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Bangalore: India is drafting new rules to avail the services of private information technology (IT) firms for a range of government functions such as collecting taxes or issuing birth certificates, allowing transactions to be conducted electronically or through mobile phones, which are more pervasive in the country than computers.

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The proposed rules bring out, for the first time, uniform national standards and policies to be adopted by the Centre and states for improved public-private partnership (PPP) in the delivery of e-governance services, analysts said.

The draft of the Information Technology (Electronic Service Delivery) Rules, 2009, to be included under section 6A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, was put online ( last week for public comment.

The rules are to be notified in the official gazette after discussion, which could take six-eight weeks, experts said.

India first drew up a cyber law policy to propel e-commerce and govern technology-related practices in 2000.

The move comes as both the Union and state governments are implementing computerization projects aimed at providing such services to people. The biggest of this is the national e-governance plan, or NEGP, with 27 integrated mission mode projects to be executed through the PPP model.

India’s two largest IT firms, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Infosys Technologies Ltd, have each won two NEGP projects that would allow them to offer for a fee services such as applying for a passport through manned kiosks or registering a company via online portals.

The government has earmarked $5 billion (Rs23,350 crore) to be spent over five years on NEGP projects, according to Springboard Research, a technology research firm.

“The biggest impact we would see is (more participation) of the private sector that would ultimately benefit the end consumer (citizens)," said Pavan Duggal, who heads the cyber law panel at the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, or Assocham, an industry lobby group. “It also includes delivering services through any type of technology—take mobiles, even social media."

India has nearly 550 million mobile subscribers, which means one in every two Indian owns a mobile device. In contrast, the total installed base of computers as of May was 36 million, according to technology researcher IDC.

Since then, at least four million additional computers have been sold.

The new rules provide state governments a model to allow government transactions through private partners; for issuing and managing digital signatures for transacting online or through mobile phones, and storing the records for regulatory purposes.

“It lays down standards and procedures (for e-governance transactions)," said George Paul, executive vice-president at HCL Infosystems Ltd. “Once there are standards, it invites more (private) people to participate."

HCL has built a statewide network in Punjab connecting the treasury and accounts departments with the excise, taxation and transport wings as well as municipal corporations, among others.

HCL is also running a pilot for distribution of payments to workers in rural areas under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or NREGA, which promises 100 days of employment for one person from each poor family from the villages.

“The 10 years (since the Act was formed) are not wasted," Paul said. “During this period, lot of e-governance projects have happened. We have learnt of lot of things, gained experience and know what works and what doesn’t. That knowledge is important to define standards."

Several states such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh already have public-private partnerships for the payment of utility bills and getting copies of land records.

But so far, the rules have been framed on a case-by-case basis for individual projects, as a comprehensive policy was lacking.

The new rules “will give government backing to those private service providers delivering government services", said N. Vijayashankar, a former member of the policy advisory group of the IT Act. “It will improve trust in them among people."

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