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
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
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 governments 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
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.
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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
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."