Kerala state is undoubtedly the fore runner among the Indian States in building up new and innovative systems and methods for decentralisation and local democracy. It is more than a decade, since the historic constitutional amendments, declaring local governments as a statutory third stratum of governments was approved by the Indian Parliament. Kerala was first among the Indian States to take full advantage of the opportunities opened up by adopting a “big bang” approach to democratic decentralisation. Vijayalakshmi, V (2003). The strategy was to devolve more than a quarter of the State’s development budget to local governments and then learn by doing.
The necessary conditions for decentralisation had been substantially laid down in the state with the great strides made in literacy, especially that of women, and in the process of surmounting caste and class barriers through social reform movements, land reforms, the wide public distribution of essential commodities through fair price shops and a host of public action measures. Decentralisation in Kerala was looked upon as a practical measure for administrative reforms to improve delivery of public services sensitive to the local needs. Isaac, Thomas, T.M (2000), Vijayanand, S.M (2001). The achievements of Kerala in decentralisation have been acknowledged, with the Government of India, declaring that the Kerala State has the best Panchayati Raj System in the country for which the first ever national award for decentralisation was awarded to the state.
The decentralisation experiments in Kerala had been a massive action research programme. Information Kerala Mission (IKM) a sequel to it was grown from within this mass campaign with the participation of multiple stakeholders consisting of academicians, local government leaders, planners, professionals, administrators, development practitioners and voluntary workers.
The object of the mission was to computerise all local governments in the state, which now counts to 1223. This holistic and human centred Information Communication Technology project aimed at strengthening decentralised planning and local democracy through good governance, improved service delivery, sharing of best practices and building up community knowledge bases for decentralised planning and local area development. Participatory software development, developing learner centred, locale specific training and handholding strategies, and networking of local level small and medium enterprises for employment generation and sustenance are components of the project. Today, the IKM provides the much required database support for better decision making in development projects, offers improved public services and responsive local administration and imparts necessary skills to the community to use Information Communication Technologies (ICT) for transparency, participation and judicious decision-making in several local governments.
Being the first of its kind in the country the efforts of the mission had been pioneering and many of the methodologies tried out highly interdisciplinary and innovative. The project aims at building convergence and synergies with the various other developmental initiatives taken up in the context of decentralisation like ‘Akshaya’, a programme for e-inclusion, ‘Kudumbashree’,a micro credit centred gender oriented empowerment mission of community based organisations primarily of poor women for local economic development etc. The project strives for strengthening the citizen charters of the local governments and helps them implement the citizen charters for fairness and equal opportunity cutting across barriers of religion, class, creed caste, colour and gender. By helping local government initiatives, promoting holistic resource management perspectives and strengthening local governments it aims at building up sustainability from both economic and environmental point of view.
The project has already started touching upon the lives of the thirty million people in Kerala through a human centred application of Information Communication Technologies, for fast and effective service delivery, transparency and empowerment of the citizen, efficient back-end processing, improved and fair decision making, responsive administration and good governance all leading to stronger and efficient local governments in the state, thus making decentralised planning and local democracy more meaningful
Background and Introduction of the Project
Decentralisation in Kerala had identified grass root level planning as an entry point for mass mobilisation and empowerment. In 1997, it was decided by the Government to earmark 1/3rd of the state plan budget to local governments. This was sought to be utilised for preparing grass root level plans to be prepared in a participatory manner reflecting the felt needs of the community.
During the second year of the preparation of the local government plans (1997-1998) the need for a comprehensive database on local government plan projects was realised within the decentralisation campaign. This would facilitate consolidation of the plan processes and make effective monitoring also possible. By then the campaign had arrived at several negotiated practices and processes for participatory planning. An extensive citizen interface was made mandatory for approval of local government plans and beneficiaries. In this context of a broadening citizen interface a need to simplify administration in order to make it more responsive, efficient and citizen friendly also emerged.
The new processes of participatory developmental planning increased the workload of local government personnel substantially. Additional workload of the local government personnel was sought to be balanced by automating various local government processes.
Decentralisation had created a unique paradox in the matter of expertise. It was at the grass root level that the largest chunk of plan resources was made available for planning and resolution of citizen problems through decentralisation. However the staff in the civil service available at this level were the junior most, who lacked the experience of planning and developmental administration. Building up Expert Support Systems and Decision Support System was looked upon as a possible mechanism for tackling the lack of talent in the short run. The relevance of application of ICT in the context of decentralisation had emerged from these concrete necessities.
The task of the mission was to arrive at an appropriate choice of Information Communication Technology to meet the multifarious requirements cited above, viz
- Evolving a comprehensive database on participatory planning and monitoring.
- Simplification of administration to make it more responsive, efficient and citizen friendly.
- Handling additional workload in local governments without additional manpower.
- To tackle lack of expertise in developmental planning and administration through Decision Support Systems and Administrative System.
The mission group had evolved a human centred strategy of ICT application which looked forward to provide very simple interfaces to the layman for transparency, empowerment and participation. Demystification of technology was inevitable to rope in the local government leaders and a section of the less qualified and relatively older local government personnel. The mission launched a unique and very comprehensive participative system study on local government systems followed by a participative and user centred software development and deployment strategy.
The project is managed by a state level mission group consisting of a dedicated team of professionals well versed in technology and domain aspects. The policy affairs of the mission are looked after by an Implementation Committee headed by the Minister for Local Self Government. The executive head of the mission is the Executive Mission Director. The mission team has six departments organised functionally viz. (i) Corporate Management, (ii) Software Development, (iii) Line of Business Expertise, Data Analysis and Content Management; (iv) Technical Support and Infrastructure Management, (v) Quality Assurance, and (vi) Implementation.
The decentralisation programme in Kerala has evolved several fora for consultation of the state government with local governments like the State Development Council (SDC) and fora of local governments like Municipal Chairmen’s Chamber and Panchayat Associations. All the above fora are actively involved in running the project.
The mission is actively backed by the 1223 local governments. In Corporations, Municipalities and District Panchayats specific intervention programmes, local body wise were planned as their own projects. Total computerisation in pilot Grama Panchayats were also implemented as local government programmes. Apart from these, state level programmes have also been implemented like:
- Implementation of Janasevanakendrams in 58 urban local governments.
- Implementing hospital kiosks in 182 hospitals in 5 Corporations.
- Fast track programme for computerisation of 53 Municipalities and 5 Corporations.
- Fast track programme for first phase computerisation of 541 Grama Panchayats having computers already.
These programmes run by the state government are also organised with active participation of the heads of local governments and local government leaders.
Objectives of the project
The objectives of IKM include:
- Establishing efficient and responsive systems for good governance in local governments
- Establishing a mechanism for improving public service delivery through newly created channels for alternative service delivery, with comprehensive citizen interface mechanisms and through appropriately developed community information systems on the one hand, along with a Government Process Re-engineering (GPR) driven back-end computerisation programme covering various local government functions like monitoring of developmental projects, human resource management, grievance redressal, accounting and budgeting, financial management, and establishing a holistic social security network on the other.
- Developing an integrated micro-level resource based developmental information system, which would facilitate meaningful decentralised planning.
- Establishing a network interconnecting the local governments and related institutions, providing trained manpower for operationalising the hardware and software, and for handholding and providing continued technical support through district level and state level helpdesks to ensure that the network and applications are up and running throughout.
The objectives and strategies indicated above were evolved through extensive consultation with the various stakeholders and partners. Specifically prior to launch of the programme, planned interactions were initiated with local government leaders, local government personnel, activists and developmental practitioners. Interactions were also held with professionals throughout the state, on the methodology of implementation. The consultations helped the mission to arrive at a rapid appraisal of the felt needs at the local level for the application of Information Communication Technology as well as the system improvements sought for improving public service delivery at the front end and transaction processing at the back end . The outcome of the consultations was placed before the Implementation Committee of IKM which finally approved the objectives and strategy for implementation.
Scope of the Project
The impact of decentralisation has been substantial in the social services sector, whereas it has not been effective in the productive sectors of the economy and in areas of local economic development. Achieving better results in local economic development and in the productive sector requires extensive capability building, establishing comprehensive resource based developmental information systems, adapting developing new models for enhancing production and productivity trying them out, improving, generalising and replicating them. Building upon ICT based knowledge frameworks encompassing data, voice and video would help local governments handle these complex tasks.
In the social services sector the challenges are primarily second generation problems of maintaining quality and sustenance, leaving out some hotspots of ethnic minorities and marginalised sections where quantitative issues remain. Focused intervention in these pockets and handling the second generation problems is the overall strategy. The knowledge networks spelt out earlier and devising tools for improving participation of the local community in real life problem solving are the ICT targets in this segment.
One of the weaknesses of the Kerala Local Government system is the tendency to over politicise issues and to handle polemics in a highly polarised manner. This weakness can be addressed through extensive capability building of the stakeholders and through improving the quality of peoples’ participation in local government functioning. Reporting systems and information systems have to be geared up drastically to strengthen the existing systems in the public sphere
- Grass root level fora like Grama Sabhas, Ward Sabhas, and neighbourhood groups called Oorukuttams and Ayalkuttams.
- The fora of elected members viz., the Mayor’s Chamber, the Chairmen’s Chamber and the Panchayat Associations.
- The community mechanisms like social audit.
- Systems for participation of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in development and good governance.
- Quasi judicial mechanisms like Ombudsman and appellate tribunals etc.
Given the fiscal crisis faced by the state, the local governments would soon start facing serious challenges in finding resources for strengthening their infrastructure as well as in improving public services. Confidence in the service offerings in return of the taxations has to be created to improve local resource mobilisation. This would require quantum leaps in financial management, accountability, service delivery and infrastructure management performance. Devising performance benchmarks, monitoring them and ensuring information flows are critical among these tasks. The mission would have to address these also in their governance tools and information systems.
(Initiation date, no. of years project has been running)
- August 1999 – Formation of the Mission
- June 2000 – System study document in 7 volumes (appx. 3000 pages) covering all aspects of the local governments prepared with the participation of the local government personnel.
- September 2000 – Pilots initiated in 5 Grama Panchayats
- December 2002 – Jan 2003 – Janasevanakendrams inaugurated in Kozhikode, Kochi, Thrissur and Kollam Corporations
- January 2003 – Full fledged pilot initiated in Vellanad Grama Panchayat.
- March 2004 – The hospital kiosk programme conceptualised and detailed programme finalised in consultation with the Mayors and the Directorate of Census Operations-Kerala
- October 2004 – Janasevanakendram established in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, thus covering all the 5 Municipal Corporations
- March 2005-July 2005 – Janasevanakendrams established in all the 53 Municipalities thus covering all the urban local governments in Kerala
- July 2005 – Second full fledged pilot initiated in Thalikulam Grama Panchayat
- July 2005-March 2006 – Establishment of 110 Hospital Kiosks in 5 Corporations for the quick registration of births and deaths, and delivery of certificates within 24 hours
Project Geographical Coverage
The projects covers all local governments in the state including three tier panchayats ie. District Panchayats, Block Panchayats and Grama Panchayats, Corporations and Municipalities. The following institutions viz. State Planning Board, District Planning Offices, Directorate of Urban Affairs, Regional Directorate of Urban Affairs, Directorate of Panchayats, Offices of the Deputy Director of Panchayats, Rural Development Commissionerate and the Offices of the Additional Development Commissioner are also covered. See Figure 2 which shows the spatial distribution of institutions linked to the local government network in Kerala through the Information Kerala Mission programme.
The civic services envisaged as a part of the programme almost covers the entire gamut of services to be offered statutorily by the local governments under the third, fourth and fifth schedules of the Kerala Panchayati Raj Act and the first schedule of the Kerala Municipality Act 1994. The list of services has also been refined further as a part of the service delivery programme. A listing of services is provided in Annexure 1.
Almost the entire population of the state - for availing various services provided by the local governments and for obtaining information on the developmental programme and service offering of the local governments. The users shall also include local government leaders and staff in local government institutions.
The hardware vendors/ support agencies, Information Kerala Mission.
Hewlett Packard, Acer, Wipro, Microsoft, Computer Associates
Kudumbashree, Kerala State IT Mission, Centre for Development Advanced Computing (CDAC).
Experts from various walks of local government functioning, retired personnel from local governments who have involved themselves in product or information system design and implementation. Networking with global ICT networks and local government fora is envisaged. IKM is currently working on a Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) project for sharing best practices.