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It has already been so many years now that India has been a leading Nation in terms of Information Technology outsourcing and consulting. What has been worrying though that the same hasn't reflected with the Government machinery. The kind of technology revolution we see in private sectors, the same is missing in Government systems. Government offices are still prone to lethargy and corruption. While our IT prowess has ensured a big push to our economy and a worldwide recognition to our talent, it is yet to bring an equally visible revolution in the working of Government.
The Digital India initiative by the Government of India, is a laudable step in this direction. For the Nation to have a wholesome growth, it's necessary that people have easy access to citizen services. It is in this direction that E-Governance through technology can play a crucial role.
The objective of revolutionizing Governance through help of technology, can be achieved by focusing on three aspects:-
- Delivery of Government Services to Citizens and handling of related complaints.
- Keeping Citizens informed of their rights and duties.
- Involving citizens in policy/law making and various infrastructure development tasks.
Delivery of Government Services to Citizens and handling of related Complaints
Out of the above three, this is the most crucial aspect of E-Governance. Timely delivery of services and a complaint management system is the need of the hour. Here are a few suggestions in this regard:-
a) All the Government services should be digitized and processed through an online portal. Many of the services like Electricity Bill payment, LPG booking etc. are already being delivered through online portal in many states. The same needs to be carried forward to other services too.
b) It should be ensured that there is minimum requirement of paper-based documentation. The required infrastructure should be put in place. All the government offices should be equipped with required digital gadgets like Computer, printers, scanners, digital cameras etc. Officials working should be given required training to handle the same.
c) There needs to be proper awareness among Govt. officials about the need of such digital revolution, lest they develop resentment to the sudden change in governance model.
d) All the documents and certificates needed for various application process, should be kept at a central location allocated to every individual. This could ensure that there would be no longer be the need of submission of any documents for verification. A person could simply share the web link of a certificate with the concerned official, and he could verify the application looking at the same certificate.
e) All the Government departments should have their own websites, through which citizens could apply for various services. Since internet usage through smart-phones is on a rise, it would be a prudent step to create mobile applications for various departments. District level officials could oversee the development, and handling of all such mobile and web applications.
f) A robust complaint redressal mechanism should be put in place. Citizens should be able to lodge complaints through online platforms and their complaints must be resolved in a timely manner. There should be an appellate authority for every department’s complaint handling division, and punitive action for not performing duties in timely manner, should be specified clearly.
g) Citizens should be able to submit image, audio, or video evidences and supporting documents through the web or mobile applications meant for complaint submissions. An online receipt should be sent to the citizen, specifying the timeline of complaint. The responsible official for complaint resolution and the appellate authority’s name too, should be clearly mentioned in the receipt. An online complaint redressal tracking mechanism too should be put in place- where citizens could track the progress of complaint redressal and could take any necessary steps in that regard.
Keeping Citizens informed of their rights and duties
Knowledge of rights and duties is very important. Knowledge empowers more than anything and so it makes it even more important an issue. A large section of Indians are unaware of their rights and duties, which a huge impediment in the delivery of government services. Here are a few things that should be done this regard:-
a) There should be a completely searchable database of Indian laws, rights and duties. A citizen should be able to search for a law or a particular rights through a web application. For example, to know about the law related to Dowry system, a person could simply write the keyword “Dowry”, and the application should display all the laws related to Dowry. Similarly, the application should display the duties of citizens too.
b) Right to Information is a very powerful law, but it needs to be made more accessible. RTI should be made completely online across India. Also, the privacy issues related to RTI process should be looked into. If the person fears asking for some sensitive information due to some reasons, his identity should be kept anonymous.
c) All the laws and policy being newly formulated should be prominently displayed on a common website. This would ensure that citizens know about all the ongoing reforms and could take corresponding steps to benefit out of it.
Involving citizens in policy/law making and various infrastructure development tasks
Our democracy must be reformed into a participatory democracy- one where citizens are constantly connected to decision making and policy making bodies. Citizens should be involved in the policy formulation and various other tasks of the Government. Involving citizens not only make sure that citizens feel being part of the process, but it also ensures that the process immensely benefits from the collaboration of thousands of intelligent minds! Here are a few specific suggestions in this regard:-
a) Whenever new policy or law are being formulated, it should be put up in public, on a website, for taking suggestions of citizens. The suggestions could be further voted upon by other fellow citizens. The most voted suggestions should be discussed by law makers. If they are feasible, they should be included in the policy being formulated.
b) If a large section of citizens are opposed to a law being brought up, their concerns must be looked into. Depending upon suggestions and criticism of people on the online platform, corrective measures should be taken.
c) Whenever a new development project is being undertaken, suggestions should be sought from public, on how best to carry on the project. The best ideas could be given some incentives too.
In this direction (of involving citizens), the government of India has already taken a nice initiative in form of the website mygov.in. Ideas are being asked there, and best ones are awarded too. The same model of collaboration needs to be expanded to other areas too.
It won't be easy to get in place an efficient e-governance system. There will be several challenges. First and foremost, internet penetration is still very low in India. Whereas urban areas are fast moving on broadband way, most of the rural populace is yet to have easy access to internet. Secondly, government employees may not take to technology changes too easily. People will be hesitant to adapt and learn. Moreover, their proper training too will be a challenge in itself. And third, people may take some time to adapt to the new e-governance system. We can do several things to tackle these challenges. Below are a few steps which I think, could play most important role in facing these challenges:-
i) Broadband access should be extended to lesser penetrated, rural areas by collaborating with private players. Government should tie up with private Internet providers to ensure that Internet is accessible even in rural areas.
ii) Computer training should be incentivized. Private Schools and companies should be encouraged to impart free computer trainings to citizens. They could be given some concessions/incentives for doing the same. Alternatively, government too could open public computer awareness and training centres in rural areas, where it is most needed.
iii) Government should encourage employees to take to the changing e-governance system. They could be explained it's ease of use, and could be offered some initial incentives for adapting to it.
iv) Proper awareness about the e-governance system should be spread among the citizens. Through newspaper advertisements, radio broadcast, pamphlets, and door to door campaigns, people should be made aware of the changing e-governance system, and how it is beneficial to them.
All in all, with an honest effort from government, E-Governance with help of technology can hugely accelerate the vision of digital India. It can throttle the development of our Nation. Collaboration, involvement of citizens, and an efficient complaint redressal mechanism are the crucial keys, which can determine how quickly and efficiently we can propel our Nation on growth pathway, and how fast we can achieve the target of Digital India. Hope we really do get on the fast-track of digitization, moving on to the efficient way of e-governance.