Sunday, February 2, 2014

E - Governance - Concept & Significance

The complete transformation of the processes of Governance using the implementation of Information & Communication Technology is called E-Governance. It aims at bringing in faster and transparent service delivery,accountability,information sharing and people participation in the decision making and govt. processes.
It brings in SMART Governance viz. :
S - Simple : Simplification of rules and procedures of Government making it user-friendly.
M-Moral: Infusing ethics and morals into officers again since anti-corruption and vigilance agencies improving.
A- Accountable: ICT helps set standards of performance and efficiently measures it.
R- Responsive: Efficient service delivery and government that is in tune with the people.
T - Transparent: Information confined to secrecy is out in the public domain bringing equity and rule of law in public agencies.

SMART Governance enables:
1. People participation
2. Accountability and efficiency
3. Transparency
4. User friendly government processes
5. Removal of hierarchical barriers and red tape
6. Better service delivery

E-Government: The process of Govt. functioning using ICT
E-Governance: The overall experience and environment as a result of Governance.

1. Simple Information Dissemination - A one way broadcasting of information stage from Govt to the constituents.

2. Two-Way Communication - A request and response form of communication which is generally done in the manner of emails,website form filling,etc.

3. Online Service Transactions - Citizens can perform a number of online services and financial transactions on a website in a self service form.

4. Integration ( Vertical & Horizontal) - Via this method the government attempts inter & intra-governmental integration by means of ICT to remove the hierarchical barriers inducing red-tapism in service delivery and information dissemination.

5. Political Participation - Online voting,online polling,online public forums and wider interaction with the government.

Another classification of the stages of E-Governance is listed below in which the first two stages are similar but the rest are as follows:

3. Third stage - Multi purpose portals integrating various departments which are used by the people as a single entry point.

4. Fourth stage - Personalisation of portals by the users as per their customised settings where they create a user id and password on them and add the features they require.

5. Fifth stage - Government departments cluster services along common lines to accelerate delivery of shared services and common services.

6. Sixth stage - Integrating the front office and back office functions for smooth service.

The below mentioned are a few E-Governance models that can be used as a guide in designing and implementing E-Government initiatives depending on the local situations and governance activities expected to be performed.

1. Broadcasting Model - It is a simple model that focuses on information dissemination and broadcasting which is useful to the people pertaining to Governance via ICT and convergent media. This leads to a more informed citizenry which is better able to judge the functioning of the entire governance mechanisms and make an informed opinion about them thus empowering the public to exercise their rights and responsibilities in a prudent and objective manner. This leads to an accountable,efficient and responsive government. The use of ICT also opens up an alternate channel for people to access information as well as validate existing information from different sources to keep the Government on its toes.

2. The Critical Flow Model - It is based on disseminating information of critical value to the targeted population. The strength of this model is that it can be used advantageously anywhere and anytime to transfer critical information to the strategic user group.

3. Comparative Analysis Model - The model focuses on gathering the best practices/best way of governance in various countries all over the world and then uses them to evaluate the current governance practices being analysed. The results are then used to advocate positive changes or influence "public opinion" on the same.
The comparison could be made over a period of time in order to get the picture of the past and present situations and the effect that a particular intervention has had on it.
The strength of this model lies in the infinite capacity of digital networks to store varied information and retrieve as well as transmit it instantly across all geographical and hierarchical barriers.

4. E-Advocacy/Mobilization And Lobbying Model - This model focuses on adding the opinions and concerns expressed by virtual communities. It helps the global civil society to impact global decision-making processes. Its basis is setting up a planned,directed flow of information to build strong virtual allies in order to complement actions in the real world. Virtual communities are formed which share similar values and concerns and these communities in turn link up and network with or support real life groups/activities for concerted action. This helps mobilize and leverage human resources and information beyond geographical,institutional and bureaucratic barriers to use it for concerted action.

5. The Interactive Service Model - In this model the various services offered by the government become directly available to its citizens in an interactive manner by opening up an interactive Government to Consumer to Govt. (G2C2G) channel in various aspects of governance such as e-ballots,redressing specific grievances online,sharing of concerns and providing expertise,opinion polls on various issues,etc. Thus this model opens avenues for direct participation of individuals in governance processes and brings in greater objectivity and transparency in the decision making processes through ICT.

1. Information Technology Act 2000 - The objective of this Act is "to provide legal recognition for transactions carried out by means of electronic data interchange and other means of electronic methods of communication commonly referred as "electronic means of communication and storage of information" to facilitate electronic filing of documents with the govt. agencies,and further to amend the IPC,Indian Evidence Act 1872 and the Banker's book Evidence Act 1891 and the Reserve Bank of India Act 1934 and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."

E-Governance and E-Commerce transactions are covered under the ambit of this Act which facilitates acceptance of electronic records and digital signature. It provides legal framework so that legal sanctity is accorded to all electronic records and other activities carried out by electronic means.

2. Report Of The Working Group On Convergence And E-Governance 20012-07 - This working group report proposed the need for administration to transform itself from passive information and service provider to a platform for the active involvement of citizens.
However,the main drawback of this report was it focused only on public investments and did not visualise the extent of private initiative in the convergence area or in e-commerce and other allied segments.
It advocated the need to set up a central body for taking stock of the total IT picture in the country called 'Council for E-Governance' or ad hoc 'Commission on re-engineering Administrative procedures for E-Governance'. Or a National Institute of Smart Governance could be set up.

3. Common Minimum Programme - The CMP inter-alia states that e-governance will be promoted on a massive scale and solemnly pledged to the country's people that the UPA govt. would be a corruption free,transparent and accountable government and its administration would be a one that is responsible and responsive at all times.

4. National E-Governance Plan - The National E-Governance Plan which forms the core infrastructure for effective service delivery has as its elements - Data centres, State wide Area Networks and Common Service Centres to bring about transparency and citizen centric approach in administration.

5. Expert Committee - This expert committee had been constituted for amendments in the IT Act 2000 to include the technological developments post IT Act 2000 which submitted its report in Aug 2005. Its recommendations have been displayed on the department of IT to invite public view and suggestions. The expert committee took into consideration and analyzed relevant experiences and international  best practices to recommend in its report. The twin objectives of using IT as a tool for socio-economic development and employment generation;and further consolidation of India's position as a major global player in the IT sector.

6. Right To Information Act 2005 - The Right To Information Act 2005 confers on the citizens the right to:
a) Inspect works,documents and records of the govt. and its agencies.
b) Take notes,extracts or certified copies of documents or records.
c) Take certified samples of material.
d) Obtain information in form of print outs, diskettes,floppies,tapes,video cassettes or in any other electronic mode.

This Act has facilitated a two way dialogue between the people and the govt. ensuring transparent and accountable governance to the people in order to make well informed decisions and tackle corruption as well as monitor the functioning of the government.

ICT applications have the following significance in the process of E-Governance:
a) Administrative Development
b) Effective Service Delivery

Let us discuss these.

A) Administrative Development - ICTs help in reforming administrative processes to a great extent. ICTs help in the following manners:
i) Automation of Administrative Processes - When there is minimal human intervention and everything is system driven then this leads to effective and efficient as well as timely services. Now departments are computerised and connected through network and software has been built and designed around government depts. ensuring efficiency in operations.
The departments have launched their own individual websites carrying information of their respective departments enabling online carrying of operations and file movements as well as budgeting,accounting,data flow,etc. have become easy.

ii) Paper-Work Reduction- Paperwork is reduced to a great extent with communication being enabled via electronic route and storage and retrieval of information in the electronic form. In this concept files and mails (information) are transmitted over wires to small computers at each employees desk and everything is computer managed. SO there is reduction of physical movements and consumption as well as storage of huge piles of paper.

iii) Quality Of Services - ICT facilitates Govt. to deliver services to the citizens with greater accountability,responsiveness and sensitivity since now people are able to get services efficiently and instantaneously as well as economically.
Online redressal of grievances ensures officials accountability and also sensitises them. Video tele-conferencing monitoring has further facilitated central supervision,reporting and face to face communication leading to better quality of services.

iv) Elimination Of Hierarchy - Through the introduction of Intranet and LAN there has been a reduction in procedural delays caused by hierarchical processed in organisations as it has become possible to send and receive information and data across various levels in an organisation instantaneously helping the involvement of all levels in decision making.

v) Change in Administrative Culture - With E-Governance public action has come under public glare thus inducing norms and values of accountability,openness,integrity,fairness,equity,responsibility and justice in the administrative culture freeing it from 'bureau-pathology' and becoming efficient and responsive.

B) Effective Service Delivery: The abovementioned has become possible since ICTs ensure -
i) Transparency - Via dissemination and publication of information on the web which involves detailed public scrutiny making the service delivery efficient and accountable.

ii) Economic Development - ICTs reduce transaction costs making services cheaper. To state an example - rural areas suffer on account of lack of information regarding markets,products,agriculture,health,education,weather,etc. and when all of this could be accessed online by them it would evidently lead to better and more opportunities and prosperity in such areas.

iii) Social Development - Access to information empowers citizens as they can participate and voice their concerns which could be accommodated in programme/project formulation,implementation,monitoring and service delivery. Also, web enabled participation will counter the discriminatory factors affecting our societal behavior.

iv) Strategic Information System - The competitiveness in the organisational sphere today has forced public functionaries to perform to their best ability and this is achieved only when information regarding all aspects are made available to the management at every point in order to make routine as well as strategic decisions which are done effectively via the use of ICTs.

In order to harness the benefits of ICT maximally,there is a need to develop sufficient and adequate infrastructure,provide sufficient capital and investments,enable easy and wider accessibility and generate ample,skillful HR. Let us discuss these challenges in detail.

i) Infrastructure - TO strengthen the infrastructure ' The National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development' in 1998 recommended broadband connection (also known as 'the last mile') linkage for IT application Service Providers (ASPs),Internet Services Providers(ISPs) and IT promotional organisations either by fibre optics or by radio communication with the aim to ' boost efficiency and enhance market integration' through Internet/Intranet for sustainable regional development.

ii) Capital - High rate of investment in IT capital and supportive environment is necessary to achieve a digital economy. The economy is crunched on resources so the need is to generate resources from the market and private sector. PPP is a step in the right direction to achieve this.

iii) Access - Even though there are more than 10 million users of the Internet in the country, more than 75% of these users are in urban India alone which exposes the reach of the rural and disadvantaged sections. However, Gram Panchayats are being roped in to expand ICTs reach. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has developed a comprehensive web-based software for Panchayati Raj and rural applications viz. Andhra Pradesh which is a step in the right direction.

iv) Utility Of Information - Information which is of use should be provided in an interesting and appealing manner. A vision document has been prepared for E-Governance by the Government of India and the State Governments. Though Citizen's Charters of many departments are available on the net,further publicity of such facilities is required to enable the public to access the necessary information.

v) Human Resources Development - There exists a dearth of quality manpower in India inspite of growing rate of employment in various sectors. A gap exists between demand and supply in the IT Manpower market. To bridge this gap we need to have more technical institutes to impart quality education and training to build a pool of human resources in the field.

vi) Capacity Building - One needs to be trained in computer skills for effective service delivery. Though this training is being carried out to all the basic public functionaries,yet its effective use of ICT is yet to be seen. Also, there is a need to immediately launch a nationwide 'Tain The Teachers' Programme(3T Programme) at all levels including schools and colleges viz. combination of physical and virtual training.

vii) Changing the Mindset Of Government Functionaries - Govt. functionaries need to be reminded and made aware that they are there to serve the people as per the policies and programmes and in order to do that efficiently technological advancement is a facilitator which solves the problems faced by the people. ICT is not a solution in itself. In order to change this mindset of public functionaries there is a need to impart orientation and training programmes to them emphasising this.

viii) Language - Given the Indian social conditions,unless we develop interface in vernacular languages,it would remain out of reach of many people who are not versed in English. It may be mentioned here that this hurdle is being worked upon and organisations like CDAC has developed multilingual software for this purpose.

ix) Standardisation in Data Encoding - Multiple access points maintained in various languages at various levels need to be updated in conformity with similar standards for data-encoding and application logic for a common horizontal application and data dictionary. This is also important for finding aggregates in the national context.

x) Grievance Redressal Mechanism - Grievance redressal for various functions need to be made necessarily. For this Interactive platforms on the internet may speed up the process and be useful for this purpose.
A good example of this is the BMC-Praja Foundation's joint initiative of the Online Complaint Management System (OCMS) which is perhaps the world's first citizen-govt. partnership for resolving public grievances in municipal services. It has been in operation since April 2003 and efficiently uses IT as a tool for achieving its results.

The Central Vigilance Commission has also provided such a platform for people to register their complaints against corrupt officials.

However, such sporadic instances need to be made more broad-based and effective and more public service agencies need to get into providing such facilities.

xi) Cyber Laws - Appropriate laws need to be enacted by the govt. which are especially necessary to enable transactions over the Internet.Safety concerns regarding the use of credit cards or other modes of payment inhibits consumers from utilizing online facilities. MTNL Delhi as an example has provided the online facility for payment of telephone bills but not even one percent of its consumers avail it. Therefore, strict and robust cyber laws need to be enacted and efficiently implemented so that confidence is generated in the minds of consumers towards this system to provide online security.