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It was an event to remember the highest independently instituted civilian honour that salutes people, projects and institutions, which went the extra mile to make India better. Over the past seven years that the Skoch Challenger Awards have been conferred, the mighty and the ordinary have shared this platform for their extraordinary achievements in contributing to society.

The Skoch Challenger Awards cover the best of efforts in the area of social, digital and financial inclusion. They encompass e-governance, look at excellence in academics,capacity building, empowerment and other such softer issues that normally get lost in the glamour and glitz of industry sponsored or advertising focused jamborees.

The Skoch Challenger Awards were conferred at the culmination of the 19th Skoch Summit, which sought to highlight the criticality of dovetailing security and emergency responses into the economic and development growth scenarios. The Skoch Challenger Awards are coveted for their independence, primary research and a distinguished jury based approach. No industry or government support or endorsement is accepted or expected for the Skoch Challenger Awards and they remain independently instituted and conferred as a third party perspective.

The Skoch Challenger Lifetime Achievement Award for 2009 was conferred on Sam Pitroda for ushering in the telecom and IT revolution in India. The telecom czar received the award during a glittering function at New Delhi amidst applause and standing ovation by a house packed with over 450 people. Pitroda was instrumental in helping kick-start software exports from India and providing economies of scale to computer manufacturing in India. Through his mantra of indigenous manufacturing, shared access, rural telephony and using the power of young talent, he made the rural telephone exchange and the Public Call Office (PCO) at every nook and corner of India happen.

 Skoch Challenger Awards 2009 Categories

  • Education & Employability
  • Exemplary use of Technology
  • Financial Inclusion
  • Governance
  • Infrastructure
  • Public Private Partnerships
  • Security & Disaster Management
  • Special Category:
    • Lifetime Achievement
    • National Significance
    • Inclusion Champion of the Year
    • Grassroots Person of the Year
    • Change Management Person of the Year
    • Empowerment

On the occasion, a biographical film “Sam Pitroda: The Dreamer” - produced by Skoch - was screened.The film brought together a galaxy of personalities who knew and had worked with Pitroda over the years - each recounting a special experience or anecdote. In his address, a visibly moved Pitroda acknowledged and thanked all those who had supported him over the years and detailed how his return to India was a dream come true.

The Person of the Year Award was conferred on Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner for strengthening the Right to Information through the institution of the Central Information Commission and bringing about a new era of transparency, accountability and disclosures in all public works. Just a few years ago, it was unimaginable for the common man to inspect public works or records; take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; or take certified samples of material. Habibullah’s pro-active role has altered the situation altogether.

The award for National Significance in the Governance category went to Subas Pani, Secretary, Planning Commission, who is credited with computerising the electoral rolls of India, connecting all electoral counting centres, use of Indian languages in ICT applications, introduction of Voter ID Cards, and the Electronic Voting Machines.

The e-Governance award went to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), which has set an example for other urban local bodies by introducing IT initiatives that focus on providing best civic services to its 12.7 million citizens

This year’s awards had a new category in Security and Disaster Management. Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, was recognised for setting up of a state-of-the-art Tsunami Warning Centre and developing an entire tsunami warning system suited for India.Among the other firsts to his credit is the development of marine GIS for the country and generation of database for coastal zone management.

PNB CMD, K C Chakrabarty received the Inclusion Champion of the Year Award for demonstrating how the rural poor can be pulled into the mainstream by a little innovation. Partnering with the Panchayat of Tineri village in Bihar – for financial literacy - PNB’s branchless banking facility has liberated the people from the clutches of local moneylenders while inculcating a banking habit.

Bimalendu Chakrabarti, CMD, New India Assurance was honored for Change Management in recognition of the multifarious change initiatives unleashed by him in the company, that include, short, medium and longterm goals with focus on 3Cs – cost of processing; claims pay-out; and, customer servicing. The Oriental Insurance Company was recognised for Innovation in Financial Inclusion. Oriental Insurance has taken a lead in insuring the un-insured – providing Universal Health Insurance cover for cashless mediclaim to the underprivileged in rural areas and urban slums.cashless mediclaim to the underprivileged in rural areas and urban slums.

Civil society too came in for accolades.SEWA Bank, with 800,000 members and 21 micro-saving products, was recognised for financial inclusion and livelihood initiatives. SEWA Bank today has emerged as an organisation of poor,self-employed women workers that gives inspiration to other underprivileged people - largely women - to organise themselves.

The Aarogyasri Health Care Trust was awarded for its health insurance model in Andhra Pradesh , which has covered more than 65 million people below the poverty line. The scheme is being run by the Trust under a public-private-partnership that includes a private insurer, public and private hospitals, women’s Self-Help Groups and the state government.

The Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) was awarded in the field of Education for its unique Adult Literacy Programme among the nomadic Van Gujjar community in the Himalayan foothills. Initially, 350-trained volunteer teachers of RLEK travelled with the community during their trans-migratory cycle from the foothills of the Himalayas to the higher alpines in order to ensure continuity of the education programme. The uniqueness of the programme lies in community participation and holding of classes under the canopy of trees by barefoot teachers.

The Intel Education Initiative was hailed as a model Public- Private-Partnership. Launched in 2004, Intel’s Teach and Learn Program has reached more than 88,000 learners across 24 states and four Union Territories in India.

The Passport Control & Issuance System, an indigenous, robust and low-cost application developed and implemented by National Informatics Centre, bagged the award for Exemplary Use of Technology. The passport application not only connects all the passport offices in the country but also the foreign missions and the data resides in a central database. Overseas requests like renewal, lost passports or even visa applications are routinely monitored and disposed off on a daily basis

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Lifetime Achievement: Mr Sam Pitroda

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

For a man who had never even used a telephone till he was 22 years old, Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda, better known as Sam Pitroda, is credited with bringing the telecom and IT revolution to India. He left a reasonably successful business in the US to come back to India to serve the country. Through his mantra of indigenous manufacturing, shared access, rural telephony and using the power of young talent, he made the rural telephone exchange and the Public Call Office – PCO - at every nook and corner of India happen. He was the founding father of Centre for Development of Telematics – C-Dot. Competition from C-Dot ensured India getting one of the cheapest costs per phone line from global companies. He laid the foundation of the new telecom policy and brought in modern management practices through technology missions. He was instrumental in helping kick-start software exports from India and providing economies of scale to computer manufacturing in India. He served India at a great personal cost. On behalf of the ordinary people of India, we salute the extraordinary work of Sam Pitroda through the Skoch Challenger Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Inclusion Champion of the Year: Mr K C Chakrabarty, CMD, Punjab National Bank

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

Punjab National Bank, under the leadership of K C Chakrabarty, has demonstrated how the rural poor, a hitherto excluded class, can be pulled into the mainstream by a little innovation. Tineri village in Bihar has discovered how the new branchless banking facility can liberate them from the clutches of local moneylenders while inculcating a banking habit. The local Panchayat has been successfully roped in to play the role of facilitating financial literacy. Each family in the village is provided with a biometric card, a thermal filter and a Near Field Communication mobile handset at a total cost of 110 rupees - half of which is expected to come from the state government as subsidy. In return, each customer is allowed to open a savings bank account with zero balance. The Tineri initiative is hailed as a ‘’holistic approach’’ towards providing basic banking facilities to the poorest of the poor leading to enhanced financial inclusion. Tineri is just one of the soon-to-be launched 27 pilot projects across 13 states in the Indo-Gangetic basin. Team Skoch visited Tineri recently to have a first hand experience.

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Change Management: Ms Bimalendu Chakrabarti, New India Assurance Co Ltd

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

In the fast changing financial sector, companies have realised the importance of change, to meet the new challenges brought about by competition and higher customer expectations. The New India Assurance embarked on a Business Process Re-engineering exercise with short, medium and long-term goals with focus on 3Cs – cost of processing; claims pay-out; and, customer servicing. Amongst major initiatives taken up are setting up of specialised offices, catering to claims servicing and distribution channels. Process changes were brought about by document simplification and standardisation; performance and claims settlement monitoring; claims handling by centralised Claims Hub; and, specialised marketing offices for large corporate clients.

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Person of the Year: Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Knowledge Commission, India

An officer and a gentleman, Wajahat Habibullah, has created and contributed to many institutions. His legacy, over the past few years is the strengthening of the Right to Information through the institution of Central Information Commission. He not only built the institution but also overcame formidable challenges like bringing the government file noting under the RTI purview. Just a few years ago it was unimaginable for a common man to inspect public works or records; take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; or, take certified samples of material. The formation of Central Information Commission and institutionalisation of Right to Information Act has altered the situation altogether. His efforts have, amongst other things, changed the perception in bureaucracy that RTI is a hindrance. He has also been championing the cause of e-governance and transparency at the Panchayat level upwards. A new era of transparency, accountability and disclosures in all public works has begun, exemplified by the Right to Information under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

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Financial Inclusion: Mr M Ramadoss, The Oriental Insurance Co Ltd

After taking over as Chairman and Managing Director of the Oriental Insurance Co in January 2005, M Ramadoss has directed his focus to fill-up the insurance gap that exists not only in the rural areas but in cities too. This population is being reached through the use of information technology. The Oriental Insurance has taken a lead in insuring the un-insured – providing Universal Health Insurance cover for cashless mediclaim to the underprivileged in rural areas and urban slums. The Universal Health Insurance policy from Oriental Insurance provides a hospitalisation cover of 30,000 rupees offered at just 30 rupees per month, bringing a substantial health insurance cover within real reach of the poorest. Know Your Customer includes capturing photo and fingerprints, to avoid any abuse of the cashless mediclaim facility. The Oriental Insurance has engaged Self Help Groups and micro-finance companies at the grassroots level to serve customers as diverse as NREGA wage seekers, migrant labourers, pavement hawkers and rickshaw pullers.

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Governance: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

One of the largest local governments in the Asian continent, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai – MCGM - is also India’s first municipal body, established in 1882. It is the first integrated e-governance implementation where all the revenue collection is reconciled thus preventing leakages. MCGM has set an example for other urban local bodies by introducing IT initiatives that focus on providing best civic services to its citizens. Its canvas caters to the needs of its 12.7 million citizens with the help of a network of 24-decentralised Ward Administrations. Its citizen portal is enabled by solutions, consulting, and services by a consortium of global companies for delivering Government-to-Citizen and Government-to-Business benefits. It has enabled single window service across multiple departments, avoiding repetitive data gathering and is available anytime, anywhere. MCGM has applied change management and resistance management techniques to make this transition smooth. Team Skoch observed the delivery of services at MCGM recently.

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Services Delivery: Aarogyasri Health Care Trust

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

In a country where health insurance scheme that did not really pick up and any attempt to achieve Health For All through such a scheme was considered doomed from the start, Andhra Pradesh has covered more than 65 million people below poverty line through its Rajiv Aarogyasri Community Health Insurance Scheme, the cashless system where people do not to have to pay to get treated in the empaneled hospitals. The scheme is being run by Aarogyasri Health Care Trust under a public-private-partnership that includes a private insurer, public and private hospitals, women’s Self-Help Groups and the state government. There are strict protocols on the treatment, with around 800 medical and surgical packages listed and the costs fixed by the trust’s panel of doctors. Behind the model is a holistic approach to healthcare, ensuring that people are given free health check-ups by the network hospitals and a 24-hour health helpline, manned by 100 doctors and 1,600 paramedics that handles about 53,000 calls a day. So far beneficiaries have claimed 5 billion rupees under the scheme.

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Exemplary Use of Technology: Passport Control & Issuance System, National Information Centre

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

The Passport Control & Issuance System – an indigenous, robust and low-cost application – is developed and implemented by National Informatics Centre. It connects, all the 30 passport offices across the country that have been computerised. This includes all the operations from online application to acceptance of the application to the production of machine-readable passports. Decentralisation of acceptance of passport applications is being introduced at over 500 offices across the country to take the passport services at a citizen’s doorstep. In a recent pendency clearance drive at RPO Delhi, it was demonstrated that about 60 officials could produce over 35,000 passports in a span of 10 days by using the existing IT infrastructure. The passport application has even connected all the foreign missions and the data resides in a central database hosted locally. Overseas requests like renewal, lost passports or even visa applications are routinely monitored and disposed off on daily basis.

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Public-Private-Partnership: Intel Education Initiative

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

As a global technology leader, Intel believes that students deserve to have the tools needed to become the next generation innovators. Each year Intel spends 100 million dollars in over 50 countries to help teachers teach, students learn and universities around the world innovate - particularly in the areas of math, science and technology. Intel Education Initiative believes that a student must develop key 21st century skills such as familiarity with information and communication technologies, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. Intel’s education initiatives include, The Intel Teach and Learn program, Higher Education Program & Initiative for Innovation & Research in Science. Intel works with institutes of higher learning like Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Science to help develop industry relevant curriculum. Launched in 2004, the Learn Program has reached more than 88,000 learners across 24 states and four Union Territories in India. Since 1999, team India has won over 64 awards in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

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Security and Disaster Management: Mr Shailesh Nayak, Ministry of Earth Science

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

Now Secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Shailesh Nayak helped set up a state-of-the-art Tsunami Warning Centre and interacted with 14 institutes from four different ministries to develop an entire tsunami warning system suited for India. He is a versatile person with a distinguished career and track record at Indian Space Research Organisation and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services. He was awarded the Indian National Remote Sensing Award for the year 1994 by the Indian Society of Remote Sensing. Among the other firsts to his credit are development of marine GIS for the country, generation of database for coastal zone management and development of techniques and algorithms for identifying various coastal landforms, mangrove plant communities as well as high-tide line and low-tide line. Once fully implemented, it would significantly improve India’s response to natural disasters and calamities.

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Security and Disaster Management: Mr Prabhat Rahangdale, Mumbai Fire Brigade

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

One of the very few Search and Rescue experts in India, Prabhat Rahangdale, has displayed exemplary courage in the face adversity – whether it is floods in Orissa and Bihar or terrorist attack in Mumbai. Rahangdale was responsible for the formation of multi-disciplinary task force for Search and Rescue at National & International levels. These teams were deployed for rescue operations in the aftermath of massive earthquakes at both Latur in 1993 and Bhuj in 2001; Tsunami in December 2006; and, floods in Mumbai on 26th July 2007. In October 2008, a flood rescue team under Rahangdale’s command was deputed in Bihar. Perhaps for the first time in its 122-year-old history, the Mumbai Fire Brigade was called upon to respond to a terror attack call on 26th November 2008. Rahangdale – the Braveheart - led from the front fighting fire in the face of firing and grenade attacks from the terrorists and succeeded in saving several lives.

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Financial Inclusion: Sewa Bank

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

Started in 1972 in Gujarat on the principle of inclusion when this term was not a part of the national consciousness, Shri Mahila Sewa Sahkari Bank or SEWA Bank is an organisation of poor, self-employed women workers that has given inspiration to other underprivileged people - largely women - to organise themselves into many such Self-Help Groups. Inspired by the Gandhian philosophy, SEWA is both an organisation and a movement. That is, the labour movement, the cooperative movement and a women’s movement. Today, SEWA has an all-India membership of 800,000 members, 21 saving products ranging from daily savings to savings for the house, marriage or  contingencies such as disasters and illness and 15 loan products ranging from daily loans to loans for working capital or release of mortgaged land and education.

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Education: Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra

Given on this 23rd day of January 2009 at New Delhi, by the hands of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner of India

Van Gujjars are an ethnic minority, deriving their livelihood solely from the sale of buffalo milk. Their nomadic lifestyle serves as a breather to the forests, making them the true conservationists and protectors of the forest. However, illiteracy made the community vulnerable to manipulation, extortion and harassment. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra with the support of the Ministry of Human Resource Development started the Adult Education Programme for the community in October 1993. The model became self-sustainable within three years through the continuous support of individuals and the community. Initially, about 350-trained volunteer teachers of RLEK travelled with the community during their transmigratory cycle from the foothills of the Himalayas to the higher alpines in order to ensure continuity of the education programme. Uniqueness of the programme lies in community participation and holding of classes under the canopy of trees by barefoot teachers.