July 20, 2017
How Bengal is building a robust IT ecosystem
The state of Bengal is positioning itself to be a ‘State of Silicon’ by launching electronic clusters, building IT education institutions and encouraging a startup culture
When the All India Trinamool Congress came to office with Mamata Banerjee as the Chief Minister, her plan was to replicate the success in improving the efficiencies in the railways using IT, in the state of West Bengal. “She called me and said, you remember what we did in the railways, when I was the railway minister. She introduced e-tendering to make the tendering and procurement process transparent,” recollects Dr Amit Mitra, Minister for Finance & Excise,Commerce & Industries, Government of Bengal. Banerjee wanted Dr Amit Mitra to replicate a similar way of thinking, and use IT to transform the state of Bengal.
Under an encouraging leadership, the state of Bengal, is taking a series of initiatives to build a comprehensive IT ecosystem. In an effort to improve its internal efficiencies, the state has used technology to improve the way the government interacts with businesses. For example, there is no paper registration for Value Added Tax (VAT) in West Bengal today. It’s entirely online with a digitized signature. The process to avail the VAT facility is simple. A business person can log in to the portal online, include the digitised signature and apply for VAT followed by the government acknowledging with a digitised signature. It’s completely dematerialised. “No state in the country has been able to devise a similar process. We give a demat with a When the All India Trinamool Congress came to office with Mamata Banerjee as the Chief Minister, her plan was to replicate the success in improving the efficiencies in the railways using IT, in the state of Bengal. “She called me and said, you remember what we did in the railways, when I was the railway minister. She introduced e-tendering to make the tendering and procurement process transparent,” recollects Dr Amit Mitra, Minister for Finance & Excise,Commerce & Industries Government of Bengal. Banerjee wanted Dr Amit Mitra to replicate a similar way of thinking, and use IT to transform the state of Bengal.
Under an encouraging leadership, the state of Bengal, is taking a series of initiatives to build a comprehensive IT ecosystem. In an effort to improve its internal efficiencies, the state has used technology to improve the way the government interacts with businesses. For example, there is no paper registration for Value Added Tax (VAT) in Bengal today. It’s entirely online with a digitized signature. The process to avail the VAT facility is simple. A business person can log in to the portal online, include the digitized signature and apply for VAT followed by the government acknowledging with a digitized signature. It’s completely dematerialised. “No state in the country has been able to devise a similar process. We give a demat with a digitized signature back to the business person with no officers involved. You don’t have to meet anybody,” says Dr Mitra. For this initiative, the state government was awarded by the central government with the highest award in e-taxation. This system gave a cue to the state to integrate the entire tax collection system. By having the electronic process in taxation, the amount of tax amount collected doubled between the years 2010 – 11 to 2015 – 16. In 2010-11, the state received twenty one thousand crore of taxes. By 2015-16, it has exactly doubled to forty-two thousand crore. “I don’t think, there is any example of this kind in the country. I would give a big chunk of the credit of that to IT,,” says Dr Mitra. Even a small dealer, who files a return, can comply with the system. It’s that simple.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) did a study in 2005 and found that the compliance level in different states was rather low. In West Bengal, it was between 40-50 percent. The next step was to integrate the whole system for the finance department. “We started the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS). It took us 2 years. It was all outsourced. The Government materialised this through a PPP model. Last year, for the IFMS, we got the highest award in the country,” states Dr Mitra. West Bengal also adopted e-Kuber, a system that RBI has developed. No state was using it. A handshake was created between e-Kuber and IFMS and the state again became the first state in the country to use e-Kuber. The result was overwhelming. Post the integration, not a single disbursement rupee of the government has happened by cash or by cheque. Every transaction happens entirely digitally, whether it is pension, salaries, DBT or any kind of disbursal to the citizens. “Again, I don’t think any state can claim that their entire budget is spent on a digital platform. So, as far as the financial management is concerned, we got the Golden Peacock award from the central government and many awards from different institutions,” adds Dr Mitra.
Learning from other states
Bengal also believes in having an open mind and learning from other states. Suppose, state X has done something that Bengal can emulate, then the state sends its officers and learn. As a result of this open approach, many states today approach West Bengal to know how they designed the IFMS platform. “What is important is inter-state collaboration was initiated by us to learn the best practices. I must confess that we were on the greater receiving end. Since we had got many awards, a lot of states started coming to us,” shares Dr. Mitra. The project ‘Kanyashree’ is another example of how IT can be used in social transformation. The scheme goes like this: Any girl whose family income is less than Rs 1,20,000 a year, can apply for a scholarship. Every girl, when she is of age 18 and is single will get twenty five thousand rupees, electronically, into her bank. Almost 40 lakh girls has registered for Kanyashree. Bengal won the award for IT usage for a social programme, where everything is digital. This has resulted in significantly reducing the number of dropouts, and in turn, the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), as education has helped in preventing early marriages.
The state has also formed a separate department for e-governance. Initially, the IT department was responsible for e-governance but then every department was doing e-governance. So, given that e-governance has been adopted by all the departments, the CM decided to have a separate department for e-governance. So, instead of IT only, looking after e-governance, today, there is a dedicated arrangement for e-governance, wherein every department pools in knowledge and best practices.
Constructing IT parks across the state
The state has also been proactive in ensuring that the IT infrastructure is not confined to urban areas. To encourage growth opportunities in Tier II and Tier III cities, the government has decided to construct IT parks across the state, even in remote districts. For example, an IT park in Rajarhat was set up. There were 48 modules available, and 39 out of those modules were taken by the private sector. The state, in order to gauge the response in remote districts, ventured to establish an IT park in Durgapur, a Tier II city. Today, the IT park is completely full. All the 35 modules available have been taken. Barjora, a small place, between Bankura and Durgapur, already has an operational industrial park, and there are 51 modules available. The state has started the marketing process.
A green field IT park has been developed in Asansol. There are 38 modules, which are getting marketed. A few companies have started moving in. In Bolpur, which is known for the famous Santiniketan, 28 modules are being created and being marketed. Two companies have moved in within the first few days. In Purulia, a not-so-heard-of district, a new IT park has come up, and 29 modules are available, and four of these modules have already been taken. This is noteworthy as this was an area where the maoists were active. But today, this is no longer the case. The Bengal Government has spent 5,500 crore in Maoist-affected areas on infrastructure, road, schools, colleges, etc. In the Kharagpur IT park, 20 modules have been built and the occupancy has begun. Kalyani, which has a IIIT also has an IT park with 26 modules and 23 have already been occupied. In Howrah, 23 modules have been made available and seven have been occupied. Haldia, which is well known for Haldia Petrochem has 42 modules available.In Taratala, there are 40 modules built and half of them are occupied. The state is trying to develop not just the top districts but also the least developed.
The potential of the state to be a gateway for the east can be seen from the fact that customer care queries for Airtel from Bangladesh, is now being handled by a young team in Siliguri. This team is hosted in the same building that has a KPO handling customer queries for an American Insurance firm. The demand for the modules can be seen from the fact that out of 34 modules available, 11 modules have been taken. There is big demand for the remaining ones.
The Bengal Government along with NASSCOM have launched a startup warehouse in a 10,000 sq ft plot acquired by the state. The plot is full and occupied. There are about five startups, who have got VC and angel funding. This is another dimension of the IT effort and the effort is to bring in startups jointly with NASSCOM. IT education infrastructure is also being built. The state did not have a IIIT, when the current government came to office. So, it was decided to have a IIIT. The land was allocated and a fast track route was taken in order to get it up and running. “We took the land from a private college in Kalyani and a lab was set up. It’s now being handled by IIT-Kharagpur, which is also the mentor,” shares Dr Mitra. In the same city Kalyani University and AIIMS is getting constructed. It’s now becoming an educational hub. A data analytics park is also coming up in Kalyani and the state government is looking for an anchor investor.
As one can see, the state’s vision is multifarious with an attempt to put a firm foundation for the state to be enabled by IT; not just having an electronically connected Government machinery but also empowering the length and breadth of West Bengal by launching electronic clusters, IT education institutions, boosting a startup culture and coming up with a comprehensive ecosystem to make IT as a centrifugal force running the state of Bengal.
– Quotes attributed to Dr Amit Mitra, have been sourced from the inaugural speech delivered at Technology Senate held in Kolkata on June 8, 2017