TIMES OF INDIA REPORT : How Project Arrow can modernise the department of posts
One minister, one department, one contract, one winner - but many lobbies. This, in essence, sums up the reason why Project Arrow, which sought to change the face of India's department of posts (DoP) - a department that normally does not figure in the vision of most policymakers and decision-takers - appears to have gone into a limbo. It is also a project that the Union government hoped would take inclusive growth in the country to another level.
At the heart of this modernisation project was the Core System Integrator (CSI) contract for which three companies - HP, TCS and HCL Technologies - had been shortlisted. In fact, it was in January this year that the technical evaluation for the project was completed and HP emerged the lowest bidder. But doing business in India is never easy, as has emerged in the recent round of corruption scandals that are rocking the government.
And, this becomes especially difficult for a department that does not make too much news. What is perhaps more inexplicable in declaring the winner is the fact that of the eight request for proposals (RFPs) the government had invited for modernising and upgrading the DoP, it is this project that the other seven contracts will ride upon.
It is a project the DoP itself appears unclear about on how it will take its services and products to a new level as the committee appointed to decide the tender is strongly supporting the decisions taken, but another group keeps pushing for referring the matter repeatedly to the ministry of law. This is all the more surprising since the terms and conditions for the project were first outlined in 2008.
It is because of this uncertainty or deliberate 'delay in decision-making' that the CSI project has been referred to the ministry of law for its opinion three times and got three varying responses - and now, DoP may need to engage a legal consultant to handle the 'back and forth' with the ministry of law.
Earlier, 18 MPs from varying constituencies had written identical technical papers opposing the decisions being taken by the committee, kick-starting the merry-go-round with the ministry of law.
For an organisation that has a predominantly rural network - over 1.39 lakh post offices are in rural areas, with only around 16,000 in urban areas - Project Arrow sought to achieve a big increase in both customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction with India Post.
It envisaged a pan-India network that would be flexible enough to support future applications, leading to greater accountability and productivity through the use of technology and improved working conditions. Drawing heavily on the report of an expert committee under the chairmanship of Ajay Shah of NIPFP, the government sought to synergise technology, banking and postal services to achieve the larger aim of financial inclusion.
But for the DoP to be able to provide such self-sufficient, efficient and cost-effective services, it needs to introduce several technological innovations, all of which appear to have got mired in a controversy.
While the department is looking at various solutions as a part of its modernisation drive and to increase its operational effectiveness, it is the delay in decision-making on the core system integrator that is rendering the whole move ineffective.
This is because it is this system that will integrate and bring together all the other systems - rural ICT hardware,rural ICT system integrator, data centre, financial services system integrator, network integrator, mail operations and change management - making DoP a single enterprise.
As noted Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell said in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, many large changes sometimes happen in a hurry. A whole set of cascading events reach a point and trigger those changes, which he called 'the tipping point'. One may call it the inflection point. "Same difference," Gladwell would say.
But for a postal system, that is the largest in the world, the Indian postal system plays a crucial role in resource mobilisation, especially in the rural areas.
As the Planning Commission has noted, the DoP needs to ensure generation of substantial additional revenue through non-tariff methods such as introduction of IT-based financial services and introducing a corporate set-up that will provide it with two intrinsic advantages: faster decision-making and raising resources from the market.
In view of this, DoP's corporatisation and modernisation in a time-bound manner are imperative. It is time we acted.
Courtesy : The Times of India , Oct. 25, 2012