“e-Office rollout will be fast”

In conversation, RC Misra, secretary, DARPG, Government of India

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | May 18, 2012




Ramesh Chandra Misra, an IAS officer (Odisha cadre, 1976 batch), is secretary with the department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DARPG). He has worked with the ministries of culture, information and broadcasting and information technology. In an interview with Samir Sachdeva, Misra discusses administrative reforms and e-governance implementation across the country. Edited excerpts:

Some say that in e-governance ‘governance’ is more important than the ‘e’ part. In that context, I would like to understand what efforts DARPG is making in the area of e-governance.
As per the allocation of rules by the government of India, both DARPG and the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) have been entrusted with the job of promoting e-governance in the country. National Informatics Centre (NIC), which is the technical arm of DeitY, is entrusted with carrying forward the technical parts of e-governance and DARPG is responsible for the governance aspect.

E-governance has been further emphasised in the 11th report of the second administrative reforms commission (ARC). After that report was discussed in the core group of the administrative reforms (CGAR) that is chaired by the cabinet secretary, and in the group of ministers (GoM), they have re-identified that part of the job of the department of administrative reforms.

Basically, we have brought out the central secretariat manual of e-office procedures (CSMeOP), have prepared a change management strategy for the government and a document on business process re-engineering. We take a leadership role in organising the national e-governance conference which take place every year along with the DeitY. We are also piloting the e-office mission mode project (MMP) as part of the national e-governance plan (NeGP).
 
What is the status of the e-office mission mode project?
The pilot is going in three locations which include DARPG, national e-governance division (NeGD) of DeitY and the training division of the department of personnel and training (DoPT). The pilots have already started and are at different stages of implementation. There had been difficulties and the progress has not been very fast. In our department it has been launched and we are using it. We are trying to enhance the use of e-office in processing files and we have mandated that all new files will be created in the digital form. We have also started the process of scanning the files which are in current use. After this we will go to the files which are not in current use but we want them to be archived.

At the same time, we are also communicating with other departments which are under the same pilot. We are giving hand-holding support to 12 ministries which have started with e-office. At the same time we are setting the target of adding five other ministries in the current year. NIC has prepared the basic software for e-office; they are providing the technical support. We have a project monitoring unit (PMU) that we have set up in the department to facilitate implementation of e-office.
 
When will we see the complete rollout of e-office across government departments?
It is difficult to say because we need to be very practical on that point. We have at present the NIC supporting the whole effort. I feel that the rollout will be fast now as more ministries have expressed their interest. But I can’t set a date by which the entire government of India will start working in the e-office mode.

That question brings us to change management, capacity building and government process reforms. So how is your department addressing these issues?
We are addressing them in a modest way right now. But I am very sure that after a duration of four-five years this movement is going to pick up and then a more aggressive effort would be required as part of the strategy to enhance capacity building and change management.
 
Moving beyond e-governance, what are the key reform agendas your department is taking forward?
Our reforms agenda right now is based on the recommendations of the second ARC which was set up in 2005. It completed its work in 2009 and has given more than 1,200 recommendations. These recommendations were first considered in the CGAR, then in the GoM and 1,005 recommendations have been accepted by the GoM to be implemented by the central and state governments. The state governments are not bound by our recommendations but the central ministries and departments are definitely bound by the decisions of the CGAR. By now, close to 50 percent of the accepted recommendations have been implemented.

DARPG has introduced the Right of Citizens for Time-bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011. What is its status?
That bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2011 and it has been referred to the standing committee for the consideration. At present the standing committee is making deliberations on the bill.

We are in charge of the citizen’s charter, and also of streamlining the public service delivery process. Therefore, we have introduced this bill. The proposed legislation says every department and every public authority will have a mandatory citizen’s charter within six months of the passing of the act. This charter will list all the services delivered by the department along with timelines and standards. There will be a grievance redressal officer in each agency whom citizens can approach in case of non-delivery of a service. The legislation also proposes various stages of appeal for citizens. It will ensure that the citizen gets appropriate quality of service within time.
 
We have the concept of Sevottam in India. Is it the same as the charter mark of the UK?
Sevottam is on similar model as the charter mark. The sevottam scheme has three modules. The first is that each government agency will have a citizen’s charter. The second is that every organisation should have a grievance redressal mechanism. We have a web-based public grievance redressal monitoring system for all central ministries. Then, finally, there is upgradation or improvement of the service quality standards system. Under sevottam we have been holding various training and workshop programmes for all department/ministry and state government officials.

Have you evaluated how these departments are implementing the citizen’s charter?
We are doing this for the last two years with performance management department. We have selected departments and awarded them as well. We have recommended that public organizations should have a BIS certification and ISO 15700. It is like the charter mark and sevottam as you know is seva uttam or good service. Now government has ordered that organization should have sevottam complaint citizen charters.

Earlier, citizen charter used to list some activities of the department. Now every service has to be listed out, the service delivery officer’s name also has to be there, the timelines and standards are also specified.  Such a citizen charter will be the sevottam compliant citizen’s charter.
 
DARPG is the custodian of the manual of office procedure. Times are changing, technology is changing and new initiatives are coming in. How do you keep it updated with time?
CSMoP was revised very recently. We have the 13th edition of CSMoP now. We take into account all the changing realities of the government. This is not about the electronic method of working – for electronic method we have CSMeOP. The basic emphasis of CSMoP is on how the government should respond to citizens’ grievances.

The manual addresses issues like how the administrative machinery can be strengthened within a department. For example, we have said that the levels of submission of files within a department should not be more than three. We advise all the departments not to go for four or five levels of submission in order to cut delays and red-tapeism.
 
Is this provision already introduced in CSMoP?
In CSMoP this provision has been revised from time to time. The present CSMoP says that it should not be more than three.
 
You have also evolved a knowledge portal for the government. What is the status of that and how are you going to scale it up?
The portal is now very vibrant, and we have about more than 200 best practices uploaded. But there is much more scope. We are doing it along with a knowledge partner. And we have a target of putting at least 40 best practices every year. We do it after much research. We have a large number of visitors to be authorised. Many hits from other countries have also been reported. Now a lot of people are referring to the knowledge portal for getting a clearer picture of the various best practices. That is helping dissemination of the best practices all over the country.

Grievance management is a very important part of the DARPG but people say that there is no monitoring mechanism and complaints are just forwarded to various departments. How are you planning to address that?
There is a monitoring mechanism. However, one has to concede it is a big task. Now the nature of grievances is such that it has to be decentralised. No department can take charge of grievances pertaining to all departments. They are sent to a particular domain, for every ministry there is a particular administrative setup, their particular field office. So, sending the grievances from a central portal to all the concerned ministries’ offices is the only way it can be done. We monitor these grievances and have very frequent meetings with the grievance redressal officers of every department.

Was some ABC analysis done? How do you identify which department has many grievances?
Though I cannot give you which are the departments with a high number of grievances, we do that and we get a clear picture of how many grievances are pending in which sector.
 
What was the idea behind organising the civil services day?
The civil services day is important because civil services are the instrument of implementation of developmental schemes and programmes. Without them the schemes and programmes are not going to be effective. The idea was to dedicate one day to think about the civil services. April 21 was chosen because it was on this day in 1948 that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, our first home minister, addressed the first group of IAS commissioners at the Metcalfe House after the IAS was formed and ICS was phased out. On this day we give the prime minister awards for excellence in public services.

What will be the agenda for reforms and e-governance in future?
I would say today the emphasis of governance reforms is on enhancing the quality of standards and guidelines of the public service delivery. Everybody is looking for that and that is the basic substance of governance. If we go towards improving public service delivery and ensuring satisfaction, obviously it will have a direct impact on the internal process. So the internal process would have to be handled properly to satisfy the customer. One of the methods of doing so is through e-governance.

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