Managing the E-Governance Drive
India’s poor position in all the meaningful world rankings clearly indicate a need to take some serious measures to improve the governance scenario in India. With advancements in ICT (Information and Communication Technology), the concept of e-governance has assumed great significance and it has been shown to improve the overall governance. As such, the central and state governments need to take e-governance seriously and ensure that the e-governance initiatives taken are in tune with the global best practices. Most of the countries ahead of India in the world rankings tend to have a few common strategies in place that have helped them deliver effective e-governance at national or central level, in which India is still lagging behind.
The dominant technology of our age affects the heart of government. The impact of ICT on government and public administration therefore is revolutionary. Over the years, a large number of initiatives have been undertaken by various State Governments and Central Ministries to usher in an era of e-Government in the country. Sustained efforts have been made at multiple levels to improve the delivery of public services and simplify the process of accessing them.
Governments have been striving since the late 1990’s to find better ways to connect with their constituents via the Web. By putting government information online, and making it easily findable, readily available, accessible, understandable, and usable, people can now interact with their government in ways never before imagined.
Unfortunately, effective e-government has not been easy to accomplish, given the unique challenges that governments face in collecting, managing, and making information and services available electronically. These challenges include outdated policies, budgetary and personnel constraints, and a slow-moving, bureaucratic culture. Web and social media have only added to these challenges, as governments have been slow to adjust to these new paradigms of openness, interaction, and influence. A further challenge is the proliferation of mobile devices, where and when they are the only access point to government services available to constituents given the lack of adequate physical infrastructure. Lastly, the issue of accessibility, where data, web pages and services are available or otherwise to those with disabilities, further compounds the challenges of e-government.
We are facing many questions now, such as how can governments leverage Web 2.0 tools without violating existing laws, regulations, and policies? How can governments ensure the authenticity of their information when it is opened for public use? What is the best way to include electronic communications into the “official record”? How can new technologies be integrated into legacy systems? How do we effectively reach all citizens, including those who access the Web via mobile devices, those with disabilities, or those without any access to the Web?
What is required in India’s government sector is a strategic shift from the commodity based IT approach to a mature solution/ services based approach. The central and state governments need to start procuring IT services rather than procuring hardware, software and services.
Secondly, it is vital to ensure stability of tenure of the key personnel championing an e-governance initiative. Many government projects have faced problems when the administrative officer responsible for a specific programme leaves or gets transferred and some of the more successful e-governance initiatives have faded into oblivion because of this ‘brain drain’.
From a layman’s perspective, e-governance is generally understood as a concept capable of transforming the quality of administration and hence changing people’s lives. Its successful implementation is expected to ensure better governmental performance by reducing corruption, increasing efficiency and creating a responsive and transparent administrative environment. Many state governments have responded to the possibilities of improving administrative functions by introducing
e-governance at different levels of the administration. Specialized agencies have backed the government to initiate innovative experiments.
It is sometimes argued that given the low level of development of communication infrastructure in most Indian states the prospects of e-governance are overtly bleak. Nevertheless, the experience of various state governments have clearly shown that barriers to the implementation of e-governance can be overcome through a focused and strategic approach aiming specified
targets and allowing reasonable time frame for attaining them. Even in situations where the initial conditions for trying out e-governance appear to be nonexistent in terms of inadequate skilled personnel or weak infrastructure, a gradual, flexible and reflective approach can bring about drastic positive changes. E-governance has the potential to benefit India’s citizens exponentially and maximise the return on the government’s investment in it.
The contradiction in India is that the country is rightly recognised as a global leader in the delivery of IT services, but it suffers from very little internal IT development in the country. Whereas technology leads, it tends to be in the private sector, with companies, corporations and non-governmental groups.
Where it is the weakest – and where it can have the greatest impact – is in the public sector.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual e-readiness ranks India at 58 out of the World’s 70 largest economies along with the Philippines. India has moved down by six ranks since 2006. The NASSCOM report on Information Technology on the Economy of India highlights that, despite India’s global IT dominance, internally, the country has a low level of IT investment – only 3.5 per cent of total capital – and minimal dispersal of IT capital of 30 countries evaluated.
But e-governance is not just about improving delivery of services to citizens, businesses and government employees. It is also about blending Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with administrative reforms to make government more efficient, drive down costs and increase transparency in how government departments work. If implemented properly, it can be an asset for the un-served and under-served areas in India and help drive new levels of efficiency to government services in India.
Information and communication technologies have a valuable potential to help Indian central and state governments deliver good governance to their constituents. Yet that potential remains largely untapped to date and there are various gaps hindering effective implementation of e-governance in India.
Globally India has been known to be a leader in the IT arena but the government itself has had a very fragmented approach, where every department did its projects separately. This approach has not allowed government, employees, citizens and businesses reap optimum benefits from a majority of e-governance initiatives taken so far.