eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

Relevance of e-governance. Native language support in e-governance. Transparency in all e-governance initiatives. Implementation of RTI Act. Government employees to be the first major stake holders. Need for a Whistle Blowers’ protection Act.

Posted by egovindia on November 29, 2007

Relevance of e-governance.

Public administration in India is marred by corruption and red tappism which had resulted in an anomalous situation whereby the laws of the lands are being twisted according to the executive/bureaucracy’s whims and fancies. The underlying problem is the Tottenham system that has been in use all over India since independence. The Tottenham system believes in creating multiple manual records for a single transaction on the belief that if one record gets destroyed, the other original record would come handy. This had resulted in a  situation where the bureaucracy in India works only to feed itself with more and more book keeping work, with hardly any concern for the citizen. The other result is rampant corruption and red tappism in public administration. Certain citizens have become more than equal in India due to these circumstances. This goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution.

Nearly 60 years into independence, India still witnesses a situation where a major portion of its population continues to remain marginalized. The well thought out schemes that were introduced for the betterment of the marginalized population had been thwarted by the vested interests using the Tottenham system which enables secrecy and corruption.  

Naxalism which had been considered a bane has been gradually gaining legitimacy due to the all round failure of the systems.

Corruption and red tappism pose a serious threat to the effort to convert India into a Knowledge super power. Only a self confident nation can become a knowledge super power. The citizens of the nation have to feel empowered to interact with their own governments and its multiple agencies confidently before emanating the same level of confidence in building a knowledge super power. 

e-governance has the magical power to bring about the much awaited change in public administration. All the ills of the Tottenham system can be got over using process automation based e-governance system. E-governance is the only viable route to a transparent governance system.

Having emphasised the need for e-governance to act as a foundation to build India a knowledge super power, we would like to focus on certain areas where India has to concentrate to  steer clear of pitfalls in the e-governance implementation.

Definition of e-governance:

“Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that empowers the Government, its citizens including the Government employees, weaker sections, women, people living in far flung and difficult areas and the business houses to transact businesses with government and its agencies online 24/7 ”

This definition presupposes process automation at every level where e-governance is introduced. There is no scope for window dressing in such a professional set up. Utility bill collection system should not be confused with the process automation system that is being discussed here.

The litmus test for true e-governance is that the system should react at the same speed for a rich man as well as poor man. The same is the case when it comes to literate versus illiterate, men verses women and so on. The so called untouchables (Scheduled Castes) should feel themselves equal to the rest of the Indian citizens at least in their interaction with Government and its agencies online.

Agenda before the nation to achieve true e-governance

Having defined the concept, the egovINDIA group wishes to place its view points on how to achieve true e-governance.

Like any other advocacy groups, the egovINDIA feels strongly for and against certain policies and practices adopted at present by various governments in India, in the name of e-governance. The group considers strongly for any initiative in India that closely matches the above definition and it openly expresses its reservations when such policies are found to be in the interest of certain individuals or corporate only.

Requisites for a true take off in e-governance:

1.      Clear Information Technology and e-governance policy frame work from Government of India and respective State Governments.

The first mandatory pronouncement is that any e-governance initiative has to be process automation based system. A process automation system converts the existing manual workflow into electronic workflow with or without process reengineering. Process reengineering usually takes place when the system gets converted to the electronic form.

The resolve expressed by the executive is the most important factor for the commencement and survival of any e-governance initiative. Such a resolve has to be expressed through policy pronouncements followed by concrete rules and regulations.

2.      Expected outcome of e-governance initiative to be clearly spelt out before commencement. 

3.      A clear vision plan for the next 15-20 years with well defined and verifiable milestones is necessary.

4.      Objective evaluation of implementation of e-governance based on pre defined parameters to do course correction, if any.

5.      Legal framework to fund the e-governance movement.

6.      Government employees to be the first major stake holders: Involvement of all stake holders in e-governance initiative is essential to make it a success. The prime stake holders are the Government employees who at present handle the public administration using mostly the manual processing method. E-governance has to enable these employees to carry out their day-to-day functions online. The system undoubtedly has to talk their language and  it should provide them a complete solution. It had already been proved in the country’s first e-district that the Government employees are not monsters as depicted. The Government employees are ready to accept  e-governance system  as long as it satisfies their functional requirements with fool proof security and audit trail.

Enabling government employees to switch over to the e-governance system requires careful planning and execution. It is a case of prudent man management. There is a great role for e-champions in making this area a success.  

7.      Involvement of citizens and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in planning India’s e-governance policies.

8.      Qualifications of a CSO to advice and aid Government: It is preferable that the Government should engage the services of the CSOs which had not received any funding from Government for projects.

9.      Need for a Whistle Blowers’ protection Act: A strong e-governance system needs the  backing of a supporting Act such as the Whistleblowers’ protection Act. WBA would complement the e-governance system and make life easier for the citizens and business houses.

10.  Connectivity: Policy and funding for connecting all the 5 lakh villages of India. The Government owned BSNL had proved that it could provide digital connectivity to every nook and corner of the country. It had already achieved this feet by converting the entire analogue lines into digital lines even five years ago. The consumers had rated the BSNL as the most transparent billing company. BSNL’s broadband services (Data one) have been rated excellent by the consumers. Data One services have to be extended to the rural areas without any further loss of time. BSNL has its telephone exchanges touching Blocks and below the block level administrative set up. This is a huge strength on which BSNL can build India’s broadband revolution. All the Government installations, including schools, colleges, government / local body offices, hospitals, primary health centres and police stations  have to be connected using Data one services. BSNL had already proved that the Tax payers’ money spent on its infrastructure is a useful investment in bringing about the telecom revolution. This time, the Government of India has to come forward to fund BSNL for building the internet infrastructure to connect all the villages. Suitable tax holidays and tax concessions have to be provided to encourage the users to opt for the broadband services at the village level. It may not be a bad idea if the Government of India could announce 2006, the year of connectivity. The entire rural India should be broadband enabled within a period of 12 months to enable a quantum leap in knowledge revolution. Unless the rural schools get broadband connectivity, the dream of building a knowledge super power would not materialise. So, the earlier the rural areas get affordable broadband connectivity the better it is for the momentum to build a knowledge super power.

11.  Special treatment for difficult areas: Special provisions should be built for Bihar, North East, Hilly States such as Himachal and Uttranchal and Jammu & Kashmir to enable them to catch up with the rest of the States. For example, Bihar does not have electricity for major portion of its areas. There should be a special provision to provide power generators for the Government installations where e-governance is proposed in Bihar. Solar based power supply systems may also be considered. For these special efforts, suitable additional funding support has to be built into the plans. Similar is the case with North East and other difficult states.

12.  Addressing power problem using notebook PCs: An innovative solution could be thought about by providing notebook computers to the power starved areas with solar power back up systems so that these areas need not bother about investing in high cost power back up systems. The present day notebook PCs match the desktop PCs in performance as well as reliability. The price of the notebook PCs has come down drastically in the recent past. With suitable policy support, the Government of India could make the notebook PCs the default systems for Government offices. 

13.  Policy framework for e-champions within the bureaucracy, at all levels: For the Indian system, the role of e-champions from within the Government is a pre requisite for leading the e-governance momentum. These e-champions have to be identified on voluntary basis, trained and put in charge of strategising and implementing e-governance solutions.

14.  Need for change in civil service rules: Government employment should be thoroughly redefined. At present, the bureaucracy works on the principle of anonymity and secrecy. These principles go against e-governance based system which automatically seeks transparency in every sphere of activity. Anonymity of civil servants, though desirable, would be too difficult to achieve under a transparent system where everyone will be accountable for his/her commissions and omissions in a transparent manner. The rules the Central and State Civil Services need to be overhauled to suit the e-governance  based system.

15.  Women in e-governance: The country’s first e-district had proved that women employees far out numbered men in taking over the e-champion’s role. Similarly, the women beneficiaries outnumbered men in availing social security benefits through e-governance. Hence there is a need to have special focus on role for women in e-governance.

16.  Native language support in e-governance.

17.  Setting up of National and state level e-governance authority in the lines of Election Commission of India: In order to strategise, monitor and carry out course correction exercise, the Government may consider setting up of e-governance authorities in the lines of the RTI Commissioners. The authority should be vested with powers matching the Election Commission of India. At present, the e-governance initiative of the country is handled by a handful of IAS officers which is an aberration.

18.  Adequate representation to SC/STs, minorities such as Muslims and Christians, women, people from rural areas in e-governance committees.

19.  Transparency in all e-governance initiatives. Implementation of RTI Act at all levels.

20.  IT in school education. Role of CSOs such as Azim Premji foundation in providing multi media education for the poor: Schools should be provided with multi media based education material across the nation. This would provide a level playing field to all the students, notably the rural students. India can become a knowledge super power only if it empowers its rural students to come up on par with the urban students.  In this connection, the NKC may consider recognising the role of Azim Premji foundation which has been supplying multi media based study materials to schools in different Indian languages free of cost. Azim premji foundation may be made the nodal agency for the entire nation to sphere head this movement.

21.  Citizen feedback on e-governance activities: There is a need to enable the common man to contribute to the development of e-governance in public administration by keeping a window open for the citizens to send their opinions and suggestions.

Advocacy areas:

The following are a few areas which the egovINDIA group strongly feels about. Any one may consider these views while formulating its recommendations to Government.

1.      Focus on urban population or rural population? So far, the e-governance movement had focussed on urban citizens. The notable exceptions are the West Godawari (AP) and Akshya (Kerala) experiments. This is not the logical step to say the least. The population which is more affected by the Tottenham system is the rural poor because the poor do not have any bargaining capacity nor do they have the means to pay the illegal bribes. Today, the rural poor cannot get the Old Age Pension benefit unless they bribe the lower level officials. Nor they can get any government service unless they approach the government officials through touts, that too at a special cost.  Good governance is a matter of livelihood for the rural population whereas it is a matter of luxury for the urban people. The convent English speaking corrupt bureaucracy would always prefer to serve the urban population  because of various factors. Firstly, it provides them name and fame easily through the urban focussed print and other media. Secondly, it provides them illegal wealth or power or both. In the interest of the nation, the NKC may intervene and do the course correction. E-governance has to focus on providing services to the poor first, notably the poor in the rural areas before the same is taken up in urban areas.

2.      Role of private sector partner in e-governance: Should the private sector run the Government services sans the Government or Government servants’ involvement?  This question is being raised increasingly in the light of the replication of Andhra Pradesh’s e-seva in different states in different names. The case of Bangalore One in Karnataka is an example. The e-govINDIA group strongly feels that the private partner should be involved in software development, hand holding support and then maintenance of the software & database. Their role should not be extended to running the services on their own as it has many negative side effects. The first and foremost among the negative side effects is that instead of reducing corruption, such initiatives generate large scale e-corruption. Transparency is given a goby. None of the empowerment factors get enabled through such arrangements. Only the private partner gets empowered with more revenue. Madras University had shown the way for the rest of India by engaging a private partner to develop its e-governance software and then help the university with hand holding for nearly two years after the initial implementation. This is the right way to go. The NKC may study the Madras University pattern and take an appropriate view.

3.      Role of women Self Help Groups (SHGs) as partners for providing Government services. There is a tendency to hand over the utility bill collection operations to a private partner and then call it a great e-governance initiative. Suggestions to hand over such routine yet lucrative revenue bearing tasks to women self help groups had been met with ridicule by IAS officers manning e-governance positions. The group considers it a gross misadventure to leave out the women self help groups. It is the considered opinion of this group that the Government services should be front ended by the women self help groups. In the absence of women self help groups alone, the Governments should look for private corporate partners.

4.      Open source software should be the default software for e-governance operations: Open source software had come a long way to compete and even overtake proprietary software systems. The latest release of Novell Suse 10.0- open source version had been hailed to be a match, if not more than a match to the proprietary windows operation system. Open source movement offers a variety of rich and valuable software packages free. Open source office suite –, open source database system – Postgresql, open source report writing software – ireport,  open source GIS software – OpenGIS , Netbeans for linux for software development, Apache Tomcat, Resin, Jboss etc., provide a great deal of flexibility to the users to configure the e-governance system. Developed countries themselves have started adopting the open source systems and open standards. India needs to spell out a policy towards use of open source systems and open standards in e-governance operations. (It is quite strange that a few State governments and NISG have struck a deal with Microsoft for using Microsoft’s proprietary technology at huge cost. This is not a logical step because Microsoft does not offer any of its software free. Then why such MoUs? There seems to be huge corruption here).

5.      Setting up of open source support and research centres in every district: Open source software enables innovations. For a nation that aims at becoming a knowledge super power, it is extremely important that vital software packages that drive the computer systems should flow freely. Proprietary systems, by default cannot flow freely towards the needy. Only the open source software can be freely used by the research professionals and educational institutions. A GIS software or database software in the normal course costs a fortune. But the open source movement had provided these packages under GNU for free download. This freedom has to be encouraged through appropriate government assisted technical support centres at every district level. The District Informatics office under the control of NIC could be declared the open source support centre. The support centre’s services should be made available freely to the student community and all government offices.

6.       Mission mode projects – is the bureaucracy capable of heading mission mode projects? The term “mission” pre supposes sacrifice and helping others. Currently, the bureaucrats who were utter failures in the field in providing proactive public service to the common man had taken over the leadership positions in e-governance. This is not a healthy trend for building a self confident nation. Bureaucrats, by definition are not fit to head any mission mode projects as they are not meant to be missionaries. The rare exceptions are the missionaries who had joined the bureaucracy. It is time the entire e-governance leadership is handed over to the national and state level e-governance authorities as proposed in the earlier part of this write up.

7.      Indian e-governance effort should not result in a mere market for selling the ready made products of multi nationals: The trend at present has been to encourage development of ready made products and then purchase the same by various State Governments from the same companies. The case of e-seva/Bangalore one and e-procurement are the dangerous pointers. Governments have to acquire the source code and host the source code for free download by other Governments. The citizens also would be enabled to support the Government software packages by identifying and informing the lacuna found in the source code, if any.

8.      Compulsory e-governance in higher education: Our students undergoing higher education should have a first hand experience in using e-governance system during their college days.  This is one of the steps in making a self confident India, marching towards knowledge super power status.

9.      Knowledge commission and higher education – The case for more Deemed Universities and autonomous technical institutions: If India were to supply the global demand for technical manpower, it needs to encourage more private players to commence Deemed Universities. Colleges which had shown a credible trend for 10 years should be given autonomous status through automatic route. The unfortunate trend is that many colleges which apply for autonomous status are forced to wait for years by the State Governments which simply sit over the proposals. The current move to curb the independence enjoyed by the deemed universities is a retrograde step. The Government must allow the market forces to determine the weightage of the Deemed universities. Regulatory agencies such as the Medical Council of India and AICTU had enhanced the cost of education through bureaucratic delays and huge corruption.

10.  The role of NISG.

This paragraph had been withdrawn after detailed discussions.

11.  NASSCOM in NISG – role to be defined to save its name.

12.  Cheating in the name of e-governance. 

This paragraph had been withdrawn after detailed discussions.

13.  An aberration called Village Knowledge Centre (VKC): The Village Knowledge Centre concept is being pushed without making any assessment. The five star culture driven CSOs have been ruling the roost. The kiosk experiments have failed wherever it had been started. No assessment had been done on these failed experiments. In the absence of e-governance content, the kiosks can at the best act as e-mail centres and at the worst phonographic content suppliers. The GOI may take an appropriate view on this.

14.  Centralisation of e-governance planning by Government of India has to be given up in favour of States taking the lead: As on date, a handful of officials of Government of India have been acting the sole e-governance drivers. This is not a healthy trend for the nation. The National Institute of Smart Government has been formed with an aim to undercut the States.  With NISG under their control, these Government of India officials are able to operate like private agencies, taking over the role of the State governments as well as the central Government. Ideally speaking, the States should be given their due. Funds meant for e-governance should be distributed to the States. Leadership building at State level should be taken up instead of driving the e-governance movement through NISG which has neither any expertise nor legitimacy. The Govt. may take an appropriate view on this subject.


4 Responses to “Relevance of e-governance. Native language support in e-governance. Transparency in all e-governance initiatives. Implementation of RTI Act. Government employees to be the first major stake holders. Need for a Whistle Blowers’ protection Act.”

  1. krisdev said

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  2. […] Relevance of e-governance. Native language support in e-governance … […]

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