challenges, and
(b) addressing locally identified community level gaps related to infrastructure/manpower/ supply & services viz. road repairs, street lights, drinking water, doctors/teachers/ conservancy staff etc. through tailored interventions under a sub-programme, ‘Paray Samadhan’(PS) to better their quality of life.
Selection of services under priority sectors of health, education, social security pensions/support to senior citizens/PwDs, livelihoods support, gender equality etc. under DS, as well as gaps to be addressed under PS, proactively pursue achievement of 10 of 17 UN-SDGs.
Through possibly one of the world’s largest outreach programs, DS promoted education, health insurance and social security coverage, alleviated poverty, positively impacting the lives of millions of citizens. Their response to DS demonstrates its potential, holding much promise, for re-imagining "government" as accessible, accountable and responsive, matching citizens’ expectations.
DS has made it possible to cover the most marginalized and hitherto unreached citizens through a scalable/replicable model that can be adapted/adopted by other governments at all levels - seeking to improve the quality of life of their citizens, ensuring positive impact and outcomes in their lives.
DS is formulated and executed to promote education and alleviate poverty. Despite best efforts from government, there was a need to put in place a system to bring most-needy under umbrella of different government schemes. We faced twin challenges of reaching last mile and overcoming digital divide (as most schemes are IT based).
Following WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT and WHOLE OF SOCIETY approaches, DS is designed for bringing government machinery closer to citizens through outreach camps in village/habitation levels. Entire IT paraphernalia was taken to these camps. Community level volunteers were put into service for mobilisation of eligible citizens around their areas and provide needful help.
There is an old adage that says that ‘the King sees, as he listens’. Good governance is the ‘art of listening’ to people’s voices and views and the related capacity to act upon such concerns. DS is a paradigm shift from the traditional public administration to e-governance driven service delivery mechanism, in which the government is found available at the doorsteps of citizens and eager to listen to their needs and deliver services ensuring “Leaving no one behind”. DS holds much promise for re-imagining the governance system to meet the people's aspirations by making it more accessible, accountable, and responsive.
UNITED NATIONS VALUES PROMOTION
DS, backed by West Bengal Government’s strong commitment to uphold community rights and ensure access of citizens to development schemes/services meant for them, is an example of how IT systems can be designed for effective, efficient and transparent governance to provide seamless and universal delivery of services to citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or economic diversity across geographical locations.
Sustained use of ICT networks and partnering with field level change agents including members of community-based organisations and field functionaries in the IEC strategy for DS, made it possible to share all relevant information regarding camp schedules, locations, scheme guidelines including eligibility criteria and other details related to government services/schemes with the grassroots. The success of this strategy is reflected in the high turnout (more than 64 million citizens registered) as well as the significant presence of those who occupy relatively disempowered positions in society like women, tribal folk, transgenders, commercial sex workers and also those living in remote inaccessible geographical areas.
To overcome any communication gaps due to the depth and expanse of DS, multiple channels of communication including the internet, Push SMS, email, Mobile Apps and Helpdesk were set up. The digital environment created for DS, enabling continuous real-time updation even from the remotest corners of the state, and monitoring of coverage, participation and disposal of applications displays the state's commitment to create a robust ICT infrastructure. Daily reports/snapshots of camps and visitors were put in the public domain and shared on the official state government website wb.gov.in. Internet enabled mobile phone-based delivery of services, online applications, digital receipt to reduce usage of paper and contactless delivery are signatures of the state moving in the direction towards Green Governance. We believe that at every step and in every aspect, DS has promoted all of UN values.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE IMLEMENTATION OF UN-SDGs
DS contributes significantly to UN Action Lines especially in promoting ICTs for development with every participating department implementing welfare schemes through strong ICT backed web portals. DS increased access, accessibility, affordability, digital inclusion and made ICT services and equipment available for inclusion of all.
DS outreach camps become multi-purpose community access points where citizens access official information through a combination of physical and digital modes. Through many community volunteers and of social media, DS created an enabling environment to ensure citizens are able to access services as well as raise issues and demand redress of their grievances. DS brought to common citizens, including those living in far flung and inaccessible areas, the benefits of relevant ICT applications to improve their quality of life.
The state government believes ICT should be used for benefiting millions and that it is a tool for development and not an end in itself. So, gaps seen in implementation of welfare-oriented schemes, were sought to be removed through the DS campaign through the optimal use of IT.
Accordingly, to facilitate change, promoting equity and achieving sustainability in the development paradigm, the state included in DS schemes like Aikyashree, Sikshashree, Krishak Bandhu, 100 Days’ Work - MGNREGS, Kanyashree, Rupashree, Manabik (Pension for Persons with Disabilities), Khadya Sathi, Jai Johar, Taposili Bandhu, Swasthya Sathi, Lakshmir Bhandar, Caste Certificates etc. – all of which have strong linkages with 10 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The schemes are briefly described below:
Aikyashree (wbmdfcscholarship.org): The scheme addresses the growing aspiration for education among the (religious) minority communities of the state with a view to provide more avenues for their socio-economic and educational mobility by extending financial support (scholarship) and encouragement to meritorious students.
Sikshashree (wb.gov.in/government-schemes-details-shikshashree.aspx): Financial assistance is provided to upper-primary day-scholars of marginalised communities (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) studying in public schools. The objective of the scheme is to improve their participation in pre-matric stages and minimize the incidence of drop-out.
Krishak Bandhu (krishakbandhu.net): This is a unique assured financial assistance to all farmers and farm household families of the state under a single benefit scheme. It ensures a single digitized card-based identity for all farmers of the state. The farmers with one or more acre of landholding are entitled for US $68.50 per annum and assistance with minimum US $27.40 per annum assistance on pro rata basis. Also, under the ‘Death Benefit Scheme’, bereaved families would receive a one-time lump sum of US $2740 on the death of a registered farmer.
100 Days’ Work/MGNREGS (nrega.nic.in/netnrega/home.aspx): Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme also called as ‘100 days’ work’, specifically guarantees to every rural household 100 days of unskilled wage employment per financial year, in order to offset the lean agricultural seasons that result in unemployment and the spiralling chain of poverty.
Kanyashree (wbkanyashree.gov.in): Launched in October 2013, it is a flagship programme of the State Government introduced to address gender disparities in learning, empowering girls’ access to jobs as well as entrepreneurship, and improving sex ratio through provision of Direct Benefit Transfer. The scheme has also been a recipient of the UN WSIS Prize 2016 in e-Government category and the United Nations Public Service Award in 2017.
Rupashree (wbcdwdsw.gov.in/User/rupashree_prakalpa): The scheme aims to mitigate the difficulties that poor families face in bearing the expenditure of their daughters’ marriages, for which they often have to borrow money at usurious rates of interest. A one-time financial grant of US $342.50 is given for economically stressed families at the time of their adult daughters’ wedding.
Manabik (jaibangla.wb.gov.in/login): The scheme has no income bar for applicants and provides financial assistance to persons having 40 percent or more disability. The amount of monthly pension provided under the scheme is US $13.70.
Khadya Sathi (wbpds.gov.in): Through Khadya Sathi, a Government of West Bengal initiative, covering 70 million (almost 90% of the State’s population), subsidised rice and wheat is made available at US$ 0.02 per kg. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic the government is providing ration to all its citizens free of cost.
Caste Certificate (castcertificatewb.gov.in): To access certain government protections/benefits guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, citizens require a legal document as proof of their identity as belonging to a certain community and therefore eligible for receiving the same. Benefits include scholarships and admissions in educational institutions funded by the government, and employment prospects in the public sector. Other benefits are also given to such identified persons.
Jai Johar (jaibangla.wb.gov.in/login): Launched by the state government in March 2020, the scheme aims to improve the condition of the members of the Scheduled Tribes community above the age of 60 years by providing them a monthly pension of US $13.70, if not covered under any other pension scheme.
Taposhili Bandhu (jaibangla.wb.gov.in/login): The scheme was launched along with Jai Johar and has a similar mandate for the Scheduled Caste population of the state above the age of 60 years. Other important miscellaneous schemes and services for which applications were received in the DS Camps included:
Bangla Awas Yojana – (scheme providing houses to all eligible families)
Old Age (social safety net to senior citizens above 60 years of age under State and National Government schemes)
Support of persons with disabilities
Support to widows
Yuvashree – (financial assistance scheme for the unemployed youth of the state)
Loans for Self Help (micro-credit) Group/ Farmers
Bangla Sasya Bima Yojana – (scheme providing crop insurance coverage to farmers)
Employment related and
Land issues related
UN SDGs which DS aims to achieve include:
GOAL 1: No Poverty: All schemes address the multidimensional nature of poverty. MGNREGS in particular aims to enhance livelihood security, with the DS campaign providing an opportunity to the rural poor to submit applications and demand work. Financial assistance to farmers was extended through Krishak Bandhu. Pensions, scholarships and financial grants to poor households are provided under other schemes.
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger: Khadya Sathi, the State Government’s scheme for ensuring food security by making subsidised staples available to common citizens, is a direct contributor in achievement of zero hunger as a major development agenda of the state. New family members are being added under the scheme in the DS camps.
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being: The government introduced Swasthya Sathi in line with existing health insurance policies to see that cashless, hassle free, good quality health facilities and treatment are available for its citizens across all strata. Enrolment in the scheme and distribution of enrolment cards are drawing large numbers of people to the DS outreach camps.
GOAL 4: Quality Education: To further literacy and educational levels, with an emphatic focus on girls’ access to quality education, Aikyashree, Sikshashree, Kanyashree have been brought under DS. Disbursement of Caste certificates will create better life condition for students. The data gathered through the DS portal shows overwhelming success of the state in generating public response in this direction.
GGOAL 5: Gender Equity: An inherent gender component finds resonance in most of the schemes. Kanyashree, a champion scheme in retaining girls in education, Rupashree, a successful change agent in preventing child marriage, Swasthya Sathi cards issued in the name of the family’s eldest female member, Lakshmir Bhandar providing access to assured basic monthly income to women of 25 to 60 years age, are positive examples of this vision, and leading to financial inclusion of females further resulting in their improved participation in the development process.
GOAL 6: Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth and Decent Work for all: Caste certificates for those belonging to marginalised communities ensure access to affirmative action benefits. Kanyashree, in convergence with other existing skill-based schemes, offers better vocational training options and improved job prospects for young girls which will help them secure better futures.
GOAL 7: Reduced Inequality: Services are being offered for processing caste certificate applications, enrolment in pension schemes for members of the scheduled caste and tribes and sikshashree scholarship for students belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Tribes communities. Minority (religion) students are enrolling under Aikyashree.
GOAL 8: Sustainable Consumption and Production: Coverage of eligible farmer families under the Krishak Bandhu scheme is being extended through the camps. The scheme’s two major benefits of assured income to farmers/sharecroppers and benefits to the families in the event of any death being widely publicised and promoted.
GOAL 9: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies: Rupashree reflects the state’s respect for social customs and institutions and its commitment to address social evils of dowry and gender-based violence. All major schemes are aimed to enhance people’s awareness and access to government services, thereby advancing the state towards a more inclusive and just society.
GOAL 10: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development: Use of ICT enabled infrastructure and portal for reporting, monitoring and concurrent evaluation of scheme attendance, coverage across all schemes, online application and issuance of e-receipt under DS intervention, dynamic real time documentation across the state, builds on the existing pool of knowledge for shared learning in future, and contributes to the strengthening of an Information Society.
DS – with its community level outreach plan for doorstep service delivery and robust ICT system for real time data collection, reporting and monitoring can be reproduced easily in any other location- provincial, national/global. The administrative protocols framed, beginning with collection of applications to finally delivering services is easily replicable. The decentralised manner in which camps were planned, scheduled and uploaded by the local level administration in the DS portal can be easily scaled-up to cover larger populations over a larger geographical area.
The DS Portal can be adopted and adapted with ease, as the digital eco-system designed for the programme provides end-to-end solutions developed in configurable architecture. In India, there is a Local Government Directory (LGD) of land regions - rural and urban local government. We adopted the LGD to ensure nationally acceptable naming conventions and codifications.
Replicability at the National Level: The provincial government of Jharkhand in India has initiated their "Aapke Adhikar, Aapki Sarkar, Aapke Dwar" (Your Rights, Your Government, At Your Doorstep) - an outreach camp-based programme on the lines of West Bengal’s DS. Recently, the provincial government of Goa also launched “Sarkar Tumachya Dari” (Government at your doorstep) on a similar format.
Replicability at State level: The ICT-driven service delivery model of DS has been replicated / adapted in 2 time-bound schemes of the state in the recent past. With the objective of ensuring quick disbursement of certain specific relief and compensation to those impacted by the very severe cyclonic storm YAAS which hit the state on 26th May 2021, the government announced “Duare Tran” (Relief at the Doorstep) which was also executed through local outreach camps to ensure speedy disbursement of compensation/relief in a transparent manner. “Duare Ration” scheme for providing food grains under the public distribution system at the doorstep of all citizens of West Bengal emerged from the success of DS.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN DUARE SARKAR
From the very outset, ensuring citizens’ satisfaction through a quick registration process and glitch-free functioning of the service counters in the camps, with minimal waiting time, was a high priority. It was obvious that a strategic approach would have to be adopted while conducting DS camps in anticipation of the hundreds of thousands of people who would attend.
Besides, in the COVID affected atmosphere, there was a heightened need to understand the demand of individuals across heterogeneous demography, preferences across multiple channels, predict demand accurately and then respond with the right services within the specified time window.
Incorrect demand forecast could cause a bullwhip effect throughout the DS initiative, resulting in service delivery inefficiencies and reduced satisfaction of citizens visiting camps. A high-fidelity demand forecast connected with operational planning was therefore of paramount importance to reduce any such possibility during the course of the camps.
The pandemic and the need to conform to Covid protocols made matters more complex and competently addressing the challenge of managing queues at the registration as well as scheme counters became even more important. The situation necessitated predictive analytics for queues in the camps.
In such a complex situation, it was decided to take suitable approaches to demand planning and forecasting that use artificial intelligence and machine learning that combine the available data for DS camp operational planning simulation. Accordingly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven trend and future prediction for better management of DS camps were incorporated in the DS portal to aid the executing authorities and field level officials.
This predictive analytics approach driven by AI based demand forecasting would reduce fulfilment lead-time, backlogs arising from mismatched demand-service delivery and more. The local administration also used this demand forecasting method to avoid inefficiencies caused by the misalignment of demand & service delivery in the DS outreach camps. From the State level, this feature was used to monitor and review the situation across the state.
Authorities of the DS mission used this demand forecasting methods to improve their decision-making processes about camp infrastructure, risk assessment, capacity planning and workforce planning. They would also trigger the participating administrative departments to augment their service delivery infrastructure with needful resources – especially workforce & ICT – to cope with forecasted demands of relevant schemes and services.
Simultaneously, from the field level experiences, it was possible to assess the efficiencies of the ‘Predict - Demand Planning’ demand forecasting solution, its AI based demand forecasting effectiveness, predictive analytics accuracy and real time responses. The results were very positive which increased the dependence of the local level administration especially on this feature for planning their programme accordingly.
In DS, provision was made for registration & service delivery of services schemes like Aikyashree, Sikshashree, Krishak Bandhu, 100 Days’ Work - MGNREGS, Kanyashree, Rupashree, Manabik (Pension for Persons with Disabilities), Khadya Sathi, Jai Johar, Taposili Bandhu, Swasthya Sathi, Lakshmir Bhandar, Caste Certificates etc.
The Census data of the province, the data that had emerged from the Integrated Covid Management System, field level data from districts and the data captured during the initial days of the DS camps helped to predict the demand of specific schemes in certain locations. The government was able to evaluate the available data from such sources and come to logical conclusion helping the administration in Predictive services and Trend Analysis towards better control on demand & queue management.
For example, districts in the provinces of Jhargram, Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura have endemic tribal populations. Accordingly, adequate measures were taken to strengthen the Service Registration & Delivery counters of applications for Caste Certificates and other schemes targeted for the betterment of members of such communities in the DS camps of those districts.
Districts like Murshidabad, Malda, South 24 Parganas have large sections of the population belonging to religious minority communities. Accordingly, Service Registration & Delivery counters pertaining to Aikyashree were equipped with adequate work stations and HR to attend counters so that there would be smooth conduct of the camps.
Due to the fear generated by the pandemic situation, there was a huge demand from citizens to be able to avail medical facilities which would necessitate requisite financial means to access treatment etc. It was predicted correctly that there would be huge demand for Swasthya Sathi cards in DS camps across the province and that the demand would not be isolated in pockets. Accordingly, the number of service counters and personnel of the Health department were increased to meet up the anticipated “enormous” demand from interested citizens.
Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on millions of people across the globe and the economic impact of the same is still not known fully. Financially unstable poor families working in the unorganised sector were hit the hardest by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. The Government of West Bengal decided to launch a government-led monthly financial assistance programme for all families in the province to provide a lifeline for them struggling with the challenges of meeting their daily basic needs.
It was rightly predicted that there would be a heavy demand for eligible women to getting enrolled for Lakshmir Bhandar during DS in August- September 2022, as it would provide a secure monthly financial assistance to poor families. The prerequisite for enrolment under the scheme was to be enrolled in the Swasthya Sathi scheme which has almost universally covered all poor households in the state. Therefore, in this round, service counters of both Lakshmir Bhandar and Swasthya Sathi were strengthened with adequate IT support and workforce. Besides, the Servers including the ICT infrastructure of those schemes were augmented with sufficient resources to manage the enormous load of intending beneficiary registration data, its processing and timely service delivery.
The support rendered by the DS portal included inputs for queue management during peak hours, ensuring availability of larger number of counters for specific departments to enable handling of higher demand for certain services in particular localities etc.
The Data Analytics which are made available in DS portal are (a) Data Visualization to provide graphical and tabular representation of consolidated reports providing multiple choices, such as, daily/weekly time series analysis of footprints, welfare scheme-wise comparative performance visualization, and many other visualization subject to what is required to be captured and displayed within the data set boundary obtained from the reports (b) Visualization tools to provide users to filter, drill down, roll up, sort features as per their own preference.
The Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics using machine learning engine which are being provided through DS portal are (a) Time series analysis of location/scheme wise performance, pattern of welfare scheme demand – location wise, trend of scheme demand (b) Detect pocket of inefficiency in the system from the available data as well as combination of all report elements (c) Perform trend analysis to nullifydissatisfied citizens (d) Perform remedial analysis to prevent or trap failure points where from possible poor performance can occur.
The software tools which are being used in DS are (a) Dashboard for Visualization –Tableau (b) Data Scrapping & Mining – R. We have used machine learning in DS that enables the portal to learn and advance based on DS camp data, Census data, ICMS data without being clearly programmed. Machine Learning Predictive Algorithms using open source R language is incorporated in the project to predict demands using the historical data of such sources. The historical data are being used for data mining and showing trend and future prediction & prescription.
Such mechanisms in the DS Portal have helped to predict future queues at registration counters and Earmarked Social Benefit Scheme Counters using the historical data obtained from initial camp data.
This has helped deploy requisite officials in counters for delivering efficient services and minimising discomfort to citizens attending the camps. The analysis has also led to the identification of peak hours or camps where congestion is highest.
The DS portal has enabled the capturing of a large volume of data emanating out of the registration process of the overwhelming number of people who attended the camps. The seamless flow of information through the portal has facilitated faster response time and improved delivery of services to the people in record time.
Multiple channels of communication were put in place to allow real time flow of information to the service recipients, thereby enabling better crowd management.
DS is not a standalone ICT (Information and Communications Technology) intervention, but rather one with the potential of creating a ripple effect on the working of other departments as well, by providing feedback for improving their response to the demand of citizens.
The huge database created during the registration of these citizens will provide evidence and ideas for improved planning, and for equitable and sustainable development for the state. With the information that has been generated in the DS portal and after analysing and comparing the same with the secondary data available with the local government, the field administrators are presently planning for the next campaign starting shortly, in a much more informed manner, anticipating scheme and services demand in localities, preparing for household wise targeting in the long run. This will pave the way for governance which is truly for the people.
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
DS has been formulated and executed with the objective of bringing the state government closer to citizens through a massive outreach programme, reflecting the idea of “accessible” government. It aims to empower citizens in the state especially women, senior citizens, persons with disability, religious minorities, students and the poor who are perceived as still unable to optimally access the government schemes/services meant for them.
The schemes selected for inclusion in DS are welfare oriented and pro-poor and include health insurance, social security schemes, scholarships, assured income, food security, pensions etc. Access for inclusion to these schemes were facilitated through IEC campaigns and organization of community level outreach camps at the grassroot level.
Some of the achievements against UN SDGs are briefly described below:
1. Social Inclusion - members of the transgender community, persons with disabilities, commercial sex workers, the aged, widows and the hardest to reach groups have benefited from DS.
2. Lowering of economic burden – Through schemes like Swasthya Sathi, Khadya Sathi, Krishak Bandhu expenditure on health, food security has been reduced. Also Krishak Bandhu and Lakshmir Bhandar have given assured incomes to farmers and women between the ages of 25 and 60 which also gives financial assistance to the families of those covered in the schemes.
3. Access to education & health – Scholarship support and coverage under the health insurance scheme (Swasthya Sathi)
4. Identified gaps in infrastructure / manpower / supply & services of priority sector areas were addressed through PS.
5. Strengthening of IT infrastructure to meet the demand in terms of bandwidth, server space, user friendliness.
6. Improved G2G Governance through integration and convergence of efforts.
Social Inclusion – members of the transgender community, persons with disabilities and commercial sex workers: As a concerted and multi-pronged strategy for addressing poverty and social exclusion, a major outcome of the DS campaign has been the resultant inclusion of certain fringe/peripheral social groups hitherto invisible. A clarion call for this being a ‘’society for all’’ is quantitatively evinced in the services received by members of the marginalised and minority communities, including senior citizens, persons with disabilities, commercial sex workers, members of the transgender community, workers in the unorganised sector, prison inmates and others. Qualitative evidence is found in the numerous oral accounts and narratives of the beneficiaries.
An example is the story of 70-year-old Mr Sukol Kisku, an elderly member of a tribal community suffering from locomotor disability, who in December 2020 attended a DS camp to apply for a wheelchair. He got a wheelchair and also got enrolled in a pension scheme.
Lowering of economic burden - Swasthya Sathi, Khadya Sathi, Krishak Bandhu, Lakshmir Bhandar: The pandemic resulted in a significant slowdown of the economy and led to disruption of broad-based governmental efforts towards poverty reduction and creating better livelihood prospects for people in general, and the marginalised sections, in particular. The DS initiative has been a mass outreach campaign led by the noble intention of lowering the economic burden of people whose financial stability was already precarious. Closely aligned to the above thought process has been the enlarging expanse and scope of entitlements under Swasthya Sathi, Khadya Sathi, Lakshmir Bhandar and Krishak Bandhu across socio-economic strata.
Access to education and health: Various scholarships and Swasthya Sathi: Ensuring access to health and education has been another pivotal outcome of the campaign. The Swasthya Sathi scheme aiming at universal health coverage has been suitably publicised at the community level through these outreach campaigns. Around 7.6 million families have been brought under the cover of free health insurance in record time which is a major success of DS.
To ensure access to education, various schemes under the campaign recognise that learning outcomes of students are thwarted by the existing social stratification system. Sikshashree as a part of the campaign therefore, has provided scholarships to students from the marginalised community. Aikyashree, in turn, provided scholarships to students of the minority community, recognising the existing socio-cultural and economic barriers to co-exist alongside their aspirations. Kanyashree has provided girl students with better opportunity to further their aspirations for educational and social mobility.
Infrastructural needs addressed through PS: Based on the overwhelming response of people to the DS campaign, Paray Samadhan, was launched as a sub-programme of DS to specifically cater to requests received as part of miscellaneous applications in the camps for addressing community-level issues related to neighbourhood infrastructure, human resource and supply needs/gaps.
Improved G2G Governance through integration and convergence: DS with its objective of ensuring timely service delivery to citizens at the doorstep including covering the last mile, has led to significant strengthening and some re-engineering of the existing service delivery mechanisms. The ICT portal built for successful implementation of the campaign led to an overall integration of the existing systems enabling real-time flow of information of direct enrolment of eligible citizens under the various targeted sectors.
As service delivery under DS 2 was expanded from 12 to 18 government schemes/services, it has been instrumental in economically empowering many sections of the society. These include:
• Women: One of the most important schemes included under DS is Lakshmir Bhandar, a cash transfer scheme providing women with assured income every month. This scheme is working towards giving financial independence to women which can lead to their empowerment. Additionally, schemes like Kanyashree and Rupashree also are tools for financially empowering girls/women.
• Students: The Student credit scheme seeks to empower students to pursue their education without any financial constraints.
• Minorities: Schemes like Aikyashree, a scholarship scheme for student belonging to minorities communities plays a major role in uplifting the minorities socially and financially.
• Farmers: Under DS, farmers are also getting empowered financially through assured income support under the popular Krishak Bandhu scheme. Additionally, social and economic security is extended to the family in case of their untimely death. Such farmers also get preference during paddy procurement.
• Rural population/ Migrants: DS camps are also attended by the MGNREGS team members who provide job cards to applicants in a time bound manner. Rural households and migrants, especially those in financial distress, are guaranteed work enabling them to earn their livelihood even during the COVID lockdown.
• Likewise, other targeted schemes like Manabik, Taposhili Bandhu, Jai Johar etc. play an important role in providing a social security net to supporting vulnerable members of various marginalized communities and groups.
Apart from the schemes and services on offer, the following are the other highlights of the camps:-
1. All support services were made available, and for free in the camps including application forms and stationery, photocopying facilities etc. to ensure that there were no financial challenges for citizens to access any of the services on offer there.
2. Kanyashree club members volunteered to help applicants struggling to fill application forms on their own. Public spirited college students were also allowed to volunteer to assist citizens.
3. Women self-help group members are also involved in various ways to support everyone’s efforts to ensure all citizens were able to get their work done.
4. Various departments also used this opportunity to set up counters to assist, educate and empower citizens. Community volunteers distributed pamphlets to generate awareness on child labour, child marriage etc. in the camps. Wheelchairs and spectacles were also distributed by the health department functionaries.
5. Arrangements were made for selling local products and handicrafts by local artisans and members of Self Help Groups.
6. Health care counters run by ASHA workers were a regular feature in the camps.
7. Separate areas for giving privacy to breast feeding women as well as spaces for children were set up.
8. Cultural programmes were also held by local artistes to entertain visitors in the camps.
9. As a whole, the DS camps is significant as it not only makes democracy vibrant but also creates social capital, social solidarity and social empowerment of citizens of each and every section of the society.
Keeping in mind environmental concerns, DS is working towards environment friendly ways to achieve the twin goals of providing services at the doorsteps and coexisting with nature.
As the project is mostly carried out in the digital medium, it is saving resources in terms of papers and files. ICT facilities created under DS have taken care of green e-governance to the extent possible. It has also been involved in adoption of environment friendly techniques for creation, use and disposal of ICT infrastructure. Online scheduling of camps, online collection of service delivery applications and service seekers not being required to travel physically over long distances to visit the government offices resulted in saving travel costs and burning of fuel etc.
Secondly, specific instructions were issued to ensure cleanliness in the camps. Along the lines of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, cleanliness was supervised and monitored by members of self-help groups, Kanyashree girls and other local volunteers. Thirdly, several instances of members of self-help groups raising awareness and educating people about the importance of planting trees and taking care of nature were captured in the camps. In north Bengal, inspired by DS, “Duare Gaach” (Plants at the doorsteps)” was initiated where saplings are distributed to the common people.
“DS” that literally took the government machinery to almost every locality in the state has received an overwhelmingly positive response since it was initiated, allowing the government to connect directly with a huge number of citizens. However, this was not achieved easily and many challenges had to be faced during the preparation and implementation phases of DS.
As providing “government at the doorstep” was the commitment made, the administration had to ensure that camp locations were optimally set up, giving no scope for complaints from citizens that the camps were located at too much of a distance from their residences and it was not easy for them to access them conveniently. Ultimately, the local administration is using local resources and staffs exhaustively, including premises of government schools, colleges, public institutions, charitable health centers, open government premises etc. It is a challenge to find sufficient infrastructure, mobile and internet network in rural areas which are inaccessible. Also, the programme was held across the state, so there were geographic reasons which challenged DS technically. After finalization, entry of details of camps - locations and schedules including geo-tagging in the DS portal was done by grassroots personnel who had user login IDs created for them.
Despite the best efforts made to guesstimate probable numbers of visitors at any given time on any camp day, there was still very little control that the local administration had regarding the time that service seekers would turn up at the camps. It was also not known what services the citizens may come to seek for better scheme counter management. Crowd management and control could be ensured initially only through constant monitoring of the situation at the local level with members of the police administration and additional officers deployed on the ground specifically for this. Subsequently, it was possible to study the trends/patterns of footfall as well as indicative demand for different services in the camps to take pre-emptive steps for better management of the crowds and counters.
That the camps were held during the pandemic was also a huge challenge. Top-most priority was given to ensure Covid-19 protocols of physical distancing, thermal screening, use of hand sanitizers and wearing masks were enforced strictly within the premises.
Due to the huge number of service seekers attending the camps, a large contingent of manpower was required to maintain peace and order inside the camp venue, for scrutinizing all applications, to meticulously analyse the issues being faced by each citizen and to also find a suitable remedy within the short period given for disposal of applications. All these activities demand very high levels of professionalism and motivation, sharp intellect, ability for adapting to situations as they develop, capacity for rigorous human endeavour and presence of a heart committed to public service. So, throughout the period of the campaigns, the performance of all government functionaries had to be sustained at top notch levels which are very challenging.
Quality assurance is another serious concern while delivering services at this scale. It is also to be ensured that citizens who have been brought under the cover of the scheme can actually avail them when the need arises. After getting themselves included under the health insurance scheme, complaints were received that some private hospitals were not willing to offer services. The Health and Family Welfare department immediately responded to these complaints that were communicated through various mediums including calling at the helpline number that was set up for the purposes of taking feedback from citizens. A similar problem was noticed with the direct benefit transfer scheme where due to some glitch, some eligible women did not receive the amount in their respective bank accounts resulting in problems in bank branches. This was also attended to by the concerned department.
It was reported that a few officials experienced technical difficulties during the camp due to network connectivity issues, linking outage, internet slowness or software related issues in certain geographical areas including the hills, islands in Sunderbans and remote locations in rural areas, which had to be dealt with on a priority basis.
However, commendable initiatives were taken to mitigate these technical challenges during the subsequent phase of DS. Currently a 24*7 dedicated IT Team is vigilantly monitoring this platform and a quick response service desk has also been put in place for immediate corrective action. Also, the responsive design of the DS portal also enabled field level functionaries to easily access the portal on their tablets and mobile phones within their limited bandwidths. The average registrations handled by the portal during DS 2 was around 1 million citizens attending camps being held across the length and breadth. The highest number of registrations handled by the portal was 1.94 million registrations on 23rd August 2021. The hits per minute on the portal also reached more than 2000 at the peak periods of the day of the camps.
Additionally, in a few instances, the inadequate bandwidth of the respective service delivery portals of departments participating in DS, had to be enhanced within a very short time to prevent avoidable delays and even crashing of the portal due to the additional load. Concurrent monitoring through real-time data check and further planning led to the successful timely addressing of these issues.
DS is a multi-departmental, multi-location, technology-rich; completely home-grown initiative. A technology intensive multi-disciplinary project of this nature requires the entire range of parallel and sequential activities to converge together around the same time. DS exemplifies the role played by all stakeholders working together as a team.
It has already been stated that though initially there was no plan to make DS permanent, due to the overwhelming response of citizens to the initiative and the staggering number of services that could be delivered to citizens in a timely fashion, it was decided that DS and PS would become regular features in the administrative calendar and would be held twice every financial year from 2021-22 onwards.
Further, the citizens’ feedback collection mechanism was upgraded with the setting up of a dedicated helpline during the campaign set up in the State Level Coordination Centre. This central helpline facility let citizens call on advertised phone numbers and enquire and give their inputs/feedback on matters related to DS including dates and locations of camps etc. To keep a track of these calls, a separate module was created in the DS portal for recording “issues” on a real time basis as information was shared or sought by callers over these phone numbers. These issues were sorted into categories for the purposes of improving the MIS and enabling identification of major issues as well as recurring issues for further attention of the higher authorities to be drawn to them, if necessary.
The portal let these issues be transferred down the line to the appropriate administrative level where specific actions are to be taken. Action taken reports can be filed by the concerned officer. The callers would also be called from the State level coordination centre to verify that they were satisfied with the action taken by the local level administration. Over 99% issues are resolved to the satisfaction of the citizen who called the helpline. It is felt that the benefit of this system has been felt by both citizens who had their issues attended to and the government which was able to feel the pulse of the people and identify pain points and trouble shoot immediately. Feedback applicable to all districts or schemes was quickly disseminated for urgent attention.
The DS portal is already integrated with a wide array of modern ICT technologies like web-SMS gateway for auto-notifications and geo-tagging of camp venues, integration with departmental portals through web APIs for service delivery status. The features that can be added further include:
An automated token generation system as an alternative to avoid unnecessary chaos and prolonged queue.
Bigdata or Cloud based repository can be created during registration for faster response.
A user friendly one tap mechanism based mobile app along with single window grievance submission facility can be designed for elderly citizens or person with disability to do away with their physically attending the camp venue in the near future.
A CCTV camera system can be introduced to ensure there are no malpractices in the camps.
Real-time uploading, hawk-eyed monitoring, document verification, accurate forecasting, information collection, profile submission and remitting issues, acknowledgement slip generation should be implemented digitally.
Separate service desk, e-learning awareness campaign, dedicated grievance counter should be introduced in each camp.
In the long run, a household level data base can be developed identifying various services members are eligible for followed by an exercise to map and monitoring whether these services have been delivered to them. This has been initiated by one district which intends to target hamlets which are inhabited by special groups with limited capacity to access government services including members of primitive tribes etc. so that they are not left out of development initiatives of the government.
By virtue of this digital automation, we can not only set an example in front of the world for promotion of such environment-friendly campaigns but in the process save valuable time, enormous natural resources, reduce drudgery as well as strenuous labour.
It is felt that the future of this project is assured. It will need to keep adapting to demands and feedback for bettering the experience of citizens who visit the camps. Its success will depend on how well we can adapt to demand and how relevant it can stay for citizens.
Set rolling on 01/12/2020 by Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal, this administrative innovation has made it possible for government to reach the most marginalised and hitherto unreached citizens through a scalable and replicable model and thereby creating impacts in lives of millions citizens including senior citizens, persons with disabilities, trans-genders, commercial sex workers, prison inmates, the poor & the most disadvantaged and marginalized.
DS has made government services demand driven, a huge shift from supply driven system. New sectors/schemes are added in subsequent DS editions. 2 provinces of India have already adopted DS model.
One key learning is that there is a need for such innovative projects to move away from the assumption that layering of ICTs in development initiatives alone will automatically address and solve pre-existing constraints related to gender, caste, feudalism, privilege and traditional exercises of power, factors which limit the real potential of ICTs in citizen centric service delivery.
While designing the portal, due consideration was paid to important elements like need for thorough preparatory work to avoid breakdowns in service delivery, availability and updating of accurate data, adherence to timelines indicated in Citizen Charters, periodic monitoring of performance and dynamic evaluation to ensure achievement of desired outcomes. These have held it in good stead. The portal also owes its success to active involvement of multiple stakeholders with specific motivations, whose constructive inputs help to seamlessly work towards a common goal and eliminate the tendency of functioning in silos.
The portal has taken centre stage now to become the glue that binds the efforts of all the individual departments as they go about delivering services as per citizens’ demand in DS. Through constantly evolving useful MIS from the portal, critical analysis of each and every aspect of performance under the campaign is possible. Finding solutions through mutual discussions is now a regular activity for all stakeholders in the government for improving citizens’ experience in DS.
The government also carried out a social impact assessment by a third party (report being shared), which queried visitors over telephone (contact details from registration data) about their DS. The finding was that over all, the camp experience was positive. Critical feedback was used as inputs to improve the campaign. The news carried in electronic and social media were regularly tracked and requisite action taken - helping citizens to reach out and government to respond. We found encouraging and positive revies from near and far. Nobel Laureate, Prof Amartya Sen also commented on DS. (https://theprint.in/india/amartya-sen-trusts-survey-praises-mamata-govt-schemes-didi-ke-bolo-and-duare-sarkar/701141/ ). Additionally, a short field study was conducted across 10 districts with the intention of understanding practical experiences of citizens visiting camps for taking action as required, demonstrating our commitment to improve the government delivery mechanism and allowing evolution of the project based on stakeholders’ feedback and inputs.
The push from the Hon'ble Chief Minister of West Bengal, brought in the buy-in of all departments concerned, truly exemplifying the need for political will and leadership in bringing about such changes. The components in the success of DS include a noble thought, committed individuals, supporting technology and some impatience.
In August 2021, DS won the Digital Technology Sabha Excellence Awards under the category “Analytics and Big Data”. In the beginning of January 2022, DS was conferred the “Award of Excellence in Project Category” in the Computer Society of India - Special Interest Group e-Governance Awards 2021. Both awards are prestigious and given at national level. These awards have been bestowed on DS as its immense scale and potential for positively impacting governance and lives of citizens is obvious and immediately appreciated.
These awards have been a great source of motivation for all government stakeholders and further strengthened the resolve to continuously strive to improve desired outcomes of DS, positively impacting citizens and improving their quality of life.
The following video links give an idea about the depth and expanse of the unique programme that is DS: