Single window for municipal services

Quick and easy access to municipal services is a citizen’s basic right. Residents of Agartala have at last got it through the e-Suvidha programme

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | June 9, 2014



Agartala has revamped its municipal corporation, introducing e-governance to speed up its many processes.

Take the example of the building plan approval system. The new system, initiated in 2013, aims to streamline the building plan approval in the municipality. In the past, the process took anywhere between two days to two years. Now, citizens apply for the approvals online and the whole process is completed in 14 days. That is the turnaround time, but AMC officials say the proposals are approved within a short span of three to four days with the new system.

Delays are taken seriously and the municipal administration takeas action against the erring official. “Officers responsible for delaying the approval process will have to explain the reasons for the same and are liable to be punished if the reasons are found adequate,” said Milind Ramtheke, CEO, Agartala municipal corporation (AMC).

According to Ramtheke, in 2012-13 the corporation got 2,000 applications for building plan approvals out of which 600 are still pending amounting to a loss of '90-100 lakh as AMC charges on average '15,000 per plan as fees for approval. This widened the scope for corruption. The delay in approval also encouraged people to go ahead with illegal constructions in connivance with some in the authority.

Not anymore. e-Suvidha has not just made the lives of citizens but also of the civic officials easier. Citizens can now apply for 22 services online, including land records, birth and death registration and for issuing various certificates. They can also check the status of their services without having to make frequent trips to the municipality office.

The officers, on the other hand, can easily verify and issue licences as all the data is now on a central database. As Anirudh Das, computer supervisor, AMC, said, “Now, with a central database for all licences it is easy to make changes in the licences if needed. Search is also easy and so is making new licences for the lost ones.” However, while food and trade licences can be applied online, the applicants need to come to the AMC office for birth and death registration. “This is because of statutory requirements of the law,” said Das.

The central database of licences, both trade and food, has also led to easy collection of taxes which has increased tax revenue of the state, Das added. People can check the status of their services online without having to come to office frequently, he further stated.

Not a smooth ride yet

The automated plan approval system was one of the modules of the larger e-Suvidha project of AMC which encompasses several other basic citizen services. In fact, the software is a workflow-based application developed by NIC Tripura and has several modules aimed at streamlining the corporation’s citizen and business specific service delivery.

The facilities include birth and death registration, public grievances, payment of property and water tax, e-procurement, food and trade licences and double entry accounting system. The double entry accounting system, which started in 2011, is for monitoring the funds of all the projects of AMC. The interactive voice response system (IVRS) with a four-digit number, 1913, has also been set up at the AMC to facilitate all citizens to record their complaint in voice form. The complaints thus recorded are sent to the respective departments for redressal.

However, like all technologies, e-Suvidha too had its share of challenges. While the AMC has been able to address majority of them including the critical issue of change management, there are a few that still need to be taken care of.

Earlier the residents found it difficult to access the different services provided by AMC as they were time consuming and required frequent trips to the municipal office. Besides, due to direct contact with the officials, the citizens often had to pay a bribe to get their work done. Corruption and delay in accessing services were the major reasons for AMC to take the e-Suvidha way. It was also done to streamline the data regarding the birth and death registration in the city and the property registration aimed at enabling further planning and policy making for better citizen amenities and services.

Since the legacy system has been automated and officials have lost the discretionary powers, the corporation is facing challenges in running the system 24x7. Poor internet connectivity by BSNL is another challenge as it mars the performance of the application.

“The headquarters of AMC is in Agartala city centre which has its own network called the Agartala city area network or ACAN. The problem is at the three other centres of the state where the connectivity is provided by BSNL,” said Das. AMC is also constrained by government norms and rules for implementation of various projects which slows it down on many occasions.

Undeterred by the challenges, the corporation is looking at rolling out newer services for the citizens and has already chalked out plans for the same. For starters, the property tax is slated to be amended in a year. This will enable the AMC to introduce the self-assessment system that will allow verification of the property to be done only after payment.

“It will be like income tax and defaulters or those who submit wrong information would be punished,” said Das. Services such as e-filing (of taxes), e-procurement, e-grievance and e-tendering will soon go online too for convenience of both citizens and government. Besides, streamlining of the data regarding birth and death and property registration is expected to further help in planning and policy making for citizen services.

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