AS: You are just back from CeBit 2006 international fair. Could you find any perceptible changes in the minds of the IT people about West Bengal?
GDG: Obviously. There is significant change in the mind and attitude of international IT players so far as perception about West Bengal is concerned. They are now showing keen interest in the State. The negative perception about the state has largely been erased out and that's major success, if I may so, in marketing West Bengal as an investment destination. We, however, are not complacent at all. We are fully aware of this aspect and have taken series of measures to correct this distortion. The negative perception about the State still held by a section of prospective investors- both at home and abroad- is not borne out by the ground realities, which are vastly different. Had it not been so, the giants in the IT sector would not have been expanding in this state at such a rapid pace. In addition other big companies are coming to Kolkata at a rapid pace.We are holding road shows in different locations, participating in Exhibitions and Seminars, inviting investors to Kolkata and approaching Embassies and Consular Corps and Industry Associations. This approach has paid dividends and people today are convinced about the value proposition of Kolkata as a preferred IT destination.
AS: Since I met you last, you have received a very encouraging news from the Central government. The Communications and IT minister Dayanidhi Maran has given the green signal for an Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) cable landing station in Haldia. How would like to see this development?
GDG: This is a very significant and positive step forward in more than one sense. This will change the IT face of the entire eastern region. In fact, not only eastern but north-eastern region as well. Reliable cable infrastructure would immensely help develop the IT and ITeS sectors in the east and north-east regions. West Bengal has been witnessing significant growth in IT and ITeS sectors due to its intrinsic advantages like talent. A OFC cable landing station in Kolkata would further propel the growth of the knowledge based industries in the state through improved quality of telecom connectivity and decreased cost. Cost is likely to come down by 10-25 percent. Currently all cities in eastern and north eastern regions fall under Class C category ( 500 kilometer from landing station). This leads to very high telecom costs to very high proportions.
Besides greater and faster accessibility, the OFC landing station will help decrease the average distance between major cities of northern, central and eastern states. This would also help improve the uptimes available in these cities. In view of the central government's special emphasis on the development of NE region, the OFC cable landing station in West Bengal would go a long way to fulfill the region's need.
AS: What about overseas market? In an interview Industrial India Trade Fair chairman S.K.Ghosh who has just returned from Vietnam has talked about the prospect of Bengal-Vietnam collaboration in IT. He went as a member of delegation led by the state Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee. Vietnam is a member of ASEAN. What is the scope of such collaboration?
GDG: As a facilitator the state government is doing and will do all that can be done to help IT industry here to develop relationships with other countries. The government will also offer best possible opportunities if any collaborative project ( in IT) comes through but primarily the industry has to take the initiative. The state IT department is regularly interacting with the Embassies, Consular offices and other foreign offices and posting them regularly various development that is taking place in IT sector in West Bengal.
So far as OFC cable landing station in West Bengal is concerned, through this facility telecom companies operating in the state can enter the BIMSTEC, ASEAN member countries like Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Besides, it will throw open immense business opportunities both for overseas and Indian companies.
AS: You must be waiting for the development of land next to Airport for IT and ITeS industries. Against the backdrop of all these major development, how would like to describe the present status of the IT industry in West Bengal compared with many an established states in the IT landscape of the country?
GDG: Without any complacency, we can boast of having many of the major IT companies of the countries having their facilities in the state. Some high-profile IT majors have shown keen interest to come to the state. Negotiations with them are in different stages. To name them a few of those who have already opened their facilities include IBM, TCS, Cognizant, PwC, Skytech, NIIT, Lexmark, HCL, AIG, AtosOrigin, e-Force, Interra, LSI Logic, Ixia. They found the city an ideal destination and are multiplying capacity continuously.
GDG: Kolkata has all the required environment coupled with variety of advantages for the exponential growth of IT and ITeS Sector. Hewitt Associates have projected Kolkata as the next preferred ITeS destination in view of huge competitive advantages the city has. The city has huge reservoir of talent pool, offers the lowest cost of operations, lowest attrition, best quality power availability and other requisite enablers making it the most preferred IT destination in the country today.
AS: E-governance is getting increasingly important place in every state government’s plan. To what extent the West Bengal government has made progress in that direction?
GDG: There is no denying the fact that until and unless benefits of technologies percolate down to the masses at the grass root level and empower the people to improve the quality of life, technologies become meaningless. IT has immense potential to add value to the life of common people. Therefore, a transparent accessibility between government and people is of prime importance. We have taken a variety of initiatives in this direction.
Government departments having maximum citizen interface include among others Panchayat & Rural Development; Land & Land Reforms; Police; Health & Family Welfare; Transport; Commercial Tax; Consumer Affairs; Environment Management; Treasuries; and Commerce & Industries. These departments have implemented e-governance projects with good results.
West Bengal State Wide Area Networking (WBSWAN) connecting 18 district headquarters to State headquarter over 2 Mbps leased line, transmitting Data, Voice and Video is operating. The 8 sub-divisions have also been connected to the respective district headquarters over 2 Mbps leased line transmitting Data and Voice. 1 block has been connected on Data and Voice. The WBSWAN was launched in August 2001, for providing a computer networking backbone across the state for implementation of various e governance applications. WBSWAN is being up to Gram Panchyat level with Burdwan as Pilot District. Department of Information Technology, Government of India has conveyed it’s approval for the implementation of “State Wide Area Network - SWAN for the State of West Bengal” at a total estimated outlay of Rs 66.93 crore to build up a robust networking backbone for the Government of West Bengal to usher e-governance in the State. This will ensure connectivity upto 341 blocks in the state.
West Bengal, one of the Indian states is all set to implement the country's first rural e-Governance pilot project in a southern district of the state. The project to be launched in Bardhaman will bring every village council there under its network. The District Head quarter, Burdwan is connected on the WBSWAN through a 2 MBPS leased line to the State Switching Centre at Writers Building. The Capital Expenditure on account of Network, System, Peripherals, Software, DRN System Integration etc. is projected at Rs 4.96 crore.
The pilot project once implemented would provide following additional connectivity: 6 Sub Divisional Head Quarters : 4 Remote Sub Divisions to be connected via 2 MBPS Leased line to District Head Quarters (Voice & Data) Existing SDSC at Drapery & Asansol to be upgraded. Burdwan Sadar I & II because of their proximity to DSC will be connected by laying Optical Fiber cables. 31 Blocks connected to District Head Quarters via 2 MBPS Leased Line.
AS: Could you tell us about IT application in the health sector?
GDG: Under the telemedicine project three major hospitals have been connected to rural hospitals to provide the benefit of quality health care facilities to the rural people. The system operates on conventional Telephone Line/ISDN, mostly on Store and forward technology with live Video and Data session support. Three Telemedicine projects are now running in the State. In one such project, School of Tropical Medicine,Kolkata, has been linked with Habra Govt. Hospital and MJN Hospital of Coochbehar. In another project, NRS Hospital Kolkata has been linked with West Midnapore and Baharampur District Hospitals. In this project itself, Burdwan Medical College and Hospital has been linked with Seuri and Purulia District Hospitals.
In the third project, SSKM Hospital Kolkata has been linked up with Krishnangar and Balurghat District Hospitals. As a result, poor patients in various hospitals of distant districts are getting the benefit of better treatment through telecommunication without having to come all the way to Kolkata or District Headquarter Hospitals.
The state IT Department has bagged Bronze Icon for Telemedicine project for exemplary Implementation of e-Governance Initiatives, for the year 2004. The award is given by the central government. This was announced by the Department of Administrative, Reforms and Public Grievances, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. Besides, the Telemedicine Project has also won the Skoch Challenger award for e- Governance this year at Skoch summit held on February 17, 2005 at Delhi.
AS: Any IT projects for the Police administration?
GDG: The Kolkata Police is using IT as an effective tool for Administration. Presently , the two stages connect more than 400 Police Stations across the State. The Kolkata Police has an efficient intranet involving the police head quarters, important offices and all the police stations within Kolkata Police. This has brought marked efficiency in the day-to-day operation of the police and police investigation. All the 407 police stations of West Bengal and police establishment in the network is under the final stage of implementation. This is a phenomenal step towards e-Seva from the custodians of LAW and this endeavor is the first of its kind in the country.
In the first phase Kolkata Police Intranet & Computer Network. 45 Police Stations of Kolkata Police and 5 Divisional offices and 30 other offices of Battalion Ac s have been networked through computers. Webel Technology Limited (WTL) has been entrusted the job. Further new Application Software for Police Personnel (PPIMS) has been developed. The software was operational for last one and half years. These 45 Police Stations were also computerized and functional for more than one and a half years. They were connected in email messaging network and regularly sending their “ Morning Report”.
In the second phase 407 Police Stations and 52 Courts and Part of the SP office are being computerized to increase the efficiency of the existing operations in thana offices and for more effective Crime control and close liasoning with Court operation (Police part) along with the development of Application software for close control of Day to Day operation of the entire Police force. So far 376 Police Stations and courts have been computerized and more than 188 Police Stations have been connected in email messaging network and regularly sending “Morning reports WBSWAN connectivity was done for 8 districts SP offices and for rest is underway.
West Bengal Police has scaled new heights in the frontiers of Information Technology for crime detection with the launching of Finger Print Analysis and Criminal Tracing System (FACTS). FACTS has been designed, developed and implemented by CMC Limited. FACTS is advanced automatic fingerprint identification system (AFIS). It uses image processing, pattern recognition and neural network techniques for Finger print matching and identification.
FACTS is a powerful and advanced tool to Fingerprint Experts in executing their work effectively and efficiently. Traditionally Fingerprint Experts face several problems in carrying out their work manually in Fingerprint Bureaus. These include archival of large volumes of paper based fingerprint slips, deterioration of paper based fingerprint slips with time and ever increasing workloads. The system is comprised of a server, three workstations and a mobile FACTS unit. The existing database contains around 40,000 finger prints which is expandable upto one lakh and beyond. The FACTS system will play instrumental role in identifying the criminals at the scene of crime. This sophisticated IT enabled system will help West Bengal Police to shortlist and identify the criminals in a much quicker span of time.
In respect of pollution control related activities, the government is extensively using IT application. West Bengal Pollution Control Board, through an unique G2C interface is providing the Citizens an option to use their EMIS online. Benefits envisaged from the EMIS are -- i) on-line application, processing and issuance of environmental clearances for establishment and operation of polluting industrial units in West Bengal ii) On-line application for lodging and processing of environmental complaints by the public iii) A database for all the industrial units dealt by the Board that could be accessed, analyzed and reports of user’s need & demand can be produced by any authorized person without manually going through the hard-copy records.
The new built-up-space in the making
AS: What about computer literacy programme? Could you tell us something about it?
GDG: We have been implementing Computer Literacy Training Program in collaboration with IBM, Wipro and NIIT from the academic year 2000-2001. The course curriculum for this program is being followed as per the syllabus approved by the Expert Committee of the school Education Department, Govt. of West Bengal. There are about 9,500 Government Secondary and Higher Secondary Schools in the state. The Government of West Bengal is committed to cover all schools & Madrasas in the state under this program. The intent of this programme is to provide affordable computer education to students from class VI – XII. Under this programme 500 Higher Secondary schools so far have been covered. Another 500 schools running the same by their own initiative. This programme is being run by the state government in collaboration with IBM, Wipro and NIIT. This year further 2500 schools will be included. (Total no of schools is 9500). Microsoft and Intel will impart Teachers’ Training Programme from this year.
AS: Any other area?
GDG: Yes. We are extending IT application to the transport sector. The project is aimed to generate citizen-friendly services on IT-bases OS i.e. through G2C applications; to generate easily accessible permanent records and to save for handling and processing data of everyday activities, statutory and administrative through efficient backend data and front-end applications (G2G).
This is under implementation at multiple locations. Operating System is already in use and in regular operation in the offices of State Transport Authorities and Public Vehicles Department in Kolkata. Regional Transport Offices and Area Regional Transport Offices located at Howrah, Barasat, Hooghly, Burdwan, Purulia, Midnapore and Barrackpore. Vahan & Sarathi Software is being customized at Public Vehicles Department, Kolkata. This shall be soon rolled out to South 24-Parganas and thereto other districts. Smart Cards shall also be introduced for Driving Licence and Registration Certificates.
Twelve other Regional Transport Offices and five more Assistant Regional Transport Offices will be included in future. Gradually other Corporations and Undertakings under control of this department will be covered. Smart Card system is being implemented in PVD, Kolkata as a Pilot Project through WEBEL for issuance of DL and RC. It will be replicated to other Motor Vehicles Offices subsequently. This card with 4KB microprocessor and using biometric security system will store details of the driver and the vehicle. These cards have been designed for readability in anywhere in the country and thus help in transport management and crime tracking.
AS: The government have taken up computer literacy programme to reach the masses but what about the blind? Have you taken any initiative to provide computer literacy to them?
GDG: We have developed ‘Computer aided Text to Braille System’ to enable the visually impaired to access and read documents from the internet has been developed. It’s a milestone project indeed.
AS: With the expansion of the IT and ITeS sector in particular, what are the steps taken by the State Government to ensure availability of quality talent?
GDG: The State government has promoted West Bengal University of Technology under which 65 private engineering colleges and Business Schools across the state has been established. This includes state government sponsored Indian Institute of Information Technology. This is in addition to the resources available from existing colleges like BE College, Jadavpur University, Indian Statistical Institutes, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Science College, Kolkata etc to name a few. The recent survey conducted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University reveals that 3 Universities from India are among the top 500 World Universities of which two namely Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and University of Calcutta are located in West Bengal. These institutes provide quality talent, which is the greatest asset of our state. Apart from that, huge numbers of English speaking graduates are coming out every year in the state. Govt of West Bengal have set up an Academic Council to address the need of the industry and bridge the gap between the supply of talent and requirement.
AS: What are the priority areas identified by the IT Department?
GDG: In IT and ITeS Sector, all the enablers are equally important. Right infrastructure for the industry, which include not only land and space, but also stable and quality power and Bandwidth are the prime requisites. Besides, creating social infrastructure, availability of required manpower are other priority areas. Improving ‘Perception’ is one of the focused areas. The top most priority area is to reach the advantage of IT to the masses.
AS: How do you plan to achieve the state’s target of becoming the premier –IT state in India by 2010 and contribute 15% of India’s total IT revenue and 20% in ITeS revenues?
The government has taken a series of initiatives in this regard. We are
creating the requisite infrastructure – both physical and social. At the
policy level, as well, we have taken very significant steps. One such
decision is to declare IT and ITeS industry as a “PUBLIC UTILITY SERVICE”.
We are constantly addressing the issues relating to availability of requisite
quality manpower to match our vision. We are sure to contribute our mite
in view of huge competitive advantage West Bengal has in this Sector.