Minister for communication and IT A Raja was to travel to Estonia to learn lessons in e-governance with a 26-member delegation but he had to cancel his trip as he did not get permission from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The delegation had three MPs and 22 officials as well.
It was strange that the minister who had no time to attend the 13th annual conference on e-governance at Jaipur, organised by his own ministry, had enough time (June 7–13) to travel to the Baltic nation to attend the 20-hour conference along with important officials of his ministry.
Estonia, ranked 20th in the Global UN e-Government Survey, could have offered few lessons to India as the country is very small compared to India in size and population. If international best practices have to be studied, then countries like South Korea, the US, Canada and the UK should be the benchmark as they are the leaders in the global e-government ranking.
India is a complex and diverse nation with multiple states, multiple languages and multilayered governance structures. Whereas India has to issue UID numbers to over 100 crore residents, Estonia had to issue it to just a few lakh. India plans to establish 1,00,000 rural Common Service Centres (CSCs) across 28 states and seven union territories, but Estonia can boast of just 700 Public Access Internet Points (PAIPs) or telecentres, which is just 0.7 percent of the Indian target. There can hardly be any lesson that a vast nation like India could have learnt in e-governance from a small nation like Estonia.
Another reason for the PMO’s refusal could be that the prime minister is reportedly planning a cabinet reshuffle. If the minister’s portfolio changes in July, all lessons learnt from Estonia would go waste. So has the PM shown his foresight in putting brakes on the minister’s trip or it is just another routine matter?
But it is not clear what the minister wanted. Was he trying to get away from the heat of Delhi or the heat of 2G scam? The minister these days is said to be avoiding meetings where the media is present in order to avoid tough questions on the 2G scam. With the revenues from Broadband Wireless Access and 3G auctions crossing Rs one lakh crore, the loss from 2G (benchmarked at the 3G auctions) spectrum sale can also be pegged at over Rs one lakh crore.
Now that the trip has been cancelled, the minister may explore using the e-governance route of videoconferencing or webcast to learn more about e-governance in Estonia. Anyway, we have a lesson for the minister. The governance part is more important than the ‘e’ part in e-governance!