Government has displayed its affinity in technology #eGovWatch

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Effective e-governance solutions have drastically changed the way citizens interact with public agencies, making it easier for them to access information, avail of various services and exercise their rights through other participative means.

By: Sandeep Mathur

It has helped create a democratic framework based on accountability and transparency and one that empowers citizens. The current Union Budget 2014 has strived to address these facets.

Many international governments have advanced in their approach and made a difference to its people. The US, for example, has robust digital infrastructure at different levels of government—federal, state and city. This includes sites through which citizens can petition lawmakers as well as township portals which give users a view of all the public services available in their vicinity. Similar systems exist in Australia, UK and countries in Europe. Singapore’s eCitizen portal, a one-stop gateway for all government services and updates, provides another model worthy of studying.

In India, the government started the process of building its own digital infrastructure with the approval of the National e-Governance Plan in 2006. At least three major e-governance initiatives were rolled out at the central government level while several others were implemented at the state level. The central government solutions included portals for registration of new companies (MCA21), filing of income taxes and passport application services. It was later discovered that while the government had streamlined these processes, manual procedures or trips to relevant public agency offices could not be avoided. That’s where gaps in performance and functionality emerged and a need to establish uniform standards in interoperability, quality and security across various digital platforms was realised.

Clearly, while e-governance has the potential to change the nature of the government-citizen interaction, we have only uncovered the tip of this technological iceberg. The good news is that the current government has displayed its affinity for technology, beginning with a pre-election manifesto that discussed sweeping technology initiatives across e-governance, education, health, finance, infrastructure and more. In all of these areas, the stated goal was to leverage effective digital solutions to improve productivity, efficiency and inclusive growth.

With its aggressive roll out plan, the government announced in its Union Budget 2014, various initiatives where their reliance on technology will be paramount. They look committed to launch 100 smart cities by the current fiscal; they are heavily promoting entrepreneurship by setting aside a product start-up fund; they are looking at integrating government departments and ministries via an e-platform by theend of the calendar year. They are also looking to undertake aggressive police modernisation, facilitate e-visas to promote tourism and much more.

IT is becoming a strong enabler for cities to truly become ‘smart’, cities of the 21st century that appreciate the power of the communities while also respecting their legal and political responsibilities. Not only this, technology can be a catalyst to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure and to deliver superior citizen services through better inter-ministerial coordination, taxation reforms, grievance management and the likes.

Since the value of such technology enablement has been established in the e-governance area, the budget has made provisions for implementing these solutions to cover a broad cross-section of government services and departments. Several of these initiatives will also go a long way in supporting the government’s priorities of infrastructure development, skill building, financial inclusion and ultimately deliver better governance.

The government identified financial inclusion as a critical goal in order to ensure that the poor are not left out of the country’s growth story. When people across the country, regardless of their socio-economic status, have access to credit, savings instruments and other financial services, it will truly unlock the consumption potential and help build a thriving economy.

There are several other ways in which appropriate technology can bridge the digital divide and allow every citizen to interact with elected representatives at the central, state or panchayat levels. As the budget projections illustrate, none of this has to be prohibitively expensive for the government. When deployed with the right mix of planning and innovation, e-governance solutions can liberate many processes and services that are currently entangled in costly and wasteful bureaucracy.

The current government shows promise with their renewed focus on technology, urbanisation and capability building. We have tremendous scope to contribute in each of these areas and should start right away.

The writer is managing director, Oracle India