e-District cuts through red tape in citizen service delivery

With e-District rollout in two districts of Assam, residents don't have to undertake multiple, frustrating trips to government offices and grease the palms of public servants

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | April 1, 2012




After getting a certified copy of the electoral roll in just 72 hours from the nearby common services centre (CSC), a smile appears on the wrinkled face of the 50-year-old Nitai Charandas. He is a resident of Bhootpara village in Sonitpur district of Assam. It was unlike any of his past experiences with the government service delivery. This time he did not have to commute a distance of 35 km, all the way to the district headquarters, not even once.

He did not have to pay a single penny to either a government official or an advocate. And, most interestingly, he did not require a signature or a stamp of a government official on the certificate. 

“I did not have to stand in a queue. I got my copy much before my expectation,” he says, while collecting his electoral roll copy at the CSC. “In the past, for a certified copy of the electoral roll, one had to pay '500-600 to an advocate and still had to wait for at least seven to 14 days,” he adds. Previously, getting a service from the government was a Herculean task. The current process, however, is easy, fast and efficient. Getting the copy cost him just '30 — the sum he paid the CSC operator.

Three days ago when Charandas had visited the CSC, the operator filled his form online. After submitting the application, he gave Charandas a unique application number imprinted on the computer-generated receipt. Well within 72 hours of the transaction, Charandas had in his hand the required certified copy, digitally signed by the official concerned. (Digital signature is an electronic authentication of the document as seen and approved by the designated official.)

Furkan Rahman, 25, has come to Bhootpara CSC to collect the permanent residence certificate (PRC) for his neighbour. He recalls the time when he applied for a PRC for himself a couple of years ago. “Getting a PRC was a difficult job. One had to attach many documents with the form. When I applied, I had to shell out '1,500 as bribe for public officials and had to wait for a couple of weeks to get one,” says Rahman.

In the past, a citizen in order to avail even simple services like certificates for income, domicile, caste, birth and death had to travel to the district headquarters. The trips were not only time consuming but also meant standing in long queues and greasing the palms of government officials. The government departments also had a huge pendency of applications with no mechanism available with the senior officials to monitor the delays in service delivery.

The streamlining in services delivery is result of the implementation of the ‘e-District’ project, which is a mission mode project (MMP) under the national e-governance plan (NeGP), in Sonitpur and Goalpara districts of Assam. Under this project, the government has envisaged to deliver services through the facilitation centres — with multiple counters — located at the district headquarters, the CSCs and also through the internet. The project aims to eliminate the need for an applicant to come to a public office, through the e-delivery.

The effort is to enhance the efficiencies of the various departments at the district level to enable seamless service delivery to the citizen. The project envisages establishment of the citizen facilitation centres at district, tehsil, sub-division and block levels. The CSCs will act as front-ends for the e-district project at the village level.

“The larger picture is to bring the maximum number of services through district administration under electronic delivery system so that the citizen does not have to move from table to table in trying to get his or her legitimate service,” says Arup Kumar Barman, additional manager, Assam electronics development corporation limited (Amtron), the nodal agency facilitating implementation of e-District in the state.

e-District was launched in Goalpara and Sonitpur in November 2009 and January 2010, respectively. Under the project, “re-engineered” application forms and certificates for 22 services have been finalised, out of which, currently, 16 services are being delivered through CSCs and facilitation centres. To scale it further to cover all the 27 districts, the state IT department has sent the detailed project report to the union department of information technology (DIT) for its approval.

Abhijit Kakoty, a young officer with the national informatics centre (NIC) placed at Sonitpur district headquarters to help out the administration in sorting out the technical issues related with IT projects, says, “e-District has helped in cutting through the red tape. Currently, the collection of applications is mostly happening at CSCs. Citizens are no longer obligated to come all the way to the district headquarters. Hence, the physical interface between officials and citizens no longer exists.”

Once an applicant applies for a service, the details are stored in the database. Next time when he applies for another service, the system will not ask for the details already submitted. Thus the system eliminates the duplication of asking same information from an applicant.

Kakoty says, “The services are being delivered within a timeframe. And, the queue at the facilitation centre located within the district headquarters premises is reducing day by day. Importantly, the deputy commissioner and other officials in the upper hierarchy can now monitor the performance of officers and line departments much easily.”

Explaining the benefits of the project for the government officials, Barman says, “The administrator does not have to flip through voluminous files. He has all the records digitally available in the electronic application which he or she needs to approve. Also the biometrics and password base login reduces the chances of forged approval greatly.”

When a VLE submits an application, it is accessed by a dealing assistant (a clerk), who first examines whether the application form has all the required documents and then forwards to the designated official, responsible for the application disposal.

Emphasising the need for training and awareness, Barman says, “We need to develop infrastructure in the district. Besides their training and orientation, a change in attitude has to be inculcated in the government personnel.” In addition, he says, mass awareness has to be created which in turn would create pressure for delivery of services.

However, he adds that the project has been underfunded by the centre which may become a roadblock in scaling it across the state. “The state DPR (detailed project report) for the rest of the districts is for an amount of '145.5 crore. As against the expectation, the DIT, government of India, is making only '65.5 crore available for e-District rollout in Assam. This has left the state with a shortfall of '80 crore.”

In Barman’s view, the challenges are a natural outcome of the ‘one size fits all’ approach adopted by the central DIT. Since Assam lacks in infrastructure in comparison to other developed states, more financial assistance from the centre becomes imperative to the successful completion of the project.

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