Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Response to some basic questions on e-Governance

Recently Sivakumar CEO of ITC IBD was asked to participate in a roundtable organized by the economist group on e-Governance. The innovative tech user that he is, he asked his group to respond to three questions on both twitter and facebook. Below are my responses to his questions

Q1. What are the main benefits of e-governance? What are the potential drawbacks?
Based on the implementation of the many popular e-Governance programs like E Seva, Bhoomi, CARD , the following are the benefits 

1.    Improved access to Government services and consequent reduction in transaction costs, waiting times.
2.    In many cases like Bhoomi, implementation of e-Governance has also resulted in reduction in corruption
3.    E-Governance also promotes equity and provides access to Government services for all sections of the society
4.    In cases like computerization of registration department and in Bhoomi it has resulted in increase in the number of services being delivered as the citizens find it easy to access the service leading to increase in Government tax revenue
5.    Increase in transparency , easy availability of information
6.    Improvement in efficiency of Government and also improvement in the capacity of Government to service citizens
7.    Implementation of an e-Governance program may also promote feelings of pride among the Government servants leading to improvement in morale. Thereby they would feel more accountable to citizens and deliver better service to them

Q 1b Potential drawbacks?
Prima facie, E-Governance has no drawbacks, the only drawback it may have is that some enthusiastic officers may feel it is the cure for all ills of the Government and may embark on e-Governance programs without fixing underlying issues in e-Governance.
There may be issues regarding improper implementation of e-Governance programs like choosing wrong and / or obsolete technology, favouring certain vendors.
e-Governance programs if implemented without considering required security issues could also lead to massive failures, citizens data falling into wrong hands.
Implementation of an e-Governance programs leads to closure of the existing manual system, hence if the system fails, it would lead to denial of service for many days until the computer system is rectified.
 To err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer

Q 2 How popular and effective are the Indian Govt's existing e-governance initiatives? What is the level of e-readiness in India?

Many of the e-Governance programs implemented by Government both at the Central and State level have been very effective. Numerous studies have proved the beneficial effects of land mark e-Governance programs like e-Seva, Bhoomi, MCA 21.
However such programs are still few in number. Given that only a few e-Governance programs have been implemented, there is a tendency to evaluate all e-Governance programs that have been implemented as of now, as good and effective and rarely do the evaluation studies of e-Governance program point out failures or mistakes in implementation.
Also implementation of e-Governance programs requires enlightened leadership, political and administrative support substantial time, careful thought, consultation with stakeholders , improvement in capacity of Government servants, substantial effort in change management, ability of government servants to treat private sector as partners and not as vendors / servants and most of time these soft and complex issues are ignored. Hence many times e-Governance programs mainly consist of constructing infrastructure like Data Centres, Wide Area networks etc. without investing in underlying services that will utilize the infrastructure.

Q 2b What is the level of e-readiness in India?
The level of e-readiness is a glass just filling up, there are some stellar achievements like substantial increase in mobile density and mobile phones reaching people with incomes of Rs. 3000/- per month, however much more needs to be done.
To give an example, while there have been efforts in computerization of schools, the overall level of public primary school education remains very poor. Also the underlying infrastructure for school computerization like availability of good quality power remains poor.
The various UN e-readiness reports will be able to give a more complete answer to this question.

Q 3 Can e-governance help to bridge the gap between rural and urban India?

Theoretically the answer is yes, as implementation of e-Governance programs like Bhoomi can improve delivery of services to rural citizens. Establishment of Citizen Service Centers can provided access to knowledge regarding health, agriculture, educational opportunities, market prices of commodities in the various mandis of the state , country and International markets.
However there is a failure in implementation of most e-Governance programs that aim to bridge the digital divide. For e.g. , most of the CSCs are languishing for want of services and an independent evaluation may show that most of them may have either closed down completely or are open for only few hours a day.
As mentioned earlier, there is a general lack of comprehension in Government either about the need for implementation of e-Governance programs or about the difficulty in implementation of such programs, thus programs will not be implemented in scale and speed to bridge the urban – rural divide.

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