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www.expresscomputeronline.com WEEKLY INSIGHT FOR TECHNOLOGY PROFESSIONALS
31 January 2005  
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Home - e-governance - Article

Feature

e-governance in India

The Indian government is using IT to facilitate governance. The IT industry is doing its bit to help as public-private partnerships become the order of the day, says Atanu Kumar Das

The last couple of years have seen e-governance drop roots in India. IT enables the delivery of government services as it caters to a large base of people across different segments and geographical locations. The effective use of IT services in government administration can greatly enhance existing efficiencies, drive down communication costs, and increase transparency in the functioning of various departments. It also gives citizens easy access to tangible benefits, be it through simple applications such as online form filling, bill sourcing and payments, or complex applications like distance education and tele-medicine.

According to Sudhir Narang, vice-president, government & service provider business, Cisco Systems, India & SAARC, "Almost every state has an IT policy in place with the aim of evolving itself from being an IT-aware to an IT-enabled government. State governments are fast recognising the benefits of an IT-enabled working environment."

As of now, e-governance projects are being run only in certain departments. This approach will gradually be extended to all departments eventually, leveraging the power of IT to streamline administrative functions and increase transparency.

Shivaji Chatterjee, senior director, sales and marketing, Hughes Escorts Communications says, "IT has a vital role to play in all transactions that the government undertakes. It helps the government cut red-tapism, avoid corruption, and reach citizens directly."

Chatterjee points out that such initiatives will help citizens learn about the various policies, processes and help-lines that the government offers. The governments of Singapore, Canada and Switzerland have implemented such portals, and set the benchmarks in this regard. With the help of IT, the government can process citizen to government transactions such as the filing of tax returns, death and birth registration, land records, etc.

Adds Rajiv Kaul, managing director, Microsoft India, "A strong technology infrastructure can help central and state governments deliver a comprehensive set of services to citizens."

Microsoft is working with several state governments to help evolve a long-term technology blueprint for IT infrastructure. It is working with various departments of the central government, and has undertaken several projects and initiatives with state governments as well.

Manoj Kunkalienkar, executive director, ICICI Infotech says, "As far as e-governance projects are concerned, the government is gradually changing its role from an 'implementer' to a 'facilitator and regulator.' It will encourage private sector participation in e-governance projects, so more projects in e-governance based upon the public private participation (PPP) model should come about in the near future."

Leading by example

As far as e-governance projects are concerned, the government is gradually changing its role from an implementer to a facilitator and regulator

Manoj Kunkalienka
Executive Director
ICICI Infotech

Microsoft's goal over the years has been to share its learning of how governments are using information technology to improve the way people live, learn and work

Rajiv Kaul
Managing Director
Microsoft India

Agriculture, power and education are fields where the government makes use of IT to provide services to citizens. The revenue collection department is in the process of using information technology for applications such as income tax. Some notable examples:

  • A Kolkata-based hospital leverages e-governance for tropical medicine. The hospital employs tele-medicine to assist doctors in rural areas as they analyse and treat panchayat residents. This method does away with patients having to travel all the way to Kolkata for treatment. Patients feel better being examined in their own village. Using tele-medicine, the hospital is able to dispense its expertise to far-flung districts. The patient goes for an examination to the local doctor in the panchayat. This doctor is in contact via a voice & data connection with a doctor at the hospital for tropical medicine. Thus, the panchayat resident gets the benefit of being treated by both a local doctor and a hospital specialist.
  • The Karnataka government’s ‘Bhoomi’ project has led to the computerisation of the centuries-old system of handwritten rural land records. Through it, the revenue department has done away with the corruption-ridden system that involved bribing village accountants to procure land records; records of right, tenancy and cultivation certificates (RTCs). The project is expected to benefit seventy lakh villagers in 30,000 villages.

A farmer can walk into the nearest taluk office and ask for a computer printout of his land record certificate for Rs 15. He can also check details of land records on a touch-screen kiosk by inserting a two-rupee coin. These kiosks, installed at the taluk office, will provide the public with a convenient interface to the land records centre.

  • In Gujarat there are websites where citizens log on and get access to the concerned government department on issues such as land, water and taxes.
  • In Hyderabad, through e-Seva, citizens can view and pay bills for water, electricity and telephones, besides municipal taxes. They can also avail of birth / death registration certificates, passport applications, permits / licences, transport department services, reservations, Internet and B2C services, among other things.
  • eChoupal, ITC's unique web-based initiative, offers farmers the information, products and services they need to enhance productivity, improve farm-gate price realisation, and cut transaction costs. Farmers can access the latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices, as well as market prices at the village itself through this web portal-all in Hindi. eChoupal also facilitates the supply of high quality farm inputs as well as the purchase of commodities at the farm.

Given the literacy and infrastructure constraints at the village level, this model is designed to provide physical service support through a choupal sanchalak-himself a lead farmer-who acts as the interface between the system and the farmers. The contents of this site in their entirety are made available only to the registered sanchalaks.

Government initiatives

The national e-governance plan (2003-07) reflects the strategic intent of the central government in the right perspective. Many projects are earmarked under this plan, and it is trying to address the digital divide.

Kunkalienkar says that from a political perspective, after watching the performance of some IT-savvy states in the recent elections, the system has woken up to the need to focus more on rural development. "The political systems are keener to use IT to disseminate information faster to farmers, disburse loans, improve education and the health systems in villages, etc. There is a clear-cut incentive to do it as 60 percent of the vote-bank still lives in rural India."

Chatterjee says that e-governance has to be supported by the will and resources of those who are in governance, be it at the central or state level. The central government has analysed and appreciated the concept by creating a separate e-governance department headed by a secretary to trigger e-governance in India. The World Bank, ADB and UN have been approached, and in response they are generously funding e-governance projects.

In future, education, agriculture, state wide area networks (SWANs) and Community Information Centre projects will be rolled out backed by a strong public private participation model (PPP) to achieve long-term sustainability.

Projects with PPP models in these segments can revolutionise the governance experience. In the next couple of years the industry is expected to grow by 22-25 percent.

Getting better all the time

Most vendors foresee strong government initiatives to make the most of IT, and the future for e-governance looks bright. Narang says that besides deployment and training on e-governance applications, Cisco is working with various state governments. The company, along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and National Institute of Smart Government (NSIG) is hosting India's first South Asia Public Sector ICT Summit, a two-day conference, on January 24 and 25 in Hyderabad. The theme of the summit is 'New Models for e-Government in South Asia and the World,' and is targeted at senior government and policy makers from countries in South Asia, including India.

The summit will be attended by participants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives at the ministerial and vice-ministerial level, as well as senior officials from the central and state governments in India. This is the first such summit of its kind being organised in India. Last year in July, UNDP and Cisco came together to organise a similar event in China.

Kaul points out, "The government benefits from reduced duplication of work. In addition, the processes of data collection, analysis and audit are simplified, and become less tedious. E-governance holds advantages for the business community too, playing the role of a catalyst and a channel for e-business, a fact evidenced by developments in the US and Singapore. But perhaps the single-largest benefit of e-governance is its potential to give birth to an entire web-based economy."

atanu@expresscomputeronline.com

 


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