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Issue of August 2005 
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e-Governance

The Essential ‘e’ in e-Governance

IT is a significant enabler of successful governance, and can go a long way in touching the lives of the common man. We look at the technology and strategies behind e-governance initiatives that are benefiting the masses. by Soutiman Das Gupta

The value of IT is not truly realised unless it touches everyday lives. In an enterprise environment, IT should be able to percolate all the way from the senior executives to the bottom, and make the job easier even for a shop-floor worker. Similarly, in a governance project, IT should improve the lives of the masses.

No Stranger to ‘E’

The Indian central and various state governments are no strangers to the benefits of using IT for governance. Many state governments and government-run agencies have realised that IT can add substantial value by surmounting the usual challenges of distance, slow speed of operations, and lack of accuracy of information.

The Department of Revenue (Karnataka), National Crime Records Bureau, National Highways Authority of India, Konkan Railways, IRCTC and the governments of West Bengal, Haryana and Uttaranchal, to name just a few, have been using IT to empower their activities for some time now.

Definition

Ravi Kant,
Special Secretary, IT,
Government of West Bengal

Ravi Kant, Special Secretary, IT, Government of West Bengal, likes to describe e-governance as the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance information access and the delivery of government services for the benefit of citizens, business partners, organisations and government functionaries.

“E-governance, however, is not really the use of IT in governance but as a tool to ensure good governance. E-governance does not mean proliferation of computers and accessories; it is basically a political decision which calls for discipline, attitudinal change in officers and employees, and massive government process re-engineering,” Kant explains.

India has six lakh villages. 70 percent of Indians live in villages, and 95 percent do not speak English. Therefore, e-governance models which do not support the rural delivery system will not contribute much to good governance. “The goal of e-governance is to benefit rural India and bridge the digital divide,” states Kant.

Projects That Are On

Many Indian states have IT policies that detail the roadmap to be used for better governance with the help of IT. Some of the projects mentioned in these policy documents have been implemented, while others are in various stages of deployment.

There are many successful e-governance projects running in Indian states. Let us look at a few major projects and the strategic role that IT has played in them.

Nationwide Connectivity

Executive Summary
The governance enabler
Indian government organisations have realized the benefits of IT and used it effectively to overcome the typical challenges to governance.

Power pill
The biggest challenge to e-governance is change management and the success of an e-governance project depends on its sustainability.

Mission 2007: This aims to connect 25,000 villages and create a Knowledge Centre in each in the first year by pooling resources from various states, government agencies and corporates. The goal is to connect 600,000 villages in a hub-and-spoke formation by August 2007 to enable local communities to collect, access and use data on their livelihood assets.

Ideally, the villages will be serviced through 2 Mbps connectivity comprising a mix of leased lines, wireless and satellite bandwidth. In all, 670,000 km of fibre has been deployed across the country. BSNL has laid fibre cables capable of reaching nearly 70 percent of the villages. ISRO’s satellite technology will be mobilised through its Village Resource Centre Programme.

Community-based organisations, Panchayati Raj (local self-government) institutions, self-help groups and the postal network will be encouraged to function as knowledge centres at the village level.

“What is needed is a self-propelling, self-replicating and self-sustaining model of ICT for rural regeneration and prosperity,” comments M S Swaminathan, Chairman, National Alliance on ICTs for Basic Human Needs.

Governance in Revenue

Bhoomi: Using software developed by NIC, project Bhoomi was kick-started by the Department of Revenue of the Government of Karnataka. The project set-up land (‘bhoomi’) record access kiosks in 177 sub-districts across the state.

The kiosk applications run on Windows NT with an SQL Server back-end. The application was created using Visual Basic, and has integrated vernacular user interfaces based on third-party technologies. The application also supports biometrics-based security.

The manual land records in operationalised talukas have been declared illegal, and all changes to the land records database are done on the computer.

Tax Administration

Better, faster, easier: In order to ensure that tax administration, including that of VAT, is faster and easier, the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers has flagged off an initiative called the National Tax Information Exchange System (TINXSYS) project across the country.

The solutions will include aspects such as software development, data warehousing, data migration, countrywide networking, data centres, disaster recovery services, application support, facilities management, IT infrastructure services, call centre & helpdesk services, and training.

The entire infrastructure, which will be set up in phases over five years across all Indian states by 3i Infotech, will provide a technology backbone for tax administration.

IT For Railways

Railway Reservation Systems: See case study on IRCTC on Page 52

Community Benefits

Community centres with IT: The Government of India has set up Community Information Centres (CICs) in the North East and Sikkim. These CICs provide broadband Internet access over a LAN by using a VSAT at each block.

Around 200 VSAT sites from HECL went live in August 2002. They provide services such as birth and death registration, and act as e-Suvidha service facilitation centres for marriage and SC/ST certificates. They also provide information about agricultural prices and related matters, and educational and employment opportunities.

Computerising The Police

Connecting the cops: The Kolkata Police has built a WAN that connects the police headquarters and important bureaus with more than 400 police stations across the state of West Bengal. This network is in its final stage of implementation.

The older special messenger system has been abolished, and all information is sent over the new network. This has allowed the police department to run new systems for district criminal tracking, police personnel management, inventory and stores management, accounts and cash book, budget applications, and documents tracking.

Integrated Citizen Services

E-governance does not mean proliferation of computers and accessories; it is a political decision which calls for discipline, attitudinal change in officers and employees, and massive government process re-engineering

Sukhmani: The government of Punjab realised that e-governance could help in government functions such as information dissemination, approvals, transactions, and grievance redressal.

It commissioned a project called Sukhmani as the citizen gateway for over 120 services provided by the government. The solution has three main components.

1. A WAN

2. IT infrastructure for service centres

3. Applications to automate various services which can communicate asynchronously to a transaction gateway.

The first component includes creating a WAN to connect the planned 120-plus services centres to a central data centre. The second element is to create a cost-effective, scalable IT infrastructure. The third is to create effective shrink-wrapped applications that can be quickly rolled out across the service centres. Microsoft is the solutions partner for the project.

IT On the Highway

The National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) most ambitious project, the National Highway Development Project has two components: the Golden Quadrilateral and the North-South-East-West corridor.

“The idea is to create an ‘IT highway’ that will support and benefit the operations and workflow of the project,” says Atul Kumar, General Manager, Information Technology and Planning, NHAI. Kumar is responsible for the integration of the LAN and the future WAN for NHAI.

The IT highway is in the form of a nationwide WAN and elaborate LANs in most locations to connect the various construction sites, tollbooths and administrative offices. The use of VoIP will reduce the cost of communication between locations.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is perhaps the best alternative to a face-to-face meeting. In the political system, be it legislature, executive, or judiciary the way the government functions is changing dynamically.

The National Informatics Centre (NIC) is a big user of video conferencing. The organisation offers video conferencing services in 206 Indian cities over its high-speed satellite network called NICNET. The H.320 standard-compliant NIC Studio Video Conferencing brings people and information together in a conference room. Using NIC’s multi-point connectivity, up to five sites can communicate with each other in a ‘continuous presence’ mode where each site can see the remaining four sites all the time on different areas of the monitor screen.

Government Of Maharashtra

Moiz Hussain of the NIC Mumbai unit says that the organisation also has anywhere, anytime video conferencing services which use portable VSAT technology. It is now available to all NIC users, and is ideal for temporary conferencing services for all types of conferences, exhibitions, seminars, etc.

Hussain says that in Maharashtra, the video conferencing set-up is provided at the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) and Chief Secretary’s Office (CSO) at Mantralaya, the headquarters of the state government. Internet and video conferencing support is also provided to the VVIP Camp Office at Mumbai, and it has even been used by President A P J Abdul Kalam.

The video conferencing facility is also provided at all district control rooms; they now have direct connectivity to Mantralaya. 36 district collectors and six divisional commissioner offices are already using it. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, is already using video conferencing to review various schemes being implemented in Maharashtra.

In The Courts

In the Mumbai High Court, video conferencing is regularly used by Chief Justice Dalveer Bhandari and other judges. It is mainly used to interact with judges of the High Court Bench at Aurangabad and Nagpur. This is done by providing point-to-point ISDN lines from Mumbai to the two cities.

Video conferencing is also used regularly between the Mazgaon Court and Arthur Road jail in Mumbai. The City Civil Court and Esplanade Court also use video conferencing for trials. Even district courts such as the Thane District and Sessions Court, and taluka courts, now use video conferencing facilities.

—Kumar D

Performance Figure

Although there are many successful e-governance projects to talk about, overall, e-governance projects in India have enjoyed differing levels of success. Experience with e-governance projects in India shows that:

- 15 percent of the projects are successful, 35 percent are partial failures and 50 percent are failures.

“The most important success factor for an e-governance project is that the focus should not be on the technology but on the pain areas and the strategies that are needed to use IT t o resolve the pain aspects,” explains Sharad Saxena, Chief Manager, IT, Konkan Railways (KR).

Saxena has been at the forefront of KR’s IT initiatives, the most commendable being the in-house ERP called Railway Management System (RMS), and a ticketing system that is within easy reach of the common man.

The RMS has around 17 modules, and has facilities for online access to information about the locations of various KR trains with a scant 5-minute delay. Saxena has empowered private enterprises in remote areas with a reservation terminal to provide ticketing facilities to citizens in these areas. For a commission, these private entities use their terminals (which have links to the main reservation system) to book journey tickets and access online information regarding train schedules and fares.

The Biggest Challenge

The most important success factor for an e-governance project is that the focus should not be on the technology but on the pain areas and the strategies that are needed to use IT to resolve the pain aspects

All implementers and drivers of e-governance initiatives agree that the biggest challenge of deploying e-governance is not technology but change management.

Change management is important not only in terms of cultural change but also in terms of changing operations and processes workflow that the automated environment will introduce.

“It’s important to educate people at all levels about the benefits of technology. The various benefits and advantages of e-enabling the system should be communicated clearly right at the beginning to ensure popular support which will lead to greater chances of success,” explains Dr G D Gautama, Secretary, IT, Government of West Bengal.

It is important to explain to people that the introduction of IT will not take away existing jobs but will make them easier, and if less manpower is required for operations the staff can be re-deployed elsewhere with no threat to their career growth path.

More Challenges

Other obstacles are geographical distances, lack of trained human resources, and lack of ICT penetration in remote areas. For instance, a good e-governance application will not benefit anybody in remote areas if there is no supporting infrastructure such as electricity, computers and connectivity.

Many pilots have been successfully implemented in almost all areas of e-governance, but, says Ravi Kant, “Rather than having an obsession to undertake pilot projects, we should capitalise on the existing successful examples in the country and customise them for our use.”

The challenges of connectivity have also reduced over the years with the falling prices of bandwidth and increased reach of connectivity service providers. Major VSAT service providers already have established large footprints in India, and telecom service providers have stepped up their leased line offerings even in previously unrepresented territories.

Many state governments have developed state wide area networks (SWANs), customised applications, and data banks. But the interconnectivity of the servers is an issue which calls for the establishment of state data centres.

The NIC, which is promoting e-governance in the country, has established VSAT connectivity in all the districts of the country. There remain however issues such as standardisation, inter-operability, security, and propriety vs. open source.

Sucess Depends On Sustainability

It is important to ensure that e-governance initiatives, once deployed, do not lose steam along the way and become ineffective or get phased out. We have seen many e-governance projects go this way for reasons such as want of adequate and timely funds. Advises Kant: “The e-governance projects, to the extent possible, should be with private-public partnership so that the governments enjoy the synergy with private professionals.”

This would also add elements of relevance, efficiency and sustainability in the projects, and a portion of user charges (to be collected from users of the system) can be used to pay the private partners. “The initiative must also ensure a better quality of life to the citizens as well as those dispensing the services. The best way to keep e-governance initiatives alive is to keep them as simple and easy to operate as possible,” counsels Saxena.

Vital Signs

Dr G D Gautama,
Secretary, IT,
Government of West Bengal

When e-governance initiatives are successful, people start talking about them. “The tell-tale sign of success is that more and more people use the e-governance facilities, and the news of the success travels by word of mouth,” points out Dr Gautama. The fact that citizens are able to carry out a particular transaction or job in considerably less time than before is one sign of success.

George Paul, Executive Vice-president, Marketing, HCL Infosystems, feels that the growth curve of the e-governance segment has followed the pattern where the initial period sees slow growth, and this is followed by a period where there is a leap. “Thankfully, today it has reached a level where almost every state has an IT policy in place, and the target has moved from an IT-aware to an IT-enabled government,” he says.

The typical nature of an unsuccessful e-governance initiative is that in the beginning the staff will start to work on the new system with a lot of interest. However, with time, its usage will come down and a parallel manual system will emerge which somewhat resembles the legacy system. Another sign that the e-governance initiative is not working is that, as Saxena puts it, “the staff keeps talking about ‘the good old days’ of non-IT.”

If e-governance has to achieve its goals, such a drift is best avoided.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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