After waiting in vain for state governments to get their act together on bringing government services to the Internet, the Central government has cracked the whip and brought out a draft bill to force state governments to implement e-governance programs in five years.
While the original plan was to have nearly all government services available online by 2011-12, only around 10-20% of the targeted state government services are estimated to be available through the Internet at present.
“All public services shall be delivered in electronic mode within 5 years from the commencement of this Bill,” a new draft bill issued by the Department to force the implementation of the e-governance project says.
Despite repeated reminders, several states have not even finished converting their existing data — such as land and tax records — into the digital form. Some have not even set up the state-wide fibre network required to connect the different government offices to a central database at their capital.
The massive Rs 40,000 crore e-governance programe is now seen as a victim bureaucratic apathy and corruption, the same ills it was supposed to cure.
To force the hand of state governments, the Centre has come out with a draft ‘Electronics Services Delivery Bill’ which will set up a central ‘Electronic Delivery Commission’ and its state-units to monitor states’ activities.
The new Commissioner will have powers equivalent to a Civil Court and can impose monetary penalties on government officials who “violate” the Act or furnish false information.
“The core IT infrastructure, in the form of State Wide Area Networks (SWANs), State Data Centres (SDCs) and one lakh Common Service Centres (CSCs) across the country.. to deliver public services to the citizens has largely been in place… However, the migration of manual-based public services to the efficient, automated electronic delivery of services needs to be accelerated in terms of outputs, efficiency and also outcomes,” the government pointed out in its note accompanying the draft bill.
Many in the IT industry, associated with the project, fear that the state and local level bureaucracy has been deliberately going slow on implementing the project as doing so would enable citizens to get their certificates and services through the Internet, without visiting the government office.
Nearly all the central ministry services have been migrated onto the Internet, including paying of taxes, applying for passports etc., but the states are woefully behind in implementing the scheme. Many states have put up a central data-centre, but are yet to convert their records into the digital format and upload them onto these datacenters.
As a result, services like payment of local taxes, tracking of police complaints, pensions etc. are all years behind
“We feel cheated.. In 2007, the government said everything will be ready in five years.. We have put up our networks and waited, but most states haven’t kept their end of the bargain,” points out a CEO of one of the big contractors involved in setting up e-kiosks in low PC-penetration regions. “Better late than never,” he adds, on the new
bill. Many contractors, like 3i, have surrendered their contracts and paid the penalty, instead of waiting any longer.