While some states continue to expand e-district project with more services, states like Bihar and J&K are yet to take the first step forward
Availing services from any government office is never an easy task. To avail just one service, a citizen has to wait in long queues, make multiple visits, file thick-layered forms and face the sluggish attitude of public servants. Besides, arranging attested copies of documents, affidavits and bribing officials to speed up the delivery process often leaves one helpless and angry.
But when Ritu applied for a birth certificate her experience turned out to be completely different. The Delhi-based college student applied for her certificate through the e-district portal. The online platform allowed her to fill the form and submit the required documents in one go. The only visit she paid to the east Delhi’s sub-district magistrate office was when she had to show her original documents. Within 14 days, she received a message stating that her digitally-signed certificate (a unique code is used as a signature to validate a document) has been delivered to her email account.
E-district is one of the 31 mission mode projects under the national e-governance plan (NeGP). It aims to ensure that all government services are accessible to a common man in his locality, either through direct access via a computer or front-end offices.
It also ensures that these services are delivered in a more transparent and efficient manner at an affordable cost. The government has allotted Rs 1,663 crore for the nationwide implementation of this project. So far only 30 percent of this money has been utilised.
The expenses for the project are shared on the basis of state categorisation. For union territories, the centre completely funds the project, while for the northeastern states the ratio is 80:20. For the rest of the states, expense sharing is equally divided between the centre and the states.
In 2009, DeitY (department of electronics and information technology), with its technical partner National Informatics Centre (NIC), started piloting the project in 40 districts across 15 states.
In 2011, the guidelines to implement the project in 640 districts across the nation (now 688), were issued. The target of four years was set for the roll-out.
However, today, the project stands delayed with only 572 districts covered over the period of five years, said an official from the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY). As the nodal department for implementing e-district, DeitY assessed the performance of states using various parameters like the number of services available on the e-district portal, the number of district project managers deployed in the state, and the number of district governance societies (DeGS) formed in the state that are responsible for implementing ICT projects at district level. States such as Karnataka, Bihar, Goa and Jammu and Kashmir were found to be the worst-performing states, as none of them have launched e-district services yet.
So what made some states lag behind? Being one of the most restive states in the country, Jammu and Kashmir faces challenges of basic infrastructure.
To begin with, the state does not have state wide area network (SWAN), an essential element for any e-governance project, as it provides closed communication network for government officials at all the levels.
“A large portion of the state is without electricity most of time. It’s a tough state to work with, since in regions like Leh we cannot work between October and April due to weather conditions. We now have more than 300 blocks for which we are expecting extra funds from the centre. Earlier there were only 148 blocks,” said Shafqat Bashir, head, J&K state e-governance mission team (SeMT).
In its proposal to the centre for the e-district project, J&K asked for a fund of '104 crore. However, the centre sanctioned only '60 crore, said Bashir.
Meanwhile, the state has decided to launch the project in one-go across all the districts without setting any timeline. “NIC will most probably develop the application for e-district. Rounds of request for proposal are still going on to select the implementing agency. Once completed, we will launch the project with 56 services,” Bashir said, adding that issuance of all necessary certificates like those of birth, death and marriage will be prioritised.
In Bihar too, building infrastructure for connectivity is a challenge, said Sunil Kalra, head, Bihar SeMT. “We are working on it and hopefully we will be able to roll out services through e-district in the entire state,” he said, adding that initial services will be probably from the education and health departments. The state has also issued a tender for SWAN and soon an agency will be finalised to develop it.
States performing well
While the e-district project started off as a national concept, it eventually became an essential component for the states’ e-governance growth.
In Delhi, more than 15 mandatory services from the departments of social welfare, food and civil supplies, revenue court, RTI, and dues and recovery, will be online in next two months.
Currently, only certificates can be availed from its e-district portal from all the 11 districts of the state. The centre has so far released '4.77 crore for Delhi.
Apart from mandatory services that are issued by the centre in its national implementation guidelines, a state can also choose to disseminate more services through its e-district portal.
The Delhi administration is now preparing to add extra services to its portal in coming months. “More than 43 services of the labour department, two from civil defence volunteer and solemnisation of marriage for Hindu, Muslim and Christian citizens have been proposed for e-district. We are expecting more funds from the centre,” said K Murugan, senior system analyst, the revenue department, the nodal agency for Delhi’s e-district project. In months to come, the state is also planning to introduce online payment gateway developed by State Bank of India.
“One of the major benefits of this project is that no officer can now stop a citizen’s application without providing a justified reason, since movement of application will be tracked online and centrally monitored by the state,” said Sandeep Alhawat, head, SeMT, Delhi.
So far, the Delhi e-district is connected to the database of 12 departments, including BSES, NDPL, election commission, UIDAI, transport, PAN and e-districts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for online verification of documents submitted as proofs by citizens.
Punjab, the state ranked number one for the e-district project in India, is also planning to add more services to its list of 42 services that are being offered in all 22 districts.
“We have the Right to Service Act enacted by Punjab government in 2011, under which 350 services have been notified. So now we will be digitising backend workflow of the remaining services in phases. This requires huge funding and will take time,” said Rajnish Malhotra, head, Punjab SeMT.
Moreover, it is also preparing to increase its front-end centres where citizens can go to avail e-district services. In next six months the state will launch 2,147 front-end offices in urban and rural areas for the e-district project. Currently, there are 140 suvidha kendras (front-ends) across the state, said Malhotra.
Online verification is one of the key components that make district-level services time-bound. However, convincing departments to connect their database to e-district is hard, as recognised by Delhi’s nodal agency for e-district project.
“There was resistance from UIDAI, election commission and utility services departments to share their data. But they finally agreed,” said Murugan, adding that departments such as CBSE and MTNL are still not convinced for data integration.
“The process will only reduce time taken for manual verification,” he added.
Acceptance of transition in workflow from manual to digital is another challenge faced by states. “People are not tuned to working with computers and using digital signatures. They have to be trained,” said Rajnish Malhotra.
He added that in Punjab the average age of public employees is between 45 and 50. This makes their task of training employees more difficult as it is hard to train a person of this age group as compared to training a 25-year-old.
Other than that, he said that networking these services till the block level require more infrastructure capacity and training workshops for the officials.
Such hurdles are of course faced by almost every state in developing e-governance projects. However, once addressed, it will only enhance citizens’ experiences in receiving government services, which is the end motive for e-governance movement in India.
(The article was published in April 16-30, 2016 edition)