India has long been planning to make information on land, companies, income tax and excise duties, among others, available online so that citizens can access them at ease instead of negotiating a bureaucratic maze.
The plan has been repeatedly delayed since it was flagged off in March 2006, which shows in India ranking a low 113 out of 192 countries on the United Nations E-government Readiness Index of 2008.
The country’s ministry of information technology now wants to do something about this by setting up an agency that would breathe fresh life into the ambitious national e-governance plan, or NeGP, that is expected to cost some Rs23,000 crore, by coordinating efforts, providing resources and building a specialized team that would help the states execute their part in the plan.
“There is a need for creating a national agency which can glue all the components. We need a dedicated professional team to help us achieve that,” said a ministry official, who did not wish to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media.
“The ministry has its limitations and does not have the capacity to run NeGP. It is not equipped to handle the numbers and quality,” he added.
The agency would be on the lines of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, which runs the information management function for the island nation’s government. It is responsible for planning, managing and implementing information technology projects, and oversees tech standards, policies, guidelines and procedures.
“If you are doing e-governance, you need high-end information technology and consulting skills and position such capacity across the Centre and states. There is a need for a competing framework in the government and with information technology skills in demand, we all (including top tech service firms) will be fighting for the same people,” the official said.
The ministry is still deciding on the structure of proposed agency — whether it will be a registered firm or a society, and whether it will hire people from within the government or outside — by discussing it with the ministry of finance.
“A decision will be made in the next six months. We should move the proposal for a cabinet approval in that time frame. This (agency) will roughly cost under Rs200 crore spread over the next four to five years,” the bureaucrat said.
Currently, the ministry runs the NeGP project through what it calls the programme management unit and a committee chaired by cabinet secretary K. Chandrashekhar to give it direction.
An analyst said the proposed agency could benefit the NeGP project and help build a strong skill-set of people responsible for it. NeGP, said T.R. Madan Mohan, managing partner at management consulting firm Browne and Mohan, could transfer best practices “through an agency like this, (and) could get qualified manpower at market rates, which currently they have not been able to do.”
NeGP comprises 27 so-called mission mode projects in Indian states and 10 programmes including those related to land records, ministry of corporate affairs, the income tax and central excise departments, as also some 113,000 common service centres, or CSCs, statewide area networks, or SWANs, and data centres across India.
The plan missed some completion targets set for March this year. For instance, just 61,491 CSCs, which are designed as computer kiosks, had been set up by 1 May, according to a status report by the ministry.
The service centres form the front end for delivery of government, private and social sector services including tele-medicine, education and entertainment facilities to rural citizens.
Similarly, the target to complete the SWANs has been extended to March next year. The delay comes even as SWANs in Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand are ready. The SWAN programme envisages providing connectivity and intranet between government offices and ministries.
The CSC rollout is expected to cost Rs5,742 crore, of which the Central government would contribute some Rs856 crore, the state governments Rs793 crore and the balance to be pooled in by private contractors selected for the projects.