At 17, NCEG needs to grow up and tackle e-gov better

The national conference on e-governance has completed 17 years. Now it needs to evolve into a responsible adult and address the ‘how to’ issues rather than just focusing on ‘what to’

shubhendu

Shubhendu Parth | February 19, 2014




When union minister V Narayanasamy said that e-governance in India, which started 10 years ago, is staggering and should move faster, he was bang on. In fact, unlike most of the speakers who sounded more optimistic than their bosses on the stage, the minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions did not, for once, mince words.

For the record, we are talking about the 17th national conference on e-governance (NCEG) that was held on January 30-31, 2014 in Kochi.

Speaking at the valedictory function of the conference, Narayanasamy, who is also minister of state in the prime minister’s office, stressed that for e-governance to succeed it was important to implement administrative reforms in states.

However, his point was better elucidated by Kerala planning board deputy chairman KM Chandrasekhar, who said that the enemy of e-governance was corruption. “If corruption is high in an administration, the effect of e-governance will be less,” he said point blank, bringing back to focus the key point that technology is merely a tool and the real reform can be brought in only by streamlining the government decision-making processes, and the right checks and balances.

Unfortunately, the key issue of business process re-engineering, or BPR, was confined to just a 90-minute discussion with six speakers trying to feed as much as they can in the pre-lunch session. And while the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) secretary J Satyanarayna was spectacular as he explained in detail the six steps to BPR, he almost repeated himself from his own book ‘Managing Transformation—Objectives to Outcomes’.

“What we were looking for was practical stuff from real world and he (Satyanarayana) has a lot of experience to share. Unfortunately, the entire session was more of bhashan (rhetoric) on the need for BPR than the ‘how-to-do’ kind of information that we need,” said a young IAS officer from the host state.

The frustration of not being able to do justice with the topic was also evident when another speaker, Kiran Vasudev Oberoi, told Governance Now that it was too brief a time to describe even a single process change that the income tax department has effected to streamline the filing of income tax returns in India. And she certainly knows the BPR pains that the department went through as she is the director general (training) at the Nagpur national academy of direct taxes and has a hands-on experience of change management in the department.

From vision to implementation
While it may surprise many that the organisers – department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DARPG), and the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) – are still stuck up with the basics like ‘vision to implementation’ as the overarching theme for the conference, a senior official from DeitY, on condition of anonymity, gave his frank opinion: “There is a complete lack of ability to think afresh.

“The maximum we are doing is to find out gaps in the NeGP (National eGovernance Plan) and figure out ways to plug it in the form of a new e-governance wave being touted as NeGP 2.0, or eKranti.”

The least that the conference could have done was to focus on the change management that would be triggered due to the electronic delivery of service bill and the citizens charter bill.

While the comment might be too harsh and may also have originated from individual frustration, the freshness in approach – particularly since the union cabinet had in March last year approved the Electronic Delivery of Service Bill, 2011, aimed at pushing the public authorities to deliver services electronically within a maximum period of eight years – was certainly needed. Also, a session on how government and public sector organisations can jump into the g-cloud (or MeghRaj) bandwagon and better utilise it was the need of the hour. The service was launched just three days after the conference and is aimed at accelerating delivery of e-services in the country, as also for optimising ICT spending of the government.

It is important to note that the electronic delivery of service Bill had been brought before the cabinet to bring it in sync with citizens charter Bill or the right of citizens for time-bound delivery of goods and services and redressal of their grievances Bill, 2011, which the government is keen to pass during the present winter session (extended) of parliament that commenced on February 5.

Besides, the UPA-II is also keen to pass five other bills that are part of the government’s anti-corruption framework before the expiry of the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. These include the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 2011, the Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill, 2011, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 and the Public Procurement Bill, 2012.

However, the same sense of urgency and the need to adopt a long-term, wholesome integrated approach to planning, and the need to be in tandem with the changing policy environment, was completely missing from this important national conference.

Returning to the NCEG after four years, TCS vice president & global head (government industry solutions unit), Tanmoy Chakrabarty was quick to point out that the least the conference could have done was to focus on the change management that would be triggered due to the Electronic Delivery of Service Bill and the Citizens Charter Bill.

Speaking at the session on ‘Empowering Citizen: Process-centricity to Citizen-centricity’ Chakrabarty, however, mooted the concept of setting up indiacertificate.org, an online repository of all kinds of certificates for the country. The concept that is already being deliberated at the initial level is akin to shares and securities that are held electronically in a dematerialised or demat account, instead of the physical possession of certificates. This, he explained, would be an important step towards delivery of government services electronically and to effectively meet the citizen charter.

The sense of urgency and the need to adopt a long-term integrated approach to planning, and the need to be in tandem with the changing policy environment, was completely missing.

“It is a mela,” said Prof MP Gupta of IIT-Delhi, an e-governance expert who is also credited with successfully conceptualising and executing the international congress of e-government (ICEG) since 2003. “While such an event is important as it gives opportunity to the practitioners to meet and learn from their peers, NCEG and all similar conferences need to evolve and adopt a long-term approach for collective learning,” he said.

The industry issue
Wearing his new hat as the NASSCOM president, R Chandrasekhar, the man credited with drafting the NeGP, talked about the need for an integrated approach to good governance. He also highlighted the issue of delays and non-payment to companies undertaking e-governance projects in the country.

Speaking at the inaugural session, the former DeitY and telecom secretary also pointed out that the industry body is all set to take up with the union government the issue of non-payment to companies since the matter was not restricted to a particular department or government and was a concern across government organisations – at the level of both the central and state governments.

“There are a lot of projects where companies have put in a lot of resources, and we are not talking here of multi-billion dollar companies but small and medium companies,” he said. “They put in a lot of energy and efforts, and at a certain point when the payments are not coming in they are in extreme distress.”

Chandrasekhar also pointed out that since most e-governance projects are complex service procurements, it was nearly impossible for any company, and for that matter the procuring agency or department, to envisage every detail beforehand. “Often there are new requirements and demands from the government. These issues cannot be settled by looking at them from the point of view of a contract for procurement of equipment,” he said.

According to Chandrasekhar, there is a need to adopt standard-based approach and benchmarks to evaluate projects and their success, which, once defined, can make the process more transparent.

The Kerala story
Keeping true to its promise of showcasing the state’s progress in using information and communication technologies for improving governance, chief minister Oommen Chandy announced that Kerala would soon implement ‘e-office’ project to bring in more administrative effectiveness and transparency.

Addressing the inaugural session, Chandy said that the e-office would be introduced on a pilot basis in the finance department of the secretariat and would be implemented in all other sections and later across the state.

Informing that the state government was already providing over 500 services under the ‘e-district’ project to the public without the need for them to even visit the Akshaya centres, Chandy said Kerala was one of the first states to implement online RTI facilities for the public under the project.

The chief minister also said that politicians cannot shy away from using the e-governance system and pointed out that he himself had benefited by addressing issues of the common man through programmes like ‘Sutharya Kerala’, an interactive video conferencing programme aimed at speedy disposal of public grievances.

The initiative enables citizens to lodge their grievances and petitions related to any department in the state through a call centre. The received calls are converted to electronic data and are sent to the chief minister’s public grievance redress cell. While the petitions are forwarded to the authorities concerned for speedy action, the chief minister responds to the selected petitioners through video conferencing, which is broadcast on Doordarshan Keralam as a 40-minute programme every Sunday.

Speaking on the occasion, Kerala IT minister PK Kunhalikutty said though the state government was committed to ensuring that benefits of various strategic programmes under NeGP and state initiatives percolates down to the right beneficiaries on time in a hassle-free manner, the focus of the state government with respect to IT is multifold and not confined to just e-governance.

“The government is committed to providing the right opportunities to the youth to showcase their talent,” Kunhalikutty said, adding that with the inauguration of an additional 1 million sq ft of space at the Technopark Phase III, the facility has become the country’s largest with a built-up area of 7.2 million sq ft.

The phase-III of the project also has smart business centres set up to attract youngsters for their entrepreneurial ventures. Besides, space has already been allotted to 30 companies that are expected to start operations soon, and the state government is hopeful that within two years the facility would generate more than 40,000 direct and over 1.6 lakh indirect employment opportunities to spur growth for Kerala as well as the IT industry in India.


The Gold Winners

  • Excellence in government process re-engineering: Control office application (COA), CRIS

  • Outstanding performance in citizen-centric service delivery: Mee Seva, department of IT, Andhra Pradesh

  • Incremental innovations in existing projects: Electronic integration of BHOOMI with stakeholders, revenue department, Karnataka and NIC

  • Best district level initiative in citizen-centric service delivery through ICT: System for attumanal neutral distribution (SAND), district administration Thrissur and NIC Kerala

  • Innovative use of GIS technology in e-governance: Delhi state spatial data infrastructure project, department of IT, Delhi

  • Sectoral award: Healthcare: NIKSHAY (web-based solution for monitoring TB patients), NIC

  • Innovative use of ICT by state government PSUs / cooperatives/federations/societies:GPS mobile-based housing monitoring and fund release system, housing department, Karnataka

  • Outstanding e-governance initiative by academic and research institutions: Effective seismological monitoring system, institute of seismological research, Gujarat

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