Frederick Noronha on Sat, 27 May 2000 09:22:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> E-governance India


by Frederick Noronha

PONDICHERRY, May 25: In the quest for the tantilising
promises of e-governances, the machines are now all in
fine shape. But what about the man behind the system?

Skeptical computer professionals from across South
Indian states, some of which have seen a speedy race
towards excellence in IT, are sternly warning that the
real quality of e-governance now depends on "the
integrity of the man behind the machine".

Senior government officials point to a growing role of
IT in the administration, to say that administrations
will become more lean, trim... and even clean.

But computer specialists meeting here are only willing
to adopt a wait-and-watch policy.

"Merely putting computers in a government office won't
help. We need to win the confidence of people (who are
going to man them). Because over time people ingrain
ways of living, thinking and working," said Computer
Society of India Bangalore chairman M.L.Ravi.

Ravi pointed out that the Bangalore Corporation has
computerised its birth and death records.  Yet due to
intertia, instead of taking five to six minutes to
issue a certificate, they were still taking five to
six days, he said.

He added that it was up to the citizen to place higher
expectations of his bureaucrat and politician, to
claim his right to a better quality of services.

Pondicherry industries secretary G. Narendra Kumar,
who is also secretary to the region's Lt. Governor,
said the new economy provided governments a chance to
provide better services to their citizens.

"Accessing information becomes easier, some services
can get a qualitative boost. But the question of the
state's role in allocation of resources becomes more
complicated (under e-governance trends),"he said.

IT would not change much the state's role in
regulating activity -- for business, and in the social
and economic worlds -- the senior bureaucrat also

"Under the IT revolution we're trying to reduce the
transaction cost of every transaction. The same can be
done by governments. But there is also a lurking fear
that government servants would be thrown out of jobs
(leading to reluctance on their part)," said Narendra

Managing director of the Coimbatore-based Consolidated
Cybernetics, P R Rangaswami, argued that governments
-- which could be viewed as businesses of sorts, in a
way -- could also improve their efficiency vastly ue
to the IT revolution taking place.

"Transaction costs in e-business is coming down
sharply. The same should hold true for governments,"
he argued.

Planning and budgeting of governments should get more
accurate, and monitoring should be more precise
compared to what it currently is, said Rangaswami.

National Informatics Centre technical director Dr V
Siva Rama Krishnaiah said an IT strategy for
governents is now as essential as a mouse is to a PC
-- "it can't manoeuvre unless it clicks".

Krishnaiah, who heads the official national body
looking after the IT needs of the government, cited
examples of how Andhra Pradesh had computerised land
records in sub-registrar's offices to lower corruption
levels. He said the Delhi Corporation was now using
software to collect property taxes more efficiently.

Federal ministers like Ram Jethmalani were having
national-level video conferences with state-based
Registrars of Companies, without requiring all of them
to come to Delhi for meetings, he said.

Citizens could also track the progress of their cases
in the Supreme Court, and all judgements from 1952
onwards were available now on a searchable CD (compact
disk), he added.

There is a new software being worked on to help
pensioners sort delays, and Tamil Nadu has begun
putting out its public exam results on the web to
avoid students getting inconvenienced by a teachers'
strike, he said.

Narendra Kumar, who is also the industries secretary
of Pondicherry, said that after this Union Territory
declared its IT policy recently, ration cards had been
fully computerised and land records had also been done
so "to a large extent".

But some entrepreneurs complained of the long delays
and elaborate paperwork it took to set up even a
medical transcription unit here.

Citing an experiment by the M.S.Swaminathan Foundation
in a Pondicherry village, Narendra Kumar said outdated
computers received from abroad were giving villagers
vital connectivity to information that mattered.

>From helping them to locate doctors in towns, to
finding out the right time to take their cane to
sugar-mills and avoid waiting for long hours outside
mill gates, this 'information dirt-track' was reaching
their village market place.

Fishermen had also been able to hike their catches by
upto 30% by making use of the latest boon of
technology, and using satellite information to locate
shoals of catch, said Narendra Kumar.

But questions lingered on in the minds of computer
professionals on whether this really signals a drastic
change in governance, or are just stray examples in a
country where the government plays a crucial and often
time-consuming role in everything from a ration-card
(which offers supplies of foodgrains to the poor at
cheaper rates), to vehicular documents, passports,
university certificates or authenticated land records.

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