The e-Governance scenario in India has come a long way since computers were first introduced. The focus now is on extending the reach of governance to have a major impact on the people at large. As stated earlier, e-Governance is an important tool to enhance the quality of government services to citizens, to bring in more transparency, to reduce corruption and subjectivity, to reduce costs for citizens and to make government more accessible. A large number of initiatives have been taken in this category by the Union and the State Governments. Some of these are described in the following paragraphs. Computerisation Of Land Records (Department Of Land Resources, Government Of India) A Conference of the Revenue Ministers of States/UTs had advocated such computerization as early as in 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. The main objectives of the scheme were: i. Ensuring that landowners get computerized copies of ownership, crop and tenancy and updated copies of Records of Rights (RoRs) on demand. ii. Realizing low-cost and easily-reproducible basic land record data through reliable and durable preservation of old records. iii. Ensuring accuracy, transparency and speedy dispute resolution. iv. Facilitating fast and efficient retrieval of information for decision making. v. According legal sanctity to computer-generated certificates of land records after authentication by the authorized revenue official. vi. Setting up a comprehensive land information system for better land-based planning and utilization of land resources. vii. Focusing on citizen-centric services related to land and revenue administration. The phased coverage of this scheme is given below: i. During the Seventh Plan, funds were sanctioned for taking up the programme in 24 districts; ii. During the Eighth Plan, funds were sanctioned for taking up the programme in additional 299 districts; iii. During the Ninth Plan, funds were sanctioned for taking up the programme in additional 259 districts; iv. In 1997-98, it was decided that the scheme be extended to the taluk or tehsil or block level to facilitate distribution on demand, of computerized copies of RoRs from the tehsil or taluk computer centre. Accordingly, in the Ninth Plan period, funds were sanctioned for setting up computer centres at 2787 tehsils or taluks; and v. During the Tenth Plan period, the scheme was extended to cover 1615 more tehsils/taluks / blocks / anchals / circles, setting up of computer centres in 1019 sub-divisions, land records data centres in 365 districts and monitoring cells at 16 State Headquarters. The status of implementation of this scheme is as follows: A. States which have completed RoR data entry: Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. B. States which have stopped manual issue of RoRs: Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. C. States which have placed RoR data on websites: Andhra Pradesh (Adangal Pani), Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Uttarakhand. Due to the unsatisfactory implementation of the scheme, the Union Ministry for Rural Development constituted a Committee to suggest practical steps to implement the scheme. The Committee on Computerisation of Land Records submitted its Report in April 2005. This Report suggested that: i. In addition to computerizing Records of Rights, all States must computerize the details of crops, cultivation, soil classification, irrigation, etc. Scanning of basic land records and digitization of cadastral maps/village maps may also be taken up under the Scheme of CLR. ii. Village /cadastral maps/tippan should be digitized under the scheme of CLR for integration, updation and preservation of maps, which will enable a land owner to get a computerized copy of the Records of Rights along with plot boundaries. Due to variations in the system of maintenance of cadastral map, States may adopt the strategy suitable to their requirements. However, priority for digitization should be given to those districts, which have successfully completed computerisation of textual land records. iii. Integration of computerisation of land records and computerisation of land registration should be initiated at the earliest on pilot basis in some States without waiting for amendments suggested in the provisions of the Registration Act, 1908. Funds for setting up of computer centre in the office of the Sub-Registrar may be given under the scheme of CLR equivalent to funds provided to sub-divisions. (The Committee also suggested making amendments to the Registration Act, 1908 to simplify registration and its integration with the land records). iv. There should be a time frame for the implementation of this scheme. However, the process continued as earlier and so far, 582 districts, 4423 taluks / tehsils /circles and 1021 sub-divisions have been covered under the scheme. In 3356 tehsils, computer centres have been set up and in 2902 tehsils / taluks / circles computerized copies of RoRs are being issued to landowners on demand. Thus, even in twenty years, this scheme has not been able to cover the entire country.
i. The scheme failed to address the main problem in case of land records in India, i.e. the land records do not reflect the factual ground reality. Computerisation of existing land records without corroborating it with the actual field position only led to perpetuation of existing loopholes and errors.
ii. Complex e-Governance projects have various components all of which need to be implemented for which a holistic approach is needed during implementation.
Bhoomi Project in Karnataka : Online Delivery of Land Records of 20 million rural land records to 6.7 million farmers through 177 Government-owned kiosks in the State of Karnataka. It was felt that rural land records are central conduits to delivering better IT-enabled services to citizens because they contain multiple data elements: ownership, tenancy, loans, nature of title, irrigation details, crops grown etc. In addition to providing the proof of title to the land, this land record is used by the farmer for a variety of purposes: from documenting crop loans and legal actions, to securing scholarships for school-children. These records were hitherto maintained manually by 9,000 village officials. Through this project, computerised kiosks are currently offering farmers two critical services – procurement of land records and requests for changes to land title. About 20 million records are now being legally maintained in the digital format. To ensure authenticity of data management, a biometric finger authentication system has been used for the first time in an e-Governance project in India.
To make the project self-sustaining and expandable, Bhoomi levies user charges. The need for a project such as Bhoomi was felt for the following reasons:
i. In the traditional system, land records were not open for public scrutiny resulting in manipulation and favouritism.
ii. The process for applying for transfer of title was cumbersome, time consuming and prone to harassment.
iii. There were instances of Government land being illegally transferred in the name of influential persons.
iv. It was not possible for the administrators to procure, collate and analyse data from the manually maintained records. v. Land records offered a unique opportunity to make people in the rural areas aware of the benefits of e-Governance. A number of benefits were attached with successful implementation of such projects: for example, the sanction of crop loans, since banks would insist on production of land records; reducing delay in the disposal of court litigation due to non-availability of records etc.
To achieve its objectives, certain IT innovations had to be carried out.
These included: i. Due to limited exposure of the officials in the use of IT and the critical nature of the data, the project relies on fingerprint biometrics for not only authentication of identity but also at each stage of any transaction relating to updation of data. This multi layered security access looks beyond the obvious danger of hacking of passwords and ensures accountability at all levels with no scope for repudiation. ii. To ensure that the officials are responsible for the decisions they take on Bhoomi, the original papers connected with the decisions are scanned. To contain frivolous litigation by people claiming that notices seeking possible objections to change of titles were not served on them, the notices are also scanned on to the system. iii. To convince a farmer of the genuineness of a computer interaction, a second computer screen facing him has been provided at the kiosk. Separate touch screen kiosks linked to the database are also available for farmers to independently verify the records in question. iv. In order to protect the data from physical threats like fire or calamities, backing up of data was done by way of online replication. v. Bhoomi software runs on a First in First Out process. During project implementation, all the officials involved were assigned well-defined roles and responsibilities, down to the grass roots level.
However, in the initial stages, in spite of elaborate and detailed guidelines, these were not percolating down. This was finally achieved through State level workshops and intensive trainings for bringing about changes in the attitude among departmental staff. The Bhoomi project is a noteworthy effort and sets an example for other projects in its approach towards piloting a project, as well as its rolling out and sustenance. It may be mentioned here that manually written Records of Right, Tenancy and Cultivation (RTC) have been declared illegal. Based on the success story of this project and its innovations, the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has announced that Bhoomi would be a national model for computerisation of land records and replicated throughout the country. In fact, Bhoomi now envisages offering some additional services in the future: i. Issue of land records with digital signature ii. Providing connectivity with Bhoomi to courts and banks iii. Scanning of survey sketches/maps and linking them with Bhoomi iv. Decentralisation the issue of land records to Hobli (sub taluk) level on a PPP model along with RDS project.
Lessons: i. A well conceptualized and executed BPR is a pre-requisite for success of e-Governance projects. ii. There should be end-to-end computerization. iii. Large e-Governance projects, having large scale impact require total support at the political level. iv. Continuity in the Project Management team helps in proper implementation of e-Governance projects. v. If benefits to citizens are real and substantial, projects become sustainable. vi. A holistic approach is necessary for e-Governance. Adequate time and resources need to be devoted in conceptualization, implementation and maintenance of projects. vii. Systems should have a strong back-up mechanism.
Gyandoot is an Intranet-based Government to Citizen (G2C) service delivery initiative. It was initiated in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh in January 2000 with the twin objective of providing relevant information to the rural population and acting as an interface between the district administration and the people. The basic idea behind this project was to establish and foster a technologically innovative initiative which is owned and operated by the community itself. Initially, computers were installed in twenty village Panchayat centres and connected to the District Rural Development Authority in Dhar town. These were called Soochanalayas which were operated by local rural youth selected for this purpose (called Soochaks). No fixed salary or stipend was paid to them. Later, 15 more Soochanalayas were opened as private enterprise. The Soochanalayas are connected to the Intranet through dial-up lines. The services offered through the Gyandoot network include i. Daily agricultural commodity rates (mandi bhav) ii. Income certificate iii. Domicile certificate iv. C Caste certificate v. Public grievance redressal vi. Rural Hindi email vii. B BPL family list viii. Rural Hindi newspaper. There is a prescribed service charge for each service which is displayed at each kiosk along with the information about the expected delivery time. The citizen generally submits his application online (with the help of the Soochak) and has to go back to the Soochanalaya to collect the response. If the service is related to obtaining some certificates or documents, the citizen will have to collect them by visiting the government department. Alternatively, they are mailed to the citizen.29 The implementation of this project assumes significance as it throws light on the issues involved in taking e-Governance to rural areas. For example, the ‘India: e-Readiness Assessment Report 2003’ mentions issues of connectivity and electricity supply as major bottlenecks. It also mentions that “Since the cost of Gyandoot E-commerce transactions for most villagers is high, it is important for basic services (e-mail, government databases) rather than high-end applications.” The Centre for Electronic Governance, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad also made an evaluation of this project for the World Bank in 2002. It concluded that power supply, connectivity, and backend support are the essential pre-requisites for such projects and significant re-engineering of backend processes and introduction of services that directly contribute to poverty alleviation are needed to make such initiatives sustainable.
Lokvani Project in Uttar Pradesh
Lokvani is a public-private partnership project at Sitapur District in Uttar Pradesh which was initiated in November, 2004. Its objective is to provide a single window, self sustainable e-Governance solution with regard to handling of grievances, land record maintenance and providing a mixture of essential services. As 88 per cent of the District population resides in villages and the literacy rate is only 38 per cent, the programme had to be designed in a way which was user-friendly and within the reach of the people both geographically as well as socially. To achieve this, the programme format uses the local language, Hindi, and is spread throughout the district to a chain of 109 Lokvani Kiosk Centres. These Kiosks have been established by licensing the already existing cyber cafes. The services offered by Lokvani are: a. Availability of land records (khataunis) on the internet b. Online registration, disposal and monitoring of public grievances c. Information of various Government schemes d. Online availability of prescribed Government forms e. Online status of Arms License applications f. GPF Account details of Basic Education teachers g. Details of work done under MPLAD/Vidhayak Nidhi h. Details of allotment of funds to Gram Sabhas under different development schemes i. Details of allotment of food grains to Kotedars (fair price shops) j. Other useful information of public interest. As was the case in the Gyandoot project in Madhya Pradesh, no loan or government subsidies were involved in this project. Since existing cyber cafes are being used to run the project, capital outlays are not involved. The system is expected to generate its own funds from the citizens and also contribute to the earnings of the Kiosk operators. However, like Gyandoot in Madhya Pradesh, low literacy rate combined with minimal computer literacy, poor internet connectivity and only 5 to 6 hours availability of power in rural areas constitute major bottlenecks. Despite these bottlenecks, the response to this project has been overwhelming. The main attraction for the citizens is the online grievance redressal system. The Lokvani Centre enters the complaint on behalf of the complainant. The user need not be literate or computer expert to lodge his / her grievance. A copy of the complaint is given to the complainant along with the complaint number (like the PNR No. of the railway ticket) and the database keeps track of all the complaints filed by a particular Lokvani Centre. All complaints lodged through this site are monitored and sorted at the District Magistrate’s Office. The complaints are then marked to the concerned officers. A time frame is determined for the redressal, depending on the nature of the complaint. It varies from 15 to 40 days. The name of the officer, to whom the complaint has been marked, along with the deadline, is uploaded on the server the next day. The complainant can access these details within 2 to 3 days of lodging the complaint. In case, the complainant is dissatisfied with the decision, he/she can lodge a new complaint enclosing the previous complaint number and other details. The new complaint lodged will carry a history sheet containing all the details about the previous complaint and its resolution. Due to the unprecedented and positive response to the grievance redressal mechanism mentioned above, the project is considered a success.
Lessons: 1) e-Governnance projects should be broken into components for the purpose of implementation. Those components which lend themselves to ICT should be taken up first. 2) Reach of e-Governance projects can be enhanced through PPP models which would also be cost effective.\
Project FRIENDS In Kerala
FRIENDS (Fast, Reliable, Instant, Efficient Network for the Disbursement of Services) is a Single Window Facility providing citizens the means 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. The services are provided through FRIENDS Janasevana Kendrams located in the district headquarters. This project is a classic case of achieving front end computerized service delivery to citizens without waiting for completion of back end computerization in various government departments. This project thus tries to avoid the complex issues involved in business process re-engineering in the participating departments. In fact, the FRIENDS counters are not even networked with the participating departments/entities. Print-outs of payments made through the counters are physically distributed to participating entities for processing. To remove bottlenecks at the time of processing, a government order was issued to treat a receipt from a FRIENDS counter as equivalent to a receipt from the concerned government entity Owing to the success of the project, efforts have been initiated to develop FREES (FRIENDS Re-engineered and Enterprises Enabled Software) which would incorporate the ‘Any Centre Any Payment Mode’.
E-Mitra Project In Rajasthan This e-Governance initiative builds upon the experiences gained through 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. e-Mitra is an integration of these two projects in all the 32 districts using PPP model. There are two major components – ‘back office processing’ and ‘service counters’. Back office processing includes computerization of participating departments and establishing an IT enabled hub in form of a mini data centre at the district level (e-Mitra data centre). All participating departments and the service centres hook up to this data centre. It is managed by the Facility Management Service Provider on behalf of the district e-Governance Society (under Chairmanship of the district collector). Private partners (Local Service Providers) run the kiosks/centres. In case of collection on account of payment of utility bills and government levies, the Local Service Provider does not charge the citizen, but gets reimbursement from the concerned organization through the e-Mitra Society. In case of other services, the transaction fees is prescribed by the Society. Thus, this project is an improvement on earlier schemes as it also involves back office computerization. Further, the citizen is not required to pay any fees for availing of the facility for making payment for government utilities. The e-Mitra project has been chosen by the Government of Rajasthan to roll out the Community Service Centre project under NeGP.
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 the consumers and loss of revenue to the Board. The major problems which had cropped up in the system were irregular billing cycle, ineffective data management, lack of transparency and delayed accounting. To address these problems, it was decided by the BSEB to take the assistance of ICT in providing value added and consumer-friendly service to the clients. A separate department of IT was created in BSEB to implement the project and the software was designed by NIC. To begin with, a pilot was executed in one of the divisions for implementing the RACE software in 2001. Different modules were implemented incrementally and by July 2007, payment of bills of any division at any one of the 31 collection counters as per convenience was facilitated. Bills are now being generated with a barcode and consumers can download the bills using the internet and also see the details of payments made by them. A number of problems were faced during implementation of the project:
- Adequate stress was not laid on capacity building and generating interest among the staff members. Thus, in the initial phase, the project was not owned up by the staff members.
- There was lack of planning. Working manuals and documentation were lacking resulting in delayed use.
Once these problems were resolved, the project could be taken forward and the system is now moving towards online payment of bills.
- Active involvement of staff and capacity building is necessary for success of e-Governance projects.
- E-preparedness of the organization must be kept in mind while planning for projects and fixing time frames.
Admission To Professional Colleges– Common Entrance Test (CET)
With the rapid growth in the demand as well as supply of professional education, the process of admission to these institutions became a major challenge in the early 1990s. Recourse was then taken to ICT to make the process of admission transparent and objective. One of the pioneering efforts was made by Karnataka. The State Government decided to conduct a common entrance test based on which admission to different colleges and disciplines was made. The allocation of seats in different colleges/disciplines is done through a process of ‘computerized counseling’ where the student can choose the discipline he/she wants – based, of course, on merit. Use of ICT 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 process.
- ICT initiatives which bring tangible benefits to citizens are always sustainable.
ESEVA (Andhra Pradesh)
This project is designed to provide ‘Government to Citizen’ and ‘e-Business to Citizen’ services. Originally, it was implemented in the form of the TWINS (Twin Cities Integrated Network Services) project in 1999 in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. The highlight of the eSeva project is that all the 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. The network architecture is designed as an Intranet on a Wide Area Network (WAN). The network is designed in three tiers,38 each tier being physically located in different places. The first tier for the client-end is located at the eSeva centres. The second tier consists of the data servers and the application servers. The third tier comprises Departmental servers as the backend in the concerned departments (Electricity, Municipality, Passport Office, Transport Department, Registration, Commercial Tax, etc). These servers keep consolidated databases. Presently, eSeva is providing ‘One-stop-shop’ for over 66 G2C and B2C services in 46 eSeva centres in the twin cities and Ranga Reddy district. Centres have also been opened in 20 other districts. The services include online payment of utility bills, issuing certificates, issuing licenses & permits, e-forms etc. Payments can be made by cash/cheque/DD/credit card/Internet The project has become very popular among the citizens especially for payment of utility bills. In fact, it has been asserted that the success of this project is largely based on payment of electricity bills.40 This project exemplifies the potential for integration of delivery of Union, State and Local Government services at one point. However, it also shows that the model based on payment of utility bills could not be rolled out in the rural hinterland. Lessons: a. Support from the highest political level helps in overcoming problems in implementation. b. Convergence and coordination between the activities of different departments/organizations leads to better services under e-Governance. c. Long-term sustainability of e-Governance projects depends on financial viability, especially if they are to be implemented in the PPP mode. d. Front end e-services are possible without back end computerization. E-Governance projects could be broken into various components and their computerization could then be phased according to the ease of implementation. e. Government servants need to be motivated to adapt and work in an ICT environment.