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Mandals Online in Andhra Pradesh

  
Abstract

The state of Andhra Pradesh in India has 1,124 administrative units known as mandals. Each of the 1,124 Mandal Revenue Offices (MROs) have been computerized. These MROs are now able to deliver online statutory certificates (stating caste, place and date of birth) to individuals in a few minutes rather than 20 to 30 days as under the old system. A database of land records for every owner is being created so that certificate of ownership also can be issued across the counter.

Application Context

The government of Andhra Pradesh supports an affirmative action program for those in "Scheduled Castes/Tribes" and "Backward Classes," which account for nearly 60% of the total population. Approximately $20 million is devoted annually to the program, which provides free education, books, scholarships, subsidized medical facilities, and support for land and house purchases. A certificate with caste information is necessary to access these program benefits.

The certificates are issued by the Mandal Revenue Office (MRO). Each mandal serves a cluster of 10-25 villages, with a population ranging from 35,000 to 500,000. Previously, a person requiring a certificate of his/her caste or date of birth would apply in writing to the MRO with a specified form. The application would be marked to the Revenue Inspector (RI) and sent to the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) for inquiry. If the VAO was satisfied concerning the claim of the applicant, he would recommend issuance of the certificate. The RI countersigned this recommendation. The MRO then would route the application to the clerk concerned, who filled in the relevant columns in the pre-printed certificate. This certificate was numbered, entered in a register, and sent to the Revenue Officer for his signature. Finally, once the Revenue Officer signed the certificate and affixed his seal, the certificate would be given to the applicant. This process took between 20 and 30 days to complete.

A New Approach

Now all of Andhra Pradesh's 1,124 MROs have been computerized. A citizen interface counter was created to receive applications for the integrated certificate in the prescribed format. The Junior Assistant/Operator numbers it, and validates the information against the certified database created from the 1995 Statewide Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS). The certificate is printed out with a bar code, and the whole process is done in less than 15 minutes. Yet, the certificate must be signed by the Mandal Revenue Officer, who is often away on travel duty. A government order is to be approved to authorize his deputy to sign the certificate in the event that the Officer is unavailable.

The system is also designed to maintain a record of land holdings in the area, and can issue a patta (certificate of land holding) and assist in land transfers and management of government lands. This system is working, at the time of writing, in approximately 100 mandals, whereas the rest are waiting to complete the validation of data.

Each person in the database has a unique Social Security Identification (SSID) number. Once all mandal offices are connected to a statewide network, the SSID will be transferred electronically from one mandal to another if an individual shifts his/her residence within the state.

Implementation Challenges

The project was implemented in a phases. A pilot study was begun in 2 mandals in April 1998. During phase I, which was supported by a Government of India grant for land record computerization, 91 mandals located at district headquarters were computerized. In phase II, 230 MRO offices were taken up. In phase III, 804 MROs, 79 divisions, and 23 district collectoraates were computerized.

Phase II and III were funded by the World Bank as part of a Hazard Mitigation and Emergency Cyclone Recovery Project. That project has supported the government's efforts to improve data collection and the communication of relevant hazards (as well as techniques to reduce vulnerabilities) from the distrcit and mandal level to citizens.

Co-ordination with various departments

Clear governance of the inter-relationships and co-ordination responsibilities among departments and agencies was required for the delivery of application software. For instance, the MPHS database is handled by the Revenue Department, land records are managed by the National Informatics Center (NIC) and Revenue Department, the Social Welfare department frames the rules for the issuance of certificates. Andhra Pradesh has formed a high level Domain Expert Committee and State Level Committee on Computerization of Land Records to provide guidance.

Coordinating the procurement of 4,500 computers and related accessories, which had to be installed at 1,200 locations spread over an area of 275,000 sq. kms, posed many challenges. Andhra Pradesh Technological Services (APTS) assisted in the procurement of hardware, software and integration of modules from relevant departments and specialized agencies. The project was guided by a single project unit in Hyderabad, with one Project Director and a small number of supporting staff in the unit.

Problems related to data

Compiling cross-departmental data required a major validation effort. A large amount of data must be maintained by MRO offices. This includes land records, data from the MPHS, data relating to the Public Distribution System, elections data, and flood and cyclone management. The MPHS data include socio-economic details of all citizens living in the mandal. In addition, it has a large amount of data that is generated periodically at village/mandal level through surveys and in departmental monitoring forms. Since the data was collected in 1995, most of it had to be re-validated. Teams of revenue department staff worked at this. Use of non-standard codes at the time of data collection posed additional problems. Only 95% of the land record data had been entered into the computer by the end of year 2000.

Poor infrastructure facilities

Of the 1,124 MROs, 628 are located in government buildings and 496 in private rental properties. Many of these buildings are in bad shape and require repair. In many offices electrical wiring is unsatisfactory, and in most cases grounding is not provided, which is a pre-requisite for the trouble-free computer functioning.

Lack of trained human resources

The lack of computer literacy among the 5,000 staff working in MROs has been a major challenge. One system administrator and two operators from every mandal are being trained (10-20 days in the operation of computers and application software). Approximately 3,500 people were trained by end of the year 2000. A month of Intensive training was given to four people from each district identified as District Resources Persons (DRPs).

Some aspects of the application require a level of sophistication in data base administration which can not be easily imparted to a mandal operator. A record must be kept of all the certificates issued, the people who process the requisition, authorize it, and who finally hand over the printed certificate. The software is capable of capturing an "electronic signature" of the personnel handling these facilities. To provide support, 3-4 trained persons from private IT companies have been hired for each district.

The Revenue Department, one of the oldest, is steeped in tradition, antiquated procedures and protocols. Persistent motivation and capacity building exercises are required to motivate the department to adopt new methods.

Benefits and Costs

The total cost of the project was $13 million. Eighty percent of the cost was for hardware and software, 8% was spent on data correction, and the remaining in equal amounts on training, "hand holding" and building citizen interface counters. About 70% of the funding was provided by the World Bank and the remainder came in equal parts from the Government of India and the Government of Andhra Pradesh.

Although the potential benefits of the application are great, only 500 to 5,000 caste certificates are issued by different centers in a given year.

Key Lessons

The current level of use of the new systems does not justify the investments that were required at each of the centers. However, the extensive database can be exploited by many departments for a myriad of useful purposes. For example, the civil supplies department in one mandal has been able to use the data to weed out counterfeit ration cards (These cards entitle families to receive subsidised food from specially designated shops). Similarly, the public health department can use the data to print out family registers for field staff. The database could also be useful to identify individuals below the poverty line for beneficiary oriented programs. Likewise, the systems can ensure that one family does not receive multiple benefits.

All of these improvements can only take place if the field level officers in these departments comprehend the potential of using this data, and are motivated to utilize it. This will take enormous training effort and time. Three years have already passed since the project implementation began. By the time the system truly begins to deliver, the hardware and software may have become obsolete. A better approach might have been to ready an inital one hundred centers to deliver all the related applications. The same support team could then have rotated to new locations.

Extensive training in use of data and information has to be mounted. An architecture for linking some key field departments with the data base has to be worked out.

Case study author: Subhash Bhatnagar
Information used to develop the case: The case is based on a paper by Asok Kumar (published by Sage in ICT for development: cases from India), discussion with the Revenue Department Secretary and field visits to Mandal Revenue Offices.
Date submitted: March 5, 2001
 
 




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