trends, Eastern needs
E-governance is a focal issue in government circles worldwide. While Western
countries have efficiently adopted computerisation at local, state and
national levels, India has a long way to go despite a few success stories,
writes Mohan Babu
interesting story in a recent issue of India Today caught my attention. The
story titled, “Chipping in...computerisation generates efficiency and
resources for a village”, highlighted on farmer Bargur Muniyappa of
Belandur, in Karnataka, who dreaded going to the local gram panchayat office
till computerisation (aided by ideas from the panchayat chief’s US-based
brother), took hold of the system. A simple low-cost system designed at the
grassroots level not only made information gathering easy but eradicated
bureaucracy, nepotism and helped increase revenue. More than any fancy
cost-benefit analysis, this story drives home the advantage of
is a big buzzword in international governmental circles. Governments ranging
from cities and local municipal bodies to state, federal and international
agencies are embarking on projects to either modernise or totally automate
their systems. And here, I am not talking about the “glamorous” e-commerce
initiatives undertaken during the heady dotcom era, but plain vanilla
computerisation and automation that help make systems more user-friendly.
E-governance or electronic governance is basically the delivery of
government services and information to the public using electronic means.
Use of Internet and other electronic means facilitate an efficient, speedy
and transparent process for disseminating information to the public and
other agencies, and for performing government administration activities.
government has been an avid user of computers and IT systems for decades.
Even way back in the sixties, the famous ‘man to moon’ NASA project relied
extensively on complex IT systems. The systems have grown complex over a
period of time and by some accounts, the American federal government
(including the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Defense) is
one of the largest (if not the largest) users of software and computer
systems in the world. Interestingly, other governments across the world that
have also invested heavily in legacy systems are looking to modernise them.
The German Army is planning to spend nearly six billion dollars on a massive
IT modernisation project.
in the US, every state has its own network of IT systems and infrastructure,
most of them also providing access to public on the Web. The standard URL
for access to the states generally are www.state.XX.us/ where XX is the two
byte state code. For example, Colorado State government’s URL is
http://www.state.co.us/. Similarly, cities and local municipal bodies too
have an active presence on the Web, automating everything from bills and tax
payment to payment of fines and traffic tickets. However, as with most
corporate IT systems, different states and local bodies adopted the use of
IT systems at different times, so the systems can be quite disparate.
security environment in the US is prompting a renewed interest in
information sharing across different government agencies, leading to an
emergence of data interchange standards and a level of openness. One of the
first systems to be connected across the spectrum includes the driving
license systems of different states. Other government bodies including
security agencies are also ramping up for a greater level of information
stories such as Belandur’s panchayat computerisation in India warm the
cockles of one’s heart, when it comes to computerisation and adoption of IT,
Indian government systems still have a long way to go. Probably one main
reason holding us back is governmental nepotism and a bureaucracy afraid to
loose its main source of “power”—information. Historically, Indian
bureaucrats have thrived on their ability to manage and manipulate power
whimsically. Many of them fear that automating the functioning of the
government will lead to a higher level of transparency and accountability.
This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why governmental agencies are
dragging their feet when it comes to computerisation. Needless to say,
Indians have enjoyed the fruits of success stories like the computerisation
and automation of Indian Railways’ booking and reservation a decade ago.
This massive computerisation effort really streamlined the process of
booking and rail travel. After which, a few middlemen and corrupt clerks,
who thrived on “booking seats” lost their edge, but that was a small price
to pay for the convenience of hundreds of thousands of travellers. Similar
is the story with computerisation of banks, road transport ticketing,
telephone, electric billing systems, etc.
As they say,
charity begins a home: Now, if a sufficient number of Bargur Muniyappa’s in
the Belandurs across India start taking a hard look at the way their local,
city and state systems are managed and actively pursue their elected
officials towards a more transparent, automated government...we still have a
long way to go.