Project Monitoring Unit, ePASS, CGG

The Problem

Earlier during Manual disbursement of scholarships there was no scope for systematic monitoring and maintaining transparency in transactions. The whole process was cumbersome and time consuming. The students had to apply for scholarship by submitting the application form. Getting hold of the prescribed application form itself was a gigantic task. Then after applying, for knowing the status of their application, the students had to run around offices and thus miss the classes in the colleges. Sometimes instead of the students, their parents had to run around as they could not afford to send their children to colleges without the scholarship. In case of delay in reimbursement, the colleges often threatened the students that they will not be allowed to take the exams until the fees is paid. Cheques of students were given to colleges who often collaborated to misappropriate. So misappropriation, embezzlement, fictitious claims, irregular and irrational drawals of scholarship amounts by certain unscrupulous persons resulted in depriving of scholarships to genuine SC, ST and BC students. Descretion often resulted in some colleges getting the reimbursement of tution fee quickly and others had to wait till the next installment of budget was released. The release of mess charges for students also faced the same problem.
The applications for scholarships were scrutinised independently by the Departments without any cross verification. Often the students of certain sub categories like BC-C, BC-E etc applied in BC Welfare Department as well as Minorities welfare departments, as they were not sure where they have to apply. This way they either got double benefit or none when both the departments rejected, thinking the other departent will take up. Having a single platform to handle the scholarships would have saved this confusion. Further the whole process of scrutinising the applications was time consuming. The calculations for arriving at the scholarship amount were tedious as different couses had different course fee structures. The mess fee also differed from day scholars to hostel boarders. There was every chance of errors creeping in and again to pinpoint the errors and rectify was itself time confusing. In addition to this laborious work, the review meetings were a nightmare. The officers had to spend lot of time tabulating the statistics for reflecting the progress during review meetings.
The Online scholarship system was envisaged by the government to ensure speedier disposal of scholarships through very minimally staffed welfare departments. There was financial crisis in colleges as 90% of colleges depended on the fee reimbursement. Given the magnitude of disbursement and the accumulation of arrears of Rs. 2183 Crs of the year 2009-10 in the year 2010-11 coupled with the demand of 2010-11 only ushered the urgent need to evolve a complete end to end student / college centric G2C ICT (Information and Communication Technology) solution..

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Sanction of PMS (Post Matric Scholarships) is one of the important welfare measures of the Government aimed at their educational upliftment. The Government of Andhra Pradesh is providing financial assistance to the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Backward Class, Disabled, and Economically Backward Class students studying post matriculation courses on saturation approach as against the means cum merit basis to enable them to complete their education. Reimbursement of Tuition Fee and payment of mess charges constitute the scholarship. Any student whose family income is less than one lakh is eligible for a scholarship under the new scheme. This has led to large volume disbursement every year. The scheme currently covers 26 lakh students amounting to Rs. 4000 Crs. per year to the state exchequer. Rs. 3000 crs. goes towards reimbursement of tuition fee payable to colleges and Rs. 1000 Crs. towards maintenance fee of students.
This is a simple easily replicable total web based initiative from Student application to transfer of Tuition / Maintenance fee to College/Student bank Accounts directly. The disbursement of fees to students studying in national institutes outside the state also takes s place though this system.
The students apply for fresh registration and renewals online by keying their SSC/ Inter Hall Ticket Number through which their name and other personal details are retrieved. They must have a bank account and those who do have an account are given eZ pay card of SBI(State Bank Of India). Scanned images of photo and testimonials are uploaded, thus avoiding earlier problem of District officers not receiving the hard copies of the application forms. The computer based acceptance of applications ensures that it is complete in all respects since the inbuilt validations do not allow the application to be saved unless all the parameters are fulfilled Students can access the site though a user id (email id) and password (sent to email accounts) and know the status of their application and the stage of funds transfer.
Colleges must register on the website. Give details of recognitions, capacity, bank accounts, management details etc. Principals of colleges will have to verify each of the student applications, Print and prepare booklets for fresh and renewal students department wise and Contact the verification officer for getting the verification done for sanction of scholarships. Results of verification are updated online. Recommended candidates are sent to the district officer. Rejected applications are either sent to the colleges or students for rectification.
Processing & Sanction of bills online happen at the District Officer level and the bills are forwarded to treasury through the web service established between ePASS and treasury server. From treasury the money is released directly into college / student accounts through common internet banking interface and Return confirmations is obtained to track the success/ failure of the transactions.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The urge to achieve improved transparency, speedy information dissemination, higher administrative efficiency and improved public services while disbursing the Post Matric Scholarships is motivating enough to design and develop ePASS (Electronic Payment and Application System of Scholarships). ePASS is web based G2C (Government-to-Citizen) and G2G (Government to Government) service, administering the online transfer of Post Matric scholarship money to below Poverty Line students. The social welfare Department being the nodal agency for implementation, Prl Secy, SW Dept is spearheading the project, His Inspiration, Support and guidance at all stages has enhanced the commitment levels of the implementing officers, enlivened the team spirit and garnered the support of all the stakeholders. The PMU team is headed by another IAS officer, who has vast experience in implementing e governance projects. The project Managers are Dy Directors drawn from implementing Departments. The members are a part of almost every process starting from the role-delegation, goal setting, problem solving as well as the evaluation and overview. After detailed discussions consensus is arrived and the suggested processes /workflows are implemented. Their outcomes are also monitored to bring in corrections/ changes if any. The common goal of reaching the stakeholders’ requirements is the adhesive factor for uniting the team. The project is built on open source. A dedicated team is kept at Centre for Good governance (CGG) for development and maintenance of the project.
The following have contributed towards the design, development and implementation of the project
1. Mr Raymond Peter, IAS, Prl Secy, SW Dept, Being the main change agent has provided the Inspiration, Support and guidance at all stages
2. Dr M Padma, IAS – Head, ePASS PMU. Overall incharge of the Software application.
3. Mr Chakradhar, Dy Director, Project Manager, ePASS PMU, CGG – Coordination from CGG (centre for Good Governance), the service provider
4. Mr Madhusudhan, Dy Diretor (SW) ePASS PMU, Commissionerate, Social Welfare – Coordination from Department for domain expertise and handling the call centre.
5. Mr. Srinivasa Reddy, District Social Welfare Officer (DSWO), Social Welfare Department – Coordination from the Department and attending to the calls of the stakeholders.
6. Mr. V.Pratap, consultant, Team Leader, ePASS, CGG – responsible for the software application 24/7.
The following are the stakeholders
• 5 welfare Department users – Social Welfare, tribal Welfare, Backward classes, economically backward classes welfare & welfare, Disabled welfare.
o 350 field officers, 100 District welfare officers, 40 treasury officers,
o Monitoring officers of all the 5 depaertments at various levels varying from District to State level.
• 26 lakhs students belonging to the above 5 categories who have applied for sanction of scholarships and their parents
• 12000 Colleges wherein these students are studying.
• 2000 college attached hostels
• 790 Department attached hostels
• 60 Universities/Boards.
• All banks
• Citizens interested in knowing the welfare schemes

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The objective was to develop low cost and fail-safe technologies that will have a more efficient, strategic and inexpensive way of putting the student at the centre of operations. Expediting payments and disbursement cycle to ensure timely and correct payments to Students/colleges , Providing a system driven accountability mechanism, wherein there is no scope for any discretion, Ensuring open access to information to all stake holders, Enabling reliable, timely and comparable information from the “ground-up”, and Minimizing leakages to ensure that the benefits reach the students / colleges.
This perhaps is one of the most complex and large scale project spanning over 5 Departments, 12000 colleges, 64000 courses, 40 Treasury Offices and all banks. In order to manage this large programme involving huge volumes of data it was felt that only an end to end student / college centric G2C ICT (Information and Communication Technology) solution will build the much needed confidence among the stakeholders and confirm the seriousness of Government in its commitment to welfare The programme of automation to give the much needed decision support system was department driven. The Departments had less staff and they were unable to cope up with the work. This initiative is first of its kind in India covering 5 major welfare Departments and linking Treasury and Banks. It is also for the First time that maintenance fee is disbursed using eZ-Pay (Pre-loaded) ATM cards of SBI for student bank accounts. 16.5 lakh accounts of eZ pay cards are being operated. Change requests from HoD’s are gathered through email and call centre is established for grievance redressal of students, colleges, officers. VPN for security is established between CGG and Treasury also among the Sanction level officers using APSWAN. Interface through web-services with Universities/Boards for Attendance, Performance, Fees etc and Interface with Counseling Center’s is being developed for getting direct access to the data thereby minimizing data entry errors and saving lot of time that was otherwise spent for getting the data.
Project Management Team (PMU) is established with necessary User Interfaces in the software to administer certain roles such as addition of new colleges, courses, fee structures, release of installments to various courses, updation of data pertaining to colleges/universities/ boards, resetting of passwords of Field /District Officers and any other activity which is related to domain.
The services offered through ePASS are - College Registration Module for colleges, Student Scholarship Application On-line Registration module, On-line Verification and Forwarding module for verification officers, On-line Scholarships Sanctions module for District Officers, Payment release module with Internet Banking Payment system through the Treasuries and Accounts department, User Interfaces (Dash Boards) to all HODs of Client Departments with various MIS reports such as Financial Report – Budget received Vs Releases Status. MIS- Performance Reports (Field Officers wise), Group Wise Financial Report and Abstract report on Students, Amounts. Bank wise and College wise Releases. General reports for public view such as Scholarship status, Application number, valid and invalid college accounts etc. to name a few are also available.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The initiative was conceptualized in November 2009 and implemented from May/June 2010 in all the 23 Districts of the state. In the May the pilot for disbursing Tuition Fee into college accounts was taken up in Ranga Reddy District and in mid June it was scaled up to all the Districts. From July onwards maintenance fee was also disbursed into the students’ accounts.
Web Services/ SFTP are established with the following
• Treasury – for online transfer of Scholarship Bills
• Minority Departments’ scholarship website developed by NIC – for avoiding duplicates while sanctioning the scholarships.
• SBI – For uploading the details of students needing eZ pay cards.
It is planned to bring the intermediate nominal rolls also under ePASS, have link with aadhaar database and further have direct link with CET (common entrance test) databases through web services. Also digital certification will be introduced and the District officers will have to upload sanctions by using digital signatures.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The main obstacles were the lack of awareness and change resistance. Different steps were taken to overcome the obstacles.
The project mainly focuses on students. So the processes are simplified. Students can access from any internet kiosk online and file an application or verify the status of the application. The fee structure collected from all universities and boards are populated on the public domain. All procedures and processes have been standardized. Students can not only view the details of the fee payment to the college but also view their disbursement in their bank accounts. Application dates for fresh and renewals are well publicized. Colleges and students have been provided a comprehensive MIS to view all sort of reports on the progress of applications, sanctions and disbursements ensuring transparency at all levels.
On the change management side lot of effort had to be put in as the ePASS is multi-departmental enabling access to all welfare departments, the finance department and the banking system. The resistance to change is minimized by frequent capacity building workshops and personal interactions. Political will and Bureaucratic commitment are the major enablers for ushering in smooth change. The compulsion of going through the workflows during implementation without scope for any manual over rides is another factor for psychologically acceptance of the project. During each Video conference held every month the enhancements and version changes are explained and doubts cleared. Workshops are held once in 2 months to discuss the change requirements. The queries are received through email or SMS and resolved. The pendency is reviewed every week for timely resolution. The help desk at PMU replies to the queries and escalates the problems to appropriate levels. Further standardization of procedure across departments, simplifying the hierarchy of sanctions, cutting short delays at the welfare departments and the treasury through web linkage and a comprehensive set of MIS reports, has not only reduced time but has fostered greater transparency at all levels of Government. The monitoring of the process has been tad easy at all levels. The online workflow has reduced the paper work and movement of files as everything is captured on the online system. The calculations for projecting budget requirements are done within seconds and are based on actuals

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The project has financial backing in terms of a provision in regular Government budget and the payment for service provider ie CGG is based on transactions. However this initiative does not have any commercial proposition. Though the returns are intangible, they are of immense value to the stakeholders. The names of the students /colleges to whom reimbursement of scholarship has been made are also available in website. The status of each application and the details of fund transfer are available for the students and the colleges in their individual logins. Further they can also find out from phone by calling the PMU centre. All the stake holders viz. students, colleges, media, NGOs, officials, politicians are viewing the data live on the internet, and using the information for furtherance of the cause
The program has been developed on Java 1.6, Struts Framework 2.0, Tomcat 6.0 is the Application server and the database is on PostGre/SQL. The required infrastructure such as PCs, printers, UPS, internet connectivity, antivirus and so on are positioned in all field offices. Their upkeep is covered under maintenance contract with the service providers and hardware vendors.
Time - The simple and user friendly workflows in ePASS help the District officers to quickly process the applications and pay the scholarships. The introduction of web service between the ePASS & treasury server in June 2010 has enabled complete online integration thereby enabling the processing of bills by the treasury and upload of amounts into the online banking interface to disburse amounts into student and college accounts. This has led to substantial reduction of time from a month to less than a week.
Cost: The transaction cost for a student is reduced to the bear minimum of paying the costs for uploading the application and documents to the internet kiosk . Middlemen are eliminated. Application by the student is directly received online and sanctions are given as per as per time schedule. Status can be verified online thereby saving the time, effort and money needed for such trips to the offices as was done in the past. Personalized services through call centre and help desk at PMU has helped to reach out to the students and colleges whenever they do not have access to internet and immediately need information
Efficiency:. The transaction based reports are helping in improving the efficiency of the system. As the information is readily available in web site and a call centre is established at PMU, the field officers are getting quality time to concentrate on their inspections and increase their output.
Accountability: Details of personnel and officials involved in implementation at each stage are being logged into the system increasing the accountability. Time lines for each stage of processing are set in and strictly monitored. Alerts in the individual logins and exception reports to higher officials help in streamlining the administration.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
To bring the overall cost of ownership to the bare minimum and also reduce recurrent costs besides having a robust system, the department has developed the online system on open source software's. All Application level security levels are implemented. Network and client level securities are also taken care. All database level securities are implemented. Quarterly security audit is planned and done by the 3rd party agency. Weekly security audit is done for new changes. Recovery is done every day and it will be kept at remote location other than Data Centre.
Instead of closed book approach through strict SRS, ePASS is developed as per emerging needs. Whenever a policy change or a process change is proposed it is immediately reflected in the software application and manual overrides are strictly not allowed. SMS based and email support is given for collecting the change requirements and they are immediately attended. Further once a student reregisters, his ID and password is sent to his email. In case he forgets his password he has to click on “forgot ID or password” and get his details through email. All backend Non ICT processes are analysed and suitably re-engineered to ensure their rationality and simplicity. These process changes are followed by instructions through Govt orders to give authenticity and legality to the changes. Capacity building at all levels through workshops, video conferences and state / district level conferences have enabled greater awareness in departments. District wide conferences with college managements and student associations have also enabled the awareness
Total political support is garnered by Chief Minister who reviews the outcomes as the scholarships is a flagship program of the state. The Group of Ministers review the project every month, take key policy decisions to streamline the administration of scholarships and provide the policy framework for the scholarships. All changes are documented and enabled through the online system with regular and frequent videoconferences, press and media briefs to bring in the clarity of the process and the change. The PMU translates all decisions to actionable processes in the online system. The design of the online workflow has mandated each department to follow only one path of the sanction and disbursement process. Further the officials of 5 implementing Welfare Departments of PMS programme, Departments of Education Sector and Finance Department support is available The workflows are very simple and the project is easily scalable. There is a call from the Govt Of India to replicate in al the States.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Deployment and nurturing of this initiative have led to the overall impact of
1. the citizens getting connected to the department more easily
2. Achieving efficiency in public service delivery through faster dissemination of department’s information to a larger audience. Effective Decision Support System to avoid slippages in implementation: The projection for number of students who would apply in 2010-11 was 30,58,959. But when the students actually applied online for fresh and renewal it is found that during 2010-11, the total count is coming to 24,47,168 and accordingly budget is released
3. Reduction of the cases of corruption as accountability and transparency is increased and the Department’s activities are easily monitored. Minimizing fraud: Since the entire expenditure is traceable to the student/college, time and date, incidents of fraud, misappropriation are immediately identified and tracked down to the responsible persons. This has helped greatly in putting remedial measures in place and minimizing fraud. Several validations are in built into the system so that same bill cannot be passed twice. As a result during 2009-10 arrear payments being made during 2010-11, the system was able to weed out duplicates / double claims and save to a tune of 1 cr. Similarly by integrating with PMS web application of minority Dept developed by NIC, during the year 2010-11, 4,300 duplicate claims in e-PASS could be identified and weeded out. Further efforts are being made to have Ration Card link up for cross check and verification and in Making the Database UID complaint
4. Providing equal opportunity to access to information is provided regardless of one’s physical location and physical disability. Reach all the stakeholders who need government services regardless of their location, status, language,
5. Breaking the barriers of bureaucracy experienced generally in the government offices as the hindrances caused by those in ‘power’ are removed and the services are offered regardless of one’s background.
6. Interdepartmental exchange of information is facilitated
7. Convergence of related services by linking with the servers of the participating departments leading to significant reduction of transaction costs, time, space, and manpower.
Thus the overall positive impact has helped in sustaining the initiative. Direct payment into bank accounts, increased accountability and transparency and reduced risk of corruption has raised the perception of good government among citizens. thus bringing lot of credibility to the Government’s image of making the poor students become a part of the main stream education thus contributing to overall development and making economic growth truly inclusive.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Project Monitoring Unit, ePASS, CGG
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   M Padma
Title:   Dr  
Telephone/ Fax:   +919491061366 / 04023310114
Institution's / Project's Website:   http://epass.cgg.gov.in
E-mail:   padmanir@yahoo.com  
Address:   I Floor, DSS Bhavan, Masab Tank, Hyderabad
Postal Code:   500028
City:   Hyderabad
State/Province:   Andhra Pradesh
Country:   India

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