History of e-governance in India and Maharashtra

Written by  Naim Keruwala

Digital India might be the biggest push towards inclusive e-governance in India. But the history of e-governance goes back to the 1970s, when the government established the Department of Electronics, followed by the National Informatics Centre. Maharashtra was the first state to have a dedicated e-governance policy

The  government’s Digital India initiative, aimed at transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy, is focused on broadband highways connecting 250,000 villages and 250,000 schools, cradle to grave digital identity for all, 150,000 post offices to be transformed into internet hubs or multi-service centres, access for all through citizens facilitation centres, integration of e-governance services and platforms across departments, cloud-linked participative platforms for citizens’ entitlements, and public wi-fi spots in cities with million+ population and tourist centres.

Additionally, in January 2015 government announced a big bang plan to roll out free wi-fi internet connections in 2,500 cities and towns across the country.The roll-out is planned over the next three years through the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, according to a report in The Times of India.The plan will entail an investment of Rs 7,000 crore.Wifi speeds of 4G levels will be developed around BSNL’s vast fibre optic and cable network, and delivered via 50-60,000 wi-fi spots. The motivation for this ambitious urban scheme appears to be the revival of BSNL, which has been in the red, as well as a huge push to internet businesses.

Digital India is the biggest and most recent e-governance initiative in India. But the history of e-governance in India can be traced back to 1970 when the Government of India established the Department of Electronics, followed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in 1977. Throughout the late-1980s a significant number of government officials used computers, but their applications were restricted to word processing. Only in 1987, with the launch of the National Satellite Based Computer Network (NICNET), the e-governance agenda in India gained momentum. With the launch of District Information Systems of the National Informatics Centre (DISNIC), state governments offered free hardware and software to computerize all district offices. 

Liberalization, improved technology and increasing connectivity in recent years saw a wave of e-governance initiatives at the state and union level. A task force on information technology and communication was set up by the Union government in 1998. This resulted in the creation of the Union Ministry of Information and Technology. A 12-point minimum agenda was identified in 2000 to be implemented in all union departments and ministries. The first department to make wide use of e-governance was the tax department at state and union levels in order to make their internal working more efficient.

Prior to 2006 when the Government of India formally launched its National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) some departments of Government of India as well as state governments had initiated steps to adopt e-governance.NeGP aims to make all government services available to citizens via electronic media.NeGP has been formulated by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) and Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG). The government approved the National e-Governance Plan, comprising 31 Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) and eight components, on May 18, 2006. In this context it would be useful to highlight some of the important e-governance initiatives implemented by the Union and state governments in the last 10 to 15 years. These initiatives are discussed under the following categories:

  • Government to Citizen (G2C) initiatives
  • Government to Business (G2B) initiatives
  • Government to Government (G2G) initiatives

Government to Citizens

The major thrust of e-governance in India has been to bring Government to Citizens (G2C). This category of e-governance initiatives involves use of e-governance as a tool to make government more transparent, reduce costs to citizens (by reducing corruption and decreasing time spent for availing services) and to make government more accessible.

  1. Computerization of land records (Department of Land Resources, Government of India)
    A conference of revenue ministers of states/UTs had advocated such computerization as early as 1985. Based on the recommendation, the Union Ministry of Rural Development selected 8 districts in 8 states for a pilot project on Computerization of Land Records, which was 100% centrally-sponsored. From 1994-95 onwards, it was implemented in collaboration with the NIC.
  2. Bhoomi Project in Karnataka: Online delivery of land records
    Bhoomi is a sustainable e-governance project for the computerized delivery of 20 million rural land records to 6.7 million farmers through 177 government-owned kiosks in the state of Karnataka.
  3. Gyandoot (Madhya Pradesh)
    Gyandoot is an intranet-based Government to Citizen (G2C) service delivery initiative. It was initiated in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh in January 2000 with the twin objectives of providing relevant information to the rural population and acting as an interface between the district administration and people. The basic idea was to establish and foster a technologically innovative initiative which is owned and operated by the community itself.
  4. Lokvani Project in Uttar Pradesh
    Lokvani is a public-private partnership project inSitapurdistrict of Uttar Pradesh which was initiated in November 2004. Its objective is to provide a single window, self-sustaining e-governance solution with regard to handling of grievances, land record maintenance and other essential services.
  5. Project FRIENDS in Kerala
    Fast, Reliable, Instant and Efficient Network for the Disbursement of Services is a single-window facility for citizens to pay taxes and other financial dues to the state government. It was launched in Thiruvananthapuram in June 2000 and replicated in other district headquarters during 2001-02.
  6. e-Mitraproject in Rajasthan
    This e-governance initiative builds upon the experiences of the LokMitra and JanMitra pilot projects launched in 2002. While LokMitra was centred in the city of Jaipur, JanMitra was piloted in Jhalawar district to provide information and services under one roof to urban and rural populations.
  7. eSeva (Andhra Pradesh)
    The highlight of the eSeva project is that all services are delivered online to consumers/citizens by connecting them to the respective government departments and providing online information at the point of service delivery.
  8. Revenue Administration through Computerized Energy (RACE) Billing Project, Bihar
    The Patna Electric Supply Undertaking (PESU), which is one of the seven area boards of the Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB), caters to the energy requirements of the Patna Urban Area. The entire billing and payment process was manual and anomalies in the system were resulting in harassment to consumers and loss of revenue to the Board. To address these problems, it was decided by the BSEB to employ ICTs in providing value-added and consumer-friendly services to clients. A separate department of IT was created in BSEB to implement the project and the software was designed by NIC.
  9. Admission to Professional Colleges – Common Entrance Test (CET)
    With the rapid growth in demand as well as supply of professional education, the process of admission to these institutions became a major challenge in the early-1990s. The use of ICTs in the admission process has helped in making the admission process totally transparent, fair and objective. Many institutions have now switched over to similar ICT-based admission processes.

Government to Business

  1. e-Procurement Project in Andhra Pradesh
    The entire e-procurement process was designed to avoid human interface,ie supplier and buyer interaction during the pre-bidding and post-bidding stages. The system now ensures total anonymity of the participating suppliers, even to the buyers, until the bids are opened on the platform.
  2. e-Procurement in Gujarat
    The system of e-procurement was introduced in the state of Gujarat from October 2004 onwards. It aims to establish transparency in the procurement process, shortening of procurement cycle, availing of competitive price, enhancing confidence of suppliers and establishing flexible and economical bidding processes for suppliers.
  3. MCA 21
    The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has implemented the MCA 21 Mission Mode Project under the NeGPsince September 2006. The project aims at providing easy and secure online access to all registry-related services provided by the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs to corporates and other stakeholders at any time and in a manner that best suits them.

Government to Government

  1. Khajane Project in Karnataka
    This is a comprehensive online treasury computerization project of the Government of Karnataka. The project has resulted in the computerization of the entire treasury activities of the state government and the system has the ability to track every activity right from the approval of the state budget to the point of rendering accounts to the government.
  2. SmartGov (Andhra Pradesh)
    SmartGov has been developed to streamline operations, enhance efficiency through workflow automation and knowledge management for implementation in the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat. The solution automates the functioning of all levels of government entities and provides a well-defined mechanism for transforming the ‘hard copy environment’ to a ‘digital environment’.

Another important initiative taken by the Government of India towards creating a Digital India is the National Fibre Optic Network (NOFN) launched in October 2011 that aims at connecting all the 250,000 gram panchayats in the country by utilizing existing fibres of PSUs (BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid) and laying incremental fibre to connect to gram panchayats wherever necessary. It aims at launching applications like e-health, e-education and e-governance amongst others.

Maharashtra’s state policy on e-governance and digital inclusion

Maharashtra has been a pioneer in the adoption of technology that improves transparency and accountability of the government. The efforts of the state have been focused on coupling technology initiatives with overall administration, aiming to take the government to the citizens’ doorsteps and usher in a digitally inclusive society. Maharashtra is the first state to have a dedicated e-governance policy which was drafted by a 10-member e-governance committee under the chairmanship of Dr Vijay Bhatkarand approved by the cabinet. The policy was published on September 23, 2011 and the implementation plan issued on April 10, 2012. The state government has adopted e-governance and m-governance to reach out to citizens in a more effective manner and the conventional functioning processes are being revamped through exhaustive Business Process Reengineering and electronic service delivery.

The state government has focused on the following vital points:

1. Creation of capacity-building infrastructure
This includes opening of IT academies in Pune, Aurangabad and Nagpur, an IT and e-governance Training Room in Mantralaya, and revamp of IT infrastructure of 152 state training institutes.

2. Policy level interventions
The Maharashtra government has taken the following policy-level interventions:

  • Maharashtra Information Technology Virtual Cadre.
  • Student internships with Government of Maharashtra which will help them acquire a theoretical level of understandinge-governance.
  • MoU between DIT (Directorate of Information Technology), Government of Maharashtra and YASHADA (YashwantraoChavan Academy of Development Administration) to promote IT training of government officials.

3. Training, workshops and leadership summits

Under this category, Government of Maharashtra conducts regular training programmes, workshops and leadership summits for its officers and employees on various aspects of e-governance. These trainings and workshops are also attended by other stakeholders like consultants, software programmers working with the state government, media personnel etc. These have also witnessed participation from other state governments.

Another important initiative of the Maharashtra government is the launch of e-Governance Training and Certification, the first and only free online certification course in e-governance in India, managed by the Directorate of Information Technology (DIT), Government of Maharashtra, based on the concept of MOOC. This certification has been made mandatory for all staff-members in DIT, as well as consultants and software developers working in the e-governance space in Maharashtra.

However, the number of people enrolling for certification and the number of candidates passing the exam shows a worrisome picture. The following chart from the ‘State of e Governance in Maharashtra 2014’ report shows the number of batches that enrolled in the year 2014 and the candidates thatpassed certification against it:

Source: Maharashtra State e Governance Report, 2014

The e-Governance Status Report 2014 of Maharashtra also focuses on aspects of inclusion through ‘Citizen Centricity and Ease of Use’. Its salient features:

i. No affidavits

To make services available to citizens through the Common Service Centres in an easier, standardised and hassle-free manner, the Directorate of Information Technology has come up with a GR that would replace the filing of an affidavit along with the application with a Self-Declaration. A Government Resolution to this effect was issued on August 14, 2013.

ii. Format standardization

Sixteen revenue services including Income Certificates, Residence Certificates, Age, Nationality and Domicile Certificates, Solvency Certificates, Senior Citizen, Birth,Death Certificates etc, have been standardized across all districts in Maharashtra. These are extremely important services especially for the poor and it is an important step towards ensuring better service delivery for citizens.

iii. Rate standardization

Rates of Government to Citizenservices provided through different delivery mechanisms like Common Services Centers,Sangrams, Setu, MahaOnlineetc have been standardized across Maharashtra. The same fee shall be charged to citizens irrespective of mode of delivery. However, this may not be ideal as the socially backward and economically weaker sections require concessional rates and in some instances free access to these services.

vi. Localisation

Marathi has been made the first and mandatory language in all e-governance services across the state of Maharashtra. This is an important step towards ensuring inclusion in e-governance.

v. E Scholarships for Tribals, SC and Minorities

*2013 – 14 data is till September, 2013

The Tribal Development Department, Minorities Development Department and Social Justice and Special Assistance Department, provide various scholarships to students from socially backward and economically weaker families in the state. Initially, the scholarships were disbursed manually, but now all of these departments have automated the process and implemented e-scholarship application. The e-scholarship system enables online application, automated approval, transparent verification and timely disbursement of scholarships.Under this new system, the scholarship is credited directly into the accounts of students, and they also receive a confirmation SMS alert from the system. The solution user-interface is available in English and Marathi.

vi. Online Disability Certificates

Doctors can issue five types of disability certificates -- vizVisual, Hearing, Physical, Mental Illness and Mental Retardation using the Software for Assessment of Disability,Maharashtra (SADM). Doctors only need to enter the assessment values and the disability percentage is calculated automatically by the software. These certificates are directly linked with the UID.

vii. e-Validity for Caste Certificates and Minority Status Certificates

This application enables online application, verification, approval/rejection and finally online delivery of Caste Certificates and Minority Status Certificates to citizens. Throughout the process, updates to citizens on the status of their application are sent regularly.

Other initiatives aimed at ensuring inclusion in e-governance include:

  • Application for Free Coaching Classes for minority students
  • MIS for Residential Institutes (State Homes, Protection Homes, Swardhar Homes etc) run by government and NGOs for destitute women and women in crisis
  • MIS for Domestic Violence Act
  • MIS for Manodhairya Scheme (financial assistance and rehabilitation of  women and children who are victims of rape, sexual assault and acid attacks.)
  • Tracking children with special needs
  • Online certificate generation and reservation verification application for schools
  • Online entrance examination for CET and MCA
  • Launch of the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning(NPTEL)to provide e-learning through online web and video courses in engineering, science and humanities.
  • Establishment of Virtual Learning Centres (VLCs) through YashwantraoChavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU)

Funding for e-governance

0.5% of the Plan & Non-Plan Budget of all departments has been mandated to be utilised for e-governance in the state of Maharashtra. The guidelines for the utilisation of the same were issued by the Chief Secretary vide Government Resolution dated June 18, 2010. A revised government resolution on May 3, 2014 extended the mandate to all municipal corporations across Maharashtra. The funding for many e-governance projects is made available from the Government of India under the MMPs (Mission Mode Projects). The major Mission Mode Projects include eDistrict, SDC, MSWAN,SSDG, etc.Thirteenth Finance Commission funds have been used by some departments for e-governance projects.

However, details of heads under which the funds are utilized are not made available. Neither the State of e-Governance Report of the Government of Maharashtra nor the Department of Information & Technology publishes the budgeted and actual government spending on e-governance. This is a major hurdle in assessing the efficacy and impact of e- governance services in the state.

(NaimKeruwala is an Assistant Director at Janwani, heading the urban governance focus area. He is also a visiting faculty at Symbiosis School of Economics and Member of the Global Shapers Community, Pune Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum)

Netpehchaan.in, April 2015

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