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Empowering people through e-governance

National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2006 with the vision to give access of all public services and information to each and every resident of this country in his/her local area and within the affordable cost. It basically means empowerment of people.

Shankar Aggarwal
Shankar Aggarwal
Additional Secretary
Department of Information Technology
Government of India

What led to the idea of e-governance?
National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2006 with the vision to give access of all public services and information to each and every resident of this country in his/her local area and within the affordable cost. It basically means empowerment of people.

India has done considerably well in terms of growth of the economy. Our GDP growth has been 8.5 per cent. In terms of the size of an economy, today we are the fourth largest economy in the world and we expect to be the largest economy in the next 20-30 years. However, if we look a little deeper, we will find that a lot of disparity still exists – about one-third of people are still below poverty line; and nearly 65-70 per cent people who live in rural areas, do not have access to good quality health and cost-efficient health services or good quality education. Merely building of schools or blackboards is not enough. We take pride in the fact that we are one of the youngest nations in terms of demographic profile. But we will be able to take care of these people and maybe, even take advantage of the demographic dividend, only when we are able to incorporate skills and good quality education to our youth. However, given the current deficiencies, it is just not possible. So we looked around and found that if we really want to empower people, if we really want to impart good quality education and services, then we have to make use of ICT (information and communications technology) in a big way. Moreover, we were not required to import ICT from outside. India is recognised as the greatest power and leader in ICT, so we had the expertise. The only work that was required to be done was to make use of the expertise available within the country to introduce ICT in a big way in the governance process. That’s why we thought if we want to include the delivery of services in the country, if we really want to empower people, we have to make use of ICT – that’s our only alternative and that means nothing but e-governance, that is, NeGP.

You started the NeGP journey in 2006. It has now been five years. How has been the journey so far? What are the key achievements?
In 2006, people thought that it is a fad, a fad for the technically qualified. However, today, across the country, whether it’s a politician, bureaucrat or a low-level employee, everybody wants to use this technology. Nobody is questioning e-governance whether it is the states of Bihar, Tamil Nadu, North-East or Jammu & Kashmir. Everybody wants to introduce e-governance in a big way to improve the quality of governance and delivery of services. It implies that it has been accepted.

Moreover, we have been able to create a big infrastructure called SWAN (State Wide Area Network) – out of 33 states/ union territories (UT), 28 states have got SWAN up and operational today; 2 states and UTs have opted out. In case of state data centres, 15 centers and 97,000 CSCs (common service centres) or front-end are up and operational today. Many applications have been built. Lots of people are using these applications. For example, Ministry of Corporate Affairs has started an online service wherein one can register a company electronically. Likewise, filing of Income Tax has become very easy. Whenever one wants to file returns as a firm or corporate entity, they can do it electronically. Individuals can file their IT returns online. It is a huge facility. Earlier, people were forced to go to CAs, but today, they can file their returns automatically. Similar is the case with passports. E-passport services have started in Bangalore and Chandigarh. Very soon, we will be having it all over the country. A great deal of work has been done and it has been a huge success. Earlier, there used to be so much of corruption, but things have really gone very well. However, if you say that we have arrived, then I would say no, we have not yet arrived. We are basically in a transition phase In another 2-years’ time, we will take off. There is no doubt about that.

For any e-governance project to be successful, one requires computer and literacy, especially of English language. In India, majority of people lack these. How do you propose to deal with it?
Today, if one wants to make use of the content which is available on Internet, one has to have knowledge of English language. In India, less than 2 per cent people speak English and 48 per cent speak Hindi. However, I believe that English is not necessary to be empowered. Unfortunately, we have not been able to provide all our services in local languages. People will be able to harness technology only when it is presented to them in their own language, otherwise irrespective of what we do, we are not going to achieve much.

Department of IT, through CDAC programme, is helping a large number of people use modules in local languages but a lot of work has to be done. Actually the content has to be converted into local languages. If we consider the case of Japan, Korea or Germany, the entire content is in their own language. That is what we have to do. We need to develop the content in our own language.

One of the reasons cited for the high failure rate of e-Governance projects across the world, is poor understanding of user needs. Is Citizen Engagement Framework for e-Governance Projects a means to understand users?
Citizen Engagement Framework for e-Governance Projects has got different purpose and is not to determine user needs, although it can be used to engage citizens. When we talk about business process rebuilding, we must try to understand what government processes are. Once we understand these processes, only then will we be able to determine whether we should follow the century-old government processes or change it. For example, if a particular government task earlier involved five levels of decision-making, now, thanks to technology, this task can be accomplished in just two levels. So one has to look into the business process rebuilding as far as the automation of the backhand process or e-governance is concerned.

Talking about Citizen Engagement Framework, today everybody wants to be a part of the governance process or the decision-making process. That is not a bad idea. Within the framework of rules and regulations and within the possibility of realism, we must have a meaningful dialogue with a common man, with citizens. Whenever we take up new project, new programme, new scheme, we must consult citizens in a big and a meaningful manner. It should not be a one-way communication, that is, only dissemination of information. We must get their ideas, we must have a dialogue with them before we start and we should be able to take their aspirations and expectations into consideration. We have created that kind of a framework and we are in the process to find out a new way.

Can you tell us about the Electronic Service Delivery bill that DIT is strongly advocating for?
Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) bill will make it mandatory for all government departments and ministries to deliver all public services in electronic mode. Today, it depends on the whims and wishes of a particular department or an agency to deliver services irrespective of the time mode. If we want to bring in accountability or efficiency or transparency, it is necessary that we introduce e-governance. This means that we must deliver all public services in electronic mode so that there is no need to go to a government office to seek a particular service or get delivery of those services. All that one should require is a computer, whether at home or kiosk, and they should be able to get the services or delivery of those services. To acheive that, we want it to be mandatory for all government departments to deliver services in electronic mode within next five years. Every year, they should come out with a list of services which they will deliver electronically.

You are also in the process of building a framework to facilitate interoperability among different organisations/ministries? Can you tell us about it?
ICT is a very powerful tool. With the help of ICT, we can bring in efficiency and transparency. But we will be able to take advantage of ICT only when we are able to share information and data. That will happen only when we follow a certain discipline. For example, consider the case of traffic rules. If one is following a left-hand side driving rule and the other person is following the right-hand rule, there’s bound to be chaos. If we want to have the advantage of technology, we have got to follow certain discipline which will ensure that everybody is talking in the same language. We have to ensure that everybody is following the same standards as far as the data is concerned, so that the data is readable to everyone. This way we will be able to share information. For interoperability, it’s necessary that we follow certain discipline and that discipline comes from standards.

Can you tell us about UID (Unique Identification Number) and National Population Register programmes? How are they different from each other?
UID is going to provide identity, unique identity to each and every resident of this country. Under this scheme, every resident will be allocated a unique number which will be used for determining his/her identity. On the other hand, National Population Register, being created by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), will have plenty of other features. It will contain the UID along with other details. It’s like creating a register for the entire population of this country containing information like name, father’s name, mother’s name, religion, caste, etc.

Are you planning to use social media platform for the promotion of e-governance?
Yes. Today, everybody recognises the value of social media. It’s a very powerful medium – including blogging, twitter, facebook. With the help of these platforms, one can reach out to a large number of people and share views with them. That’s not possible through the conventional system. However, we have not been able to create a framework for the government operations, with the result that government officials, organisations and departments are unable to make use of social media and hence put their views across the people. If you do not put across your viewpoint very effectively and efficiently, you will not be able to communicate with people. Thus, they will have only one version of the story and that may not be very good for society. Hence, it is necessary that government is also able make use of social media. However, it is a very sensitive issue. Social media is a powerful tool but it can also be misused. So we have to create a framework which will ensure that this social media is not being used for anti-social activities.

What is being done to train people in delivering services to common people?
It is one of the most challenging tasks and unless we are able to create enough capabilities within and outside the government, we are not going to succeed. It is also a very time-consuming task because it involves changing the mindset of people. For centuries, we have been using a particular way of delivering services – a certain system has been established. Changing that system will require a great deal of effort because there will be resistance to change. The resistance can be there because of vested interests as well. But then whenever one wants to learn a new technology, a new skill, tremendous amount of efforts have to be put in it as people are reluctant to learn new skills.

Last year, Commonwealth Express was a huge success. Are similar such projects in pipeline? What is being done to create awareness among people about e-governance?
We are making significant investments towards communication and awareness about e-governance. It is also very necessary. In democracy, pressure groups are very effective tools because these groups put pressure on decision-makers to do something which is in public interest. We want to create awareness among people so that they start demanding lots of services from government. And that will work as a pressure group. We are trying to create such awareness through newspapers, social media and electronic media. We are also releasing a lot of advertisements and radio jingles and conducting programmes wherein we go from one village to another to create awareness. Once people understand that this technology is not for the high-tech section of society but primarily for the welfare of majority of people, they will start demanding services.