Opinion

Critical analysis on E-governance with a focus on improvement

By Drishik Behal

With proper governance, life will improve for all ~Bengino Aquino III

E-Governance can be defined as the application of information and communication technology (ICT) for providing government services, exchange of information, transactions, integration of previously existing services and information portals. The “e” in e-governance stands for ‘electronic’.This definition is coined by the “Council Of Europe”(E-governance).

The 4 Pillars of E-Governance are  

  • People 
  • Process 
  • Technology 
  • Resources

E-Governance in India has come a long way, starting to take its baby steps in the 1970s. During this period, The focus was not to deliver public services but focus on in-house government applications in the areas of defense, planning, and managing data-intensive functions related to elections, census, tax administration, etc. From here onwards various projects were launched to computerize various levels of governments across the country, For example, the establishment of NIC(National Informatics Center) in 1977 and the launch of the District Information System program to computerize all district offices in the country.

Soon, there was a change in the public domain with various initiatives such as In 1986, computerized ticketing and reservation were introduced, the NICNET(National Informatics Center Network) was launched in 1987 with the objective of making governance and communication simple. As computers became an item of mass use, The advent of online services also followed the course. After the 1991 Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization Reforms various IT firms entered and led to the boom of IT services in India.

The sector was witnessing progress steadily and an increase in usage towards the turn of the century which can be noted with the introduction of the Information Technology Act,2000 which regulated the sector. Also, another example can be the establishment of CERT-IN[Computer emergency response team – India] in 2004 which safeguarded the domain in India from cyberattacks and phishing.

As the consumer base steadily increased, the Government’s interest in the field began to expand with the introduction Of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP): which takes a holistic view of e-Governance initiatives across the country and integrates them into a collective vision. It consisted of  31 Projects, approved in 2006, but then it was integrated into the Digital India Program. The introduction of UIDAI “Aadhar”[Launched in 2009] to provide 12 digit unique codes to citizens for simplified delivery of services, Introduction of the “BharatNet”[Launched in 2012] to achieve the goal of Digital India, the National Optical Fibre Network was created to provide a minimum of 100 Mbit/s broadband connectivity to all 2,50,000 Panchayats across the nation, spanning to about 6,25,000 villages, thus improving the nation-wide broadband internet in the country are some of the notable projects.

A significant change was observed after the 2014-15 Year with the launch of various services coupled with the massive increase in the consumer base of the Internet in the form of smartphone users. The introduction of Cheap 4G Internet in 2016 also played a vital role in the spread of services far across the nations from Urban centers to Rural households. The “Digital India Initiative” launched in 2015 provided for comprehensive e-governance and the establishment of various services online such as Documentation. An example can be the “MyGov” Portal, The “DigiLocker” Service.

The working of the internal sectors of the government has also been boosted with various initiatives such as “DARPAN”,” PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation), and the National Centre of Geo-informatics (NGO). E-Courts, E-District, MCA 21, etc. Almost every ministry has launched its own portal for the availing of services. The list is truly endless as the various governments have been digitized. Today one can get a learning driving license or be it a government scheme such as “Ujjwala” or an MSME benefit in a few clicks.

Benefits of E-Governance

  • Enhanced Transparency and Accountability in the form of a trial record of activities.
  • Expanded reach of Governance to the rural and far-fledged parts of the country
  • Improved Public Administration and delivery of services.
  • Improved service delivery in the form of better knowledge about various types of schemes and programs introduced 
  • The complexity of the government services has increased as the country develops and there has been an increase in the expectations of the citizens from the government, Hence the electronic form helps to simplify the same.
  • Transparency has enabled the reduction of corruption due to cutting down middlemen between the government and the citizen. Example of such implementation: “PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana” where the amount is directly transferred into the registered Bank accounts hence eliminating any chances of leakage of the amount.
  • For example, the Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) which serves as a facilitator for online transactions(Unified payments interface) has led to a significant decrease in cash payments after the demonetization in 2016. The interface, developed by the government has led to various strides and thus led India to top ranks in charts of Financial Transactions done in an online format.(https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1759602)

Another very recent example which we all can relate with can be the delivery of vaccination services via the “Cowin” Portal[Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network] coupled with the “Aaroyga Setu” app which helped contain the spread of COVID-19 and also enhance vaccination rates across the country with online bookings of the slots to prevent crowding at the centers.

  • The great Digital Divide: Not all citizens can afford devices that are required to use these services hence they are at a disadvantage. The Internet network and smartphone user-base are huge, But still has not covered the whole of India.
  • Cost: The huge cost of these projects can act as an impediment. Laying of cables, connections, and setting up servers is a costly affair. A country where poverty and hunger is primary issue, Spending a major portion on such projects may affect the overall development.
  • Maintenance: It has been often noted in the country that projects are inaugurated with great fanfare but are not maintained in the requisite manners thus leading to decay and waste of public expenditure. This aspect needs to improve to create a sustainable ecosystem of the internet across the country. An adequate budget needs to be allocated to maintain the infrastructure and an able workforce to operate it. Various apps and websites developed by the government sometimes have a lot of errors in them which leads to a bad user experience. The state shall endeavor to provide the best facilities to the users of the app/portal and minimize errors.
  • Legal And Privacy issues: Government services require proper identification and hence sensitive data is collected which often raises the question regarding the privacy of an individual in the eyes of the state. This issue was raised with the “Aadhar” service of the government in the case of Justice K.S.Puttaswamy(Retd) vs Union Of India 2018 SCO WP (C) 494/2012
  • Data Breaches: India is a country with a population of 121 Crore citizens. Storing data of such a large size which would consist of Terabytes and Terabytes of Data, is often decentralized. Considering the huge size of data coupled with the sensitive nature, A leak can have disastrous consequences hence protection of the data shall be a priority. A data breach of “Aadhar” databases in early 2018 is an example.

A step has been taken in this direction in the form of “The Personal Data Protection Bill,2019”, It provides for Obligations of data fiduciary, Rights of the individual, Grounds for processing personal data, and Data Protection Authority, Transfer of data outside India.

Suggestions

  • The government should also concentrate on developing relevant, practical, differentiated, and successful capacity-building processes for a variety of stakeholders, be it the government, the citizens, the rural and urban population.
  • Addressing the Digital Divide between urban and rural centers by proper implementation of infrastructure schemes and programs in rural areas. It is necessary to supervise the conditions on the ground. On paper, A village may be receiving 100 Mbps internet but the reality can be drastically different. Hence better implementation may bridge the divide.
  • The use of cost-efficient methods such as Cloud Computing to reduce overall hardware cost and maintenance.” MeghRaj” for Cloud Computing and “DigiBoxx” cloud storage by NITI Aayog can be the leading examples here. 
  • To improve interoperability across e-governance tools, a hybrid strategy must be used, which will include a centralized method for document management, file management, and grievance management, among other things.
  • e-Governance through regional languages is an important aspect that is necessary for convenient delivery of services, Primary languages such as English and Hindi are not widespread. Services should be made available in all “twenty-two” languages under the “eighth” schedule of the Indian Constitution and also in languages that are not recognized but are widely spoken[99 Languages in Part B of the Eight Schedule] 
  • Awareness campaigns to attract new users, To teach them the use of the technology and how to avail services. This aspect was highlighted during the Covid Vaccination Programme via the “Cowin” Portal wherein citizens who were not well versed with technology were helped and vaccinated by Good Samaritans. Awareness would reduce dependency and lead to an increase in overall usage.

Conclusion

India has made commendable progress in the aspect of e-governance as a developing nation but still, there are a lot of aspects that we can improve on. There is a significant base of citizens who avail the e-governance services but proper implementation is needed to reach every nook and corner of the country. Unless this is achieved, We cannot proclaim that we are truly a “Digital India” There needs to be significant investment in infrastructure projects to boost connectivity and avail of true e-services. Due co-operation and co-ordination between all the stakeholders that are Citizens, Government, Technology, Resources.

Categories: Opinion, Technology Law

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