The first draft of the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011, has proposed that all ministries and government departments compulsorily deliver services to citizens electronically, including through the Internet and mobile phones.
The Bill proposes completely phasing out manual distribution of services, as the government aims to plug leaks in the system, minimize losses and ensure delivery to the intended beneficiaries.
The department of information technology (DIT) has posted the draft Bill on its website inviting comments from the public.
The Bill aims to include any dealing a citizen would have with the government under its ambit, including submissions of all kinds of forms and applications, delivery of licences or permits, and receipt or payment of money.
The Bill, which will override other related legislation, mandates that “citizens shall have the right to electronic delivery of services”.
It lays down penalties for impersonation, unauthorized access and will apply even to offences committed overseas.
Under the existing Information Technology Act, 2000, electronic delivery of services is left to the discretion of individual departments and citizens do not have the right to demand that services be delivered electronically.
Once the new legislation is passed, all government departments will have to issue the framework within six months on the services to be digitised and the formats to be adopted, along with a cut-off date for completing the exercise.
DIT is also considering an overarching timeframe for ending all manual delivery of services and the transition to digital formats.
The Bill is expected to be finalised by the end of March.
“Electronic delivery of data will reduce discretion on the part of government employees, bringing in much more transparency in government dealings,” said an official of DIT, requesting anonymity. “This is the reason why we thought that manual and electronic delivery mechanisms can’t coexist.”
The DIT official said dismantling the manual delivery system would not leave those without access to technology at a disadvantage.
“So far, there is no way for a citizen to break the monopoly of the departmental officer, who is the single point of contact,” said Neel Ratan, executive director, PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Once everything is online, there are multiple options of availing the services. You can do it yourself or get through the government office.”
But Ratan added that the government would have to take measures to significantly increase the technology capability of government staff.
The legislation also proposes levying service charges for the electronic deliveries.
Apart from ensuring better transparency in government dealings, if passed, the law will give a fillip to the domestic IT industry.
“So far, whatever automation has been done has been largely at the front end, targeted at consumers, but the enactment of the Bill will require automating the entire operation of the government, especially at the back end, which will open a huge opportunity for the sector,” said Guru Malladi, partner at audit and consulting firm Ernst and Young.
He added a note of caution. “The infrastructure that the government puts in place will have to be robust and prepared for business continuity in case of any eventuality.”
Several government departments have already begun some level of digitization.
The income-tax department gives citizens the option to file returns electronically, and the Registrar of Companies has made digital filing of returns such as annual reports and balance sheets compulsory for 9 lakh companies.