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Karnataka’s One may have overshadowed Centre’s Mobile Seva project

Earlier this month, the Karnataka government launched the MobileOne initiative which makes 4,500 services, both public and private accessible through the mobile phone. The project is expected to break new ground when it comes to using the mobile phone to deliver basic services to the citizens.

The launch was preceded by a high-decibel campaign that included an invite consisting of a dummy cardboard smartphone with a personal invitation from the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in his voice. However, the project may have overshadowed a central government initiative called Mobile Seva, which has been a pioneer in this space and launched in December last year.

The government claims that over 1,710 government departments and agencies across the country are using Mobile Seva. Over 2.05 billion SMS based transactions have already been delivered to the citizens and the Mobile AppStore hosts 315 live and fully integrated applications. The government applications consist of services such as applying for a Passport or an Aadhaar card, postal department, Supreme Court and High Courts of different states, along with voter registration etc. The private ones include those on health monitoring, education, taxation etc. The downloads so far have exceeded 2,22,127.

A mobile payment gateway is also operational that facilitates payment for government services, Rajendra Kumar, joint secretary, e-governance, department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) said. “The Mobile Seva platform has proved to be highly successful in bringing a very large number of government departments from across the entire country in using this platform,” he said adding that the initiative won the UN Public Service Award for 2014 – one of the most prestigious international awards for public service.

Just like Karnataka MobileOne, Mobile Seva can also be accessed through both mobile and feature phones and does not necessarily require Internet connection. It is also built on open-source architecture, akin to the Karnataka model that has helped in bringing down the cost of building the project. However, while government’s in-house agency Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) has built most of the apps and the platform, Karnataka roped in the services of Hyderabad-based mobile technology solutions provider IMImobile. The total budget for the project is Rs 17 crore for five years. On the other hand, Mobile Seva is funded by the government and is currently being provided free of cost to all government departments and agencies.

“As the penetration of mobile phones is much higher in the country compared to access to internet, the Mobile Seva initiative has helped in extending the reach of electronic governance services across the country, especially in rural areas,” said Kumar.

For example, using the Polling Station Location App developed by Mobile Seva, the Election Commission of India has mapped more than 910,000 polling booths in the country and has made them available on a web-based map service. This has made it much easier for people to locate the polling booths near their residences. Also, there have been about one billion SMS-based transactions, in local languages, between the Department of Agriculture, India government and farmers across the country. Through this service, the agriculture department has been able to provide services to farmers almost on a real time basis — which was not possible earlier.

However, while the largest impediment in the popularity of the Mobile Seva is the lack of awareness among citizens about the project, in the case of MobileOne it could be the fact that not all services on their platform are free.

For instance, farmers have to pay to subscribe to some of the crop alerts and solutions. Though it lets you recharge your phone. However, transaction charges apply for pre-paid recharges via the app. This is directly proportional to the amount for which it is recharged. For example, the transaction charge is Rs 5 for any recharge up to Rs 500 and Rs 10 for those above Rs 500.

Some critics have argued that when there are other online recharge options available, which not only provide recharge without any fee but also provide other discounts and freebies, services on the platform may have to do more to become popular.

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