Sweat no more to pay your power bill

The Jeevan centres facilitate a single-window electronic delivery of government services to the citizens, but issues of backend integration, digitisation of records and upkeep of centres need to be sorted out fast

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | September 2, 2011


Jeevan centre in Paschim Vihar, New Delhi
Jeevan centre in Paschim Vihar, New Delhi

Vishal Goyal loves surfing the internet. But the 20-year-old student, who lives in west Delhi’s Sunder Vihar, hates standing in serpentine queues to pay his internet bills. The Jeevan centre, a single-window facility for depositing utility bills near his home, has come as a boon to him. It is open for 12 hours through the day from 8 am. And unlike the Easy Bill centres, it does not charge any fees for submission of utility bills.

The Jeevan project was launched by the Delhi government in February 2009, with 3i Infotech as the private partner to facilitate delivery of services. Since then, more than 520 Jeevan centres have opened across the city to deliver 106 services. Payments are accepted through cash, cheque, debit card or credit card at these centres which remain open on all days except three national holidays.

Of the 520 centres, 16 are designated as showcase centres, with seven Type I centres and nine Type II cen
tres. Then there are 84 Type III centres which are operating in government offices and 420 centres which are operating as franchisee centres.

While many people like Goyal have started using these centres, the implementation of the project leaves a lot to be desired, mainly due to the slow roll-out of centres, unavailability of government-to-citizen services, lack of innovation, highly competitive market and viability.


One centre too many

Jeevan centres compete with at least three private players which facilitate electronic delivery of services. Suvidhaa Infoserve, for example, offers travel, utility bills, e-governance and entertainment related services through their single-window-model-centres for greater customer convenience. Promoted by the Hero group of companies, Easy Bill is another chain of one-stop payment collection centres. Oxygen is yet another firm, established in 2005, providing services like bill payments, ticketing services and prepaid recharge.

Besides, the municipal corporation of Delhi (MCD) has 16 citizen service bureaus which offer services like birth/ death certificates, booking of parks / community centres and submission of RTI applications. In addition, the MCD is also establishing over 2,000 kiosks called ‘MCD Aapke Dwaar’. The central government too has EPIC (Electors Photo Identity Card) centres, besides the UTISL centres which facilitate issuance of PAN cards and more.

If a visit to three of the showcase centres – in Paschim Vihar, Ramesh Nagar and Defence Colony – is any indication, the infrastructure has already started to decay at the Jeevan centres. The token system was not operational at these three centres because there were simply not enough takers for the facility. The air-conditioners were not working, all the centres were poorly lit and none of them had more than two counters open despite a provision of 12-16 counters. It is a clear case of massive under-utilisation of infrastructure.

Amarjeet Pardhi, manager, service delivery, 3i-Infotech clarifies that the centres attract more people around the billing cycles and that is when the company deploys staff to manage the additional counters. He underlines that the respective departments of Delhi government are not yet e-ready as promised in the tender document three years ago and hence the company is unable to provide all government-to-citizen (G2C) services. He says there are 67 G2C (Though government claims to offer 50 G2C services) – mostly utility and non-critical services – and 49 businesses-to-citizen (B2C) services delivered through these centres at present.

Pardhi says that despite the provision in the tender, and even as they are legally recognised, digital signatures are still not being accepted at the centres. He says the flow of information and clear instructions from the state government to the nine districts faces a bottleneck. Moreover, the State Bank of India, chosen as the banker by the government, has delayed collection of cash from nodal points. Above all, Pardhi laments that the government has not promoted the project adequately. This is a serious issue, as we found out in west Delhi’s Paschim Vihar, where there were long queues at the Delhi Jal Board bill payment centres while a Jeevan centre inside the same building was almost empty. This was despite the fact that the Jeevan centre accepts all utility bills, including water bills.

Curiously, while the government has done precious little to promote the Jeevan project, its Bhagidari programme has been heavily advertised. Is it that the state identifies some delivery gaps in this project? This seems to be the case because the backend integration of a majority of the departments as well as the digitisation of records has still not happened.

Ask Ajay Kumar Singla, director, Jeevan project about the reason for the slow progress, as compared to e-seva, for example, and he says his project is less than three years old while e-seva has been around for 12 years. "We should not compare his child with the adult in the neighbourhood," he suggests. Without elaborating, he also indicates that issues have cropped up with the private partner and the relationship has gone sore.

Insiders point out that the key problem with the project is the blame game between the government and the private partner. It is learnt that the state has imposed a penalty of Rs 1.72 crore on 3i Infotech citing delays in services and non-fulfilment of service level agreement. The matter may land up in court leading to further problems in the project.

How to turn the page

The Delhi government, the central government and the civic agencies need to integrate their services to provide a proper single-window delivery of services. Despite the vision statement, Jeevan project is yet to achieve the status of an integrated window where multiple services of various government departments converge.

For this to happen, along with the backend integration of government departments and digitisation of records, the private partner must ensure a strict adherence to service levels. The convergence of various services cannot happen at the grassroots level, however, and has to flow from the top, which requires the intervention of the political leadership.

As the director of the project puts it, the real success will be when the concept of Green Bill evolves. This bill will integrate all the bills (water, electricity, phone, mobiles etc) into only one bill to be submitted to the government for all services.

samir@governancenow.com

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