Srinagar: An unending process of tendering and bidding, along with creating and recreating the Draft Proposal Report (DPR), has been underway at the Information Technology (IT) department since 2009, when the government first conceived of a project to interconnect all government departments through a State-Wide Area Network (SWAN).
In what could be termed an example of extreme carelessness and lethargy by the J&K government, the eight-year-old project is nowhere in sight of implementation, despite the same project already executed in India’s poorest states like Jharkhand and Bihar.
SWAN, a core infrastructure project under the ‘National E-Governance Action Plan’, is a joint venture of the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY), Government of India (GoI), and the JK government’s IT department.
Sources within the department told Kashmir Reader that the project has been revolving around the bidding and tendering process for the last eight years with no headway made whatsoever.
“The (SWAN) project is yet to progress beyond paperwork. The department hasn’t moved beyond initiating and quashing tenders. Nobody owns responsibility for the delay or shows commitment towards the project’s swift implementation,” said insiders at the state IT department.
As per official records, the state government prepared a DPR of Rs 106.57 crore to implement SWAN in J&K. The DPR was forwarded to the IT ministry, GoI, in 2009.
The ministry approved about half the amount. It gave the JK IT department an excuse to move even slower on the implementation.
“They sent around Rs 58 crore in response to the DPR, which was for some 106 crores. Rather than asking the IT ministry for more funds, the officials sat to make another DPR to reduce a few components. In that process, a good amount of time was lost,” the department source said.
Till March 2014, the department floated tenders four times, all of which were called off.
If and when SWAN is completed, it will make communication services over voice, data and video accessible to all government departments from their own locations. Further, the entire J&K administration, from headquarters to districts to block-level offices, would be connected to one another.
As per the earlier DPR, the project was expected to interconnect two J&K state headquarters (SHQ), 20 District Headquarters (DHQ), and 152 Block Headquarters (BHQ) with a minimum internet speed of 2 megabytes per second (MBPS).
The network was to connect all J&K and designated government offices within a 15-km radius of the SHQ, all J&K and other designated offices located within 10 km of each DHQ, and all J&K and other designated offices within 5 km of each BHQ.
On October 1, 2015, a meeting was convened at New Delhi by the Department of Telecommunications, GoI, in which the then-Commissioner Secretary IT, J&K, participated to discuss SWAN.
Considering the amount of funds released by the IT ministry, the meeting decided to allow J&K to prepare a fresh RFP (Request for Proposal) to reduce or delete certain components, in order to bring its cost down. “Hardly anything followed the meeting,” said the insider.
As per the Ministry of IT website, SWANs have been made operational in 34 states and Union Territories of India.
“The States/UTs are utilising the core infrastructure of SWAN. Their government offices access applications through SWAN in a secured online environment that is hosted at State Data Centres (SDCs),” the website says.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands and J&K are the only two places where SWAN has not been implemented so far. “Andaman & Nicobar Islands has faced a lot of issues for the selection of network operator, while Jammu & Kashmir is in the process of finalisation of bid process,” the website says.
Umar Bastal, a member of the Information Communication and Technology Association (ICTA), an association of IT companies in Kashmir, said that the ICTA carried out a number of advocacy programmes for timely implementation of SWAN and other e-governance projects in J&K. “We had a meeting with officials under the Omar Abdullah-led government four years ago. Even with the current finance minister, Haseeb Drabu, we had pre-budget session meetings about e-governance projects, The minister assured us that he would direct all departments to allocate 10 percent of their expenditure to IT-related projects. Unfortunately, the project is in limbo for reasons best known to officials,” Bastal said.
He said that there needs to be a “strong will” to implement the e-projects, like officials have shown in creating State Data Centres (SDCs). “However, even after the creation of these SDCs, the state is not exploiting them the way it should have, only because there is no SWAN network established. Without SWAN, they are almost useless,” he said.
The JK government also had apprehensions related to SWAN and its management. To tackle that, a provision was inserted into the previous RFP wherein it was stated that a local IT partner would assist IT ministry officials in the process of implementation. This provision, however, is missing in the fresh RFP.
Chief Executive Officer of J&K e-Governance Agency, Saadut Hussain, said that the new RFP has been sent to the IT ministry. “We had to re-create the RFP because some districts and tehsils which were formed after the previous RFP had been prepared, had to be mapped accordingly. Further, the Non-Feasible Sites (NFS) like Kargil, Leh, Tangdar, Padder, Machil, Tulail, Rajouri and Gurez areas, which had a redundant fibre network, were missing in the earlier RFP and they had to be included in the project,” Hussain said.
“We are going for a multi-protocol ISP system as Kashmir is not like other states where all sites are feasible. At many sites, even BSNL is not feasible. Now we have prepared a comprehensive RFP and have sent it to GoI. They will take a final call on the overall project cost,” he said.
Commissioner IT department Sanjeev Verma said that his department was facing a number of issues in preparing the RFP, because of which it has sought help from the IT ministry to prepare the same.
“We wrote to the IT ministry for assistance in preparing the RFP. Now that the deadline (last quarter of 2016-17) for preparing the RFP is over, our immediate concern is to get extension for the same. We can focus on other issues later,” Verma said.