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E-Governance in India: A Bird’s-Eye view

E-Governance in India: A Bird’s-Eye view
Highlights

Looking at Prime Minister Modi’s imaginative utilization of Information Technology in the 2014 Central Election Campaigns

Looking at Prime Minister Modi’s imaginative utilization of Information Technology in the 2014 Central Election Campaigns, one is compelled to wonder if an Indian government could bring such technological imagination into play in the realm of governance too.

On certain statistical fronts, India has made its presence felt in a limited way through initial E-Governance projects.
Many major institutions in India are well represented on the Internet. Right from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Supreme Court, from the UPSC to the Ministry of Finance. In terms of total number of Government websites, India is ranked seventh globally. As per the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) website, the National E-Governance Plan (NeGP) that was approved in 2006 has made advances in leaps and bounds. However, what is unclear yet is the real impact at the ground level.
The NeGP envisions the holistic promotion of E-Governance. ‘Holistic’ may include a plethora of such areas as:
- Ensure the Government’s ability to electronically deliver services, information to the citizens;
- Ensure the process of democratic decision making percolates down to the remotest individual;
- Ensure facilities involving commercial transactions such as utility bills payment, tax payment etc are electronically delivered to citizens;
- Ensure streamlining of administration in terms of processes, incorporating citizen feedback, providing greater transparency etc;
- Ensure complete computerization of data such as land records, court verdicts etc;
As such, the NeGP provides a massive architecture in terms of What and How Electronic Governance is to be achieved in India.
Given the Federal model of the Indian Constitution, the task of governance itself is split between the Center and the States. As such, the E-Governance architecture is modeled accordingly with much of the implementation delegated to states. The NeGP identifies certain critical components of the entire system:
- State Data Centers (SDCs): these are responsible for the overall consolidation of services, applications, and information to be delivered to Citizens. These are also the central secure data storehouses for individual states. At an abstracted level, these can be thought of as the core of E-Governance implementation within a state. As per the DeitY website, most states in India already have operation SDCs in place.
- State Wide Area Networks (SWANs): These are the networking backbones of the E-Governance infrastructures within states. These provide unified networking infrastructure where data, voice and video traffic may be converged. SWANs aim to connect right from the State Headquarters to individual Villages.
- Common Services Centers (CSCs): While SDCs and SWANs combined ensure that a state is covered geographically, the one piece of problem not yet solved is the delivery of benefits of E-Governance to the Citizen. An imaginative solution through PPP had been conceived, wherein the delivery at the ground level is delegated to private entrepreneurs at Village levels. The NeGP terms them Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs). The idea is to have a massive spread of CSCs (through VLEs) that will ensure that E-Governance services are successfully delivered at the ground level.
As per the CSC NeGP (http://csc.gov.in/cscstatus/cscstatus.html) website statistics as on this day, close to 1.34 lakh CSCs are operational in India. The top three states with highest numbers of CSCs as per the website are: Maharashtra with about 31,000, Uttar Pradesh with about 17,000 and Gujarat with about 14,000.
There are several big challenges in E-Governance both technically and specifically, in the context of a developing country like India. Firstly, computer density of India is very unfavourable today. Unless computers are made affordable enough, its penetration to make E-Governance of any real consequence is suspect. Secondly, today, the digital divide when talking about utilizing critical government services is too wide to bridge, both in economic and knowledge terms. Thirdly, there is a massive challenge in terms of linguistic accessibility. In a country linguistically as diverse as India, being able to deliver services in local languages that people understand is critical. Fourthly, a huge infrastructural challenge lies in building a reliable networking backbone that can scale the geography of the whole country.
The fact that the scale of implementation is so massive also entails plenty of challenges in attaining interoperability of individual E-Governance implementations across or may be, even within, states. Along with the variety of social, economic and technological issues, a fifth major challenge before the Government and the bureaucracy is to be able to be able to build up truly imaginative services and applications on top of the NeGP technology stack to be delivered to Citizens.
The Income Tax department has done remarkable work in this regard over the last few years but, the same imagination and creativity is yet to be seen in other Government departments. One interesting path for the government is to fully open up the E-Governance technology stack as a Developer’s Platform and Development APIs, such as Google or Facebook Application Developers Platforms, and allow active participation from the broader technical community of the country to help realize real value. With the kind of rich skilled IT professionals India has, the services and applications offered will exponentially explode within a short timeframe.
E-Governance has the potential to take the relationship between Citizens, Government, Bureaucracy and Political Parties to the next level. This will include greater flow of information and feedback both to and from Citizens, increased transparency, greater accountability and increased convenience to Citizens in the form of newer and innovative services.
In this election, several political parties have displayed keen appreciation for the power of IT and Social Networking. There are enough hints at a greater political and bureaucratic awakening towards this potential and the next few years may see increased emphasis from our present tech savvy Government on this area. While the West is well ahead, India has shown enough latent skillset and vision for a steep surge. What is required is an honest intention to empower the people of the country and a foresight to understand the implications of such a change. An earnest initiative could definitely bring about never before thought of results.
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