This article was first published by the Mint newspaper on July 29, 2014.
E-governance in India has demonstrated the use of electronic tools and processes to improve governance and enhance government capacity to function efficiently. However, on broader terms, e-governance also means using digital means to provide services to the people. E-governance has certainly made the government’s back-end system efficient with widespread computerization, but hasn’t enabled it to reach out to citizens seamlessly. Having an efficient government system alone does not translate to efficient delivery of services.
There has been considerable advance through telecom and IT policies and programmes through the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) and the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). Many mission mode interventions are in place. With more people gaining access, connectivity and network landscapes are being redefined. The pursuit of a National Optic Fibre Network and Right to Broadband aims to build and consolidate a digital base structure.
The challenge is in creating the digital superstructure—building and adding value to social and economic entitlements and services. The investments and digital infrastructure deployment must lead to an optimal utilization for citizen fulfilment.
Has technological enablement ensured empowerment in real time and need? What is the success in engaging citizens in e-governance and its real-time translation to citizen fulfilment?
There is a big gap between government capacity enablement and digital empowerment of masses for whom e-services are planned and implemented. With the government as the largest service provider, are we digitally equipped to make use of the information made available?
Engaging citizens and communities to achieve real-time success in information and communications technology-based services delivery was one of the objectives of the Citizen Engagement Framework notified in 2012. However, the real-time conversion rate of citizens determining planning, implementation and sustaining e-governance has been quite low. This is the wider e-democratic challenge and should be a policy and programme priority.
Most government departments and ministries are digitally equipped, but are unable to let their efficiency connect to the masses in the same measure. The reasons are many: vast numbers are not digitally-equipped or even connected, panchayat and block levels do not have information access points and even where such points are available, there is little information available.
We have more than 100,000 common services centres. Are people around them e-enabled to increase demand and access for services? How are the communities engaged to seek information on public schemes and entitlements, through these centres equipped with digital capacities?
While the mismatch between digital infrastructure and services access continues, there are efforts elsewhere. Viewing information as a right and an entitlement, the European Union launched a pilot programme called ‘Improving access to information of public schemes in backward districts in India’ last year. It engages 14 national non-government organizations to help disseminate public scheme information in 20 states across 600 backward districts, covering 100 blocks and 1,000 gram panchayats, promising to reach at least 5 million households.
One of its core objectives is to strengthen capacities of local administration and institutions to reach the poor and vulnerable groups with information on government entitlements. Our estimate says there are no less than 12,000 entitlement schemes with about 400 schemes per state, but none of them are intelligently searchable or available in a short, crisp and understandable manner on any digital platform.
It may be a good idea for the government to work with these 14 NGOs to explore how a national-level impact could be created to engage the citizens for truly serving them with entitlement information and prove that proactive disclosure is more powerful than demand-based information.