By Rathan U Kelkar, IAS & Rema Sundar
A public-private partnership model, the Akshaya entrepreneurs constitute the private participation in this model. Other stakeholders in the model are the FRIENDS Centres of Government of Kerala. Banking support is provided by the online division of the State Bank of India (SBI). The counsel of the Panchayati Raj Institutions is largely relied upon for effective project implementation.
An Akshaya entrepreneur can provide E-pay services by following certain well-laid steps, which have been displayed in the website www.e-kendra.org. To join the scheme, the entrepreneurs will have to submit a list of offices in their area of operation, bills of interests, consumer size, projected transactions per month, nearest SBI branch etc. Once this is approved, the entrepreneur has to open an Internet banking account with SBI. An undertaking has to be then signed at the Akshaya office, which authorises the entrepreneur to commence Government payment collection in a particular area. An Access PIN from the ePayment Gateway can be obtained by confirming bank account numbers, email and telephone address along with batch limits from the bank. The entrepreneur is then eligible to make collections.
To avail this facility of making all payments under a single roof, citizens have to register themselves at their nearest Akshaya e-kendra, each with a unique ID. Upon registration, they are issued a unique Consumer Number. After quoting the e-kendra ID or Consumer Number, the citizen can make multiple and diverse utility payments in one go, with least hassle. Citizens can verify the Akshaya E-pay receipts with the receipt number anytime, anywhere at www.e-kendra.org/bill. The website also provides for verifying past payments online.
The amount collected by the Akshaya entrepreneurs through Akshaya E-pay is transferred online from the entrepreneur’s account to FRIENDS account the same day itself. The Project Manager of FRIENDS transfers the fund collected through E-pay to the corresponding bank account opened by the participating departments the very next day. Presently the project accepts remittances of Electricity and Water Bills, BSNL Land Line and Mobile besides University fees.
With an investment of Rs.5.74 million, the deployment includes modest IT infrastructure: two IBM X Series servers powered by Windows Server 2.3, Visual Studio .NET, and SQL Server. The Akshaya e-pay application is browser based, developed on Dot Net platform with MS SQL as RDBMS. The site is secured with Verisign and the server is located at Data Centre set up by Government of Kerala. To ensure transparency and also to encourage entrepreneurs for their good work, the website also displays month-on-month, the transaction volume and value on the site, along with email addresses of the best performing entrepreneurs. An Implementation Committee headed by the District Collector and represented by the Akshaya Project and user department representatives has been constituted to look after the project implementation.
Core Project Features
Thus the core project features are:
§ Facility for online updating of backend data
§ Cash transfer through secure SBI bank bone
§ Payments to departments settled by FRIENDS in the very next day. (FRIENDS – Fast Reliable Instant Effective Network for Disbursement of Services – is a single window utility bill payment centre)
§ Online scrolls to the participating departments
§ Facility for verification of E-pay receipts by citizens anytime, anywhere at www.e-kendra.org/bill
1. Services are made within easy reach of consumers belonging to rural areas, thereby saving consumers’ costs on distant and recurrent travel.
2. It saves the customers, especially in remote areas, of the energy expended going to various Government offices to pay the bills, endlessly in long queues.
3. E-Pay facility is available to the public at Akshaya e-kendras at a nominal cost of Rs.5 or Rs.6 per transaction.
4. Flexible timing to suit the convenience of the customers
5. Traditionally an official from each department is entrusted the duty of collecting tax and various charges, thus taking his/her valuable time. With the switch-over to the E-pay counters, the departments can save the cost for maintaining the collection sections. The valuable time and energy of the employee/s could also be used for more constructive jobs within the department.
6. As the E-pay platform offers an online payment facility, the time required at the E-pay counters is minimal compared to the manual system of recording data and giving receipts in black and white.
7. The introduction of the E-pay serves as an additional source of revenue for Akshaya centres.
8. The sustainability of the project is guaranteed through community participation as the Akshaya centres heavily lean on the local bodies.
The E-pay project has chalked out plans for the future. This includes enlisting more departments such as Commercial Tax Department and Welfare Department in the E-pay platform. The project also envisages the enabling all the 2200 Akshaya centres across the State with the E-pay facility. The target is to ensure that there are at least two E-pay centres in every Village Panchayat of Kerala. Introduction of an online payment facility with credit/debit cards is also on the cards. The installation of FREES will accentuate the provision of online citizenry services even more.
Delivery of Internet services to rural communities was one of the biggest challenges in bringing IT to the masses. By creating the single window Akshaya E-pay centres, the Government of Kerala has taken a step towards bridging the urban-rural divide. The single window facility is creating new patterns of service delivery and promises to change the Government/citizen relationship. It strives to improve the way citizens conduct business with the Government, thereby enhancing efficiency of Government functioning. Finally, the creation of local employment and the additional revenues that this project brings to rural entrepreneurs helps to achieve equitable development.
About the Author
Rathan U Kelkar, IAS is the Director of the Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM) and Rema Sundar is the Promotional Consultant at KSITM.
Note: This article was first published in the ‘Information Technology in Developing Countries’ newsletter of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) Working Group 9.4 titled Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries. The newsletter is published by the Centre for Electronic Governance, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.