India crowdsources smart governance solutions

The government of India’s Smart India Hackathon is an ambitious attempt to harness the innovation potential in youngsters to find smart governance solutions to the problems faced in the country’s digital journey. Taking a leaf out of companies such as Google and Facebook, the Hackathon is a bid to crowdsource solutions.

The Hackathon is jointly organized by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) together with the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), the government body regulating technical education in the country.

The event, which was kick-started in April from designated centres and offices countrywide, has more than 10,000 participants - mainly students from engineering and management colleges in India. Of the 7,500 teams that had initially applied to take part, 1,266 have been selected. Twenty nine government departments from railways to aviation, defence to earth sciences, rural development to external affairs will also be participating in the event. The government departments have put forward a total of 598 problems, solutions to which have to be found at the hackathon.

The youngsters will be coding for 36 hours non-stop across 26 cities all over the country to find solutions to problems ranging from water scarcity in Rajasthan, drainage during heavy rains in Mumbai, safety of women traveling alone at night, condition of railway tracks and railway safety among others.

With India stepping into the digital era with 108 crore people owning mobiles and 112 crore having Aadhaar cards, innovation will be the only way for sustainable prosperity for the country, Human Resources Development Minister Prakash Javadekar said at the inauguration of the Hackathon’s final round. Javadekar said the figures indicate the capacity of people to absorb technology has increased and that this is the 'New India'.

According to World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) statistics, India registers 40 patents per million population. Given these statistics, there is a lot more that can be done in the innovation space to harness the intellectual capability of Indians. The Hackathon is an effort in that direction and students can be encouraged to apply knowledge to real-life situations, and find innovative solutions for day-to-day problems, Javadekar added.

To help the students prepare for the event, the government has provided online training to students via around 2110 mentors appointed to guide them. Students as young as age 10 and colleges as well as the Indian Institutes of Technology and other institutes across the country will complete digital solutions for the problem statements through programming to create computer software or a mobile app. The software created would be evaluated by judges selected from the respective ministry and industry experts and the best solutions would be awarded cash prizes.The awarded software would be used by the ministry or departments for improving their governance systems, if necessary, with suitable upgrades.

“There is a need to use technology more and innovate more. We live in a technology-driven era. India has played a lead role in knowledge since ancient times,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the contestants via video conferencing, noting that zero was invented in India and it has travelled from "Upanishads (ancient Indian philosophical texts) to upgrah (satellites)". "But there is a need to use more information technology to solve problems facing the society. The society is getting more technology-driven," he added.

The grand finale of the hackathon, which will be held in Ahmedabad, will be dedicated to Department of Science (DoS) especially for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

The Smart India Hackathon has its origins in government’s Digital India, Start Up India and Make in India campaigns which require innovation and skill. Among some of the problems that have been identified include one from the Ministry of Railways on the condition of tracks which is critical for safe train operations and need to be monitored proactively. A software solution which monitors the track condition and allied infrastructure and generates auto-warning messages about the need for urgent maintenance can help prevent untoward incidents.

Javadekar is the Chief Patron of the campaign with his ministry spearheading it through the AICTE as the main anchor with collaboration of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom).