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From line to online

January 24, 2003 20:08 IST

With several e-governance projects initiated by the Maharashtra government, the people of the state are moving closer to becoming totally wired citizens.

Nikita Agarwal

Several e-governance initiatives underway in the state should soon make most government services available online. A good sign for citizens who can say goodbye to serpentine queues and red tapism.

Electronic governance can be defined as giving citizens the choice of when and where they access government information and services. The advantages are plenty: higher degree of transparency, lesser paperwork, less delay, improved pace and effectiveness of governance to name a few.
"We aim to make the state a Maha-IT-rashtra," says Mukesh Khullar, Secretary (IT), Mantralaya. "The Mission statement of the IT policy promulgated in 1998 is 'Empowerment through Connectivity'. The objective of this policy is to give to the citizens 'Anywhere, Anytime, Anyhow services'," he adds.

"Nearly 10,000 computers have already been installed in various government offices. Further PC penetration is taking place at a rapid pace and it is expected that the number may double by next year. There are more than a thousand email users in the state. Almost 100 to 150 users are added every month and our networks encounter daily traffic of about 1500 emails," claims Khullar.

Online initiatives include the Pune Municipal Corporation
  (PMC), Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Brihan Mumbai Corporation (BMC), Nashik Municipal Corporation, Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) and the Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation (KDMC). They  have all developed Web sites offering various services online, removing the need to actually travel to a government office and rush from one department to another.

Navi Mumbai online focuses on complaint redressal

"The main focus of NMMC's e-governance initiative is the online complaint redressal system," says Satyajit Dwivedi, head of e-governance services, IRIS, the software consultancy that designs, creates and maintains these services for the NMMC.

The other major services offered are the tender management syste
m, a business center and a discussion forum for separate issues where members can login and participate.

"The municipal commissioner actually participates in these discussions and opinion polls
making this an exemplary system for others to learn from. It has changed the perspective of how forums should be used for e-governance," says Dwivedi. According to him, if grievances lodged by the citizens in the citizen charter are not addressed within the specified period, they are automatically taken to the next level. 

"There are hierarchies of people inspecting the civic management system for every 
'road bit' in Navi Mumbai. Pre-redressal and post-redressal reports are prepared along with photographs. Contractors can log into the system and view the progress," says Dwivedi.  All this spearheaded by Sunil Soni, municipal commissioner for Navi Mumbai and G V Rao, an ex-electrical engineer.

Soni does not intend this to be a facility for the elite only. He is planning to start a scheme in Navi Mumbai whereby the samaj mandirs will host Internet kiosks rented out to a person at a nominal rate. They will be responsible for making Internet access available to the common man at cheap rates. There will also be free Internet kiosks at citizen facilitation centers (CFC) to perform the basic transactions.

While the Internet and handheld devices are the final objective, a physical network of over-the-counter- processing centers will be the focal point initially, according to Khullar. "These would aim at providing the residents in the state prompt hassle-free service. This service should also be available at reasonable cost even beyond office hours."

Other e-governance efforts

Citizen facilitation centres known as SETU are to act as a bridge between citizens and the government. These single window counters provide routine services such as delivery of various permits and certificates, registration of letters and redressal of grievances. A few such centres have already been set up in collectorates of Thane, Pune, Latur, Nanded, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, Akola and Nagpur. No objection certificates and permits routinely required by the people have been identified and made available in less than 24 hours. It's online query system aids citizens track status of their applications.

The Public Works Department (PWD) has also been computerised. Online tracking of the large number of projects
and contracts at different locations is now possible. The official site of the PWD has reduced delays in granting permissions for laying pipelines or constructing buildings along a road. PWD has tied with mobile telephone operators to provide SMS alerts for new tenders. These messages are also accompanied by email to the registered clients. The site also provides information on traffic and rest house bookings via email.

The Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation
(KDMC) with the help of ABM Knowledgeware has identified a range of services that will be delivered at centres across Kalyan and Dombivili. This is a result of extensive back-end computerisation of all its departments like property tax, water supply, market and trade licenses and town planning.

The e-panchayat project in Hingoli
district is another important pilot. All accounting registers in the gram panchayats of this district have been computerised to bring total transparency. Proposals are afoot to replicate the model for all the gram panchayats in the state.

The Warna wired village
project links the diverse business activities in the village and provides information to people through computerised kiosks. It was started in 1998 with support from Government of India (GOM) and the Warna Vibhag Shikshan Mandal.

The project has resulted in a Web based information system on the agriculture produce market, agriculture schemes and crop technology, village information system, employment and self-employment schemes, educational and vocational guidance and many more. It allows wired management of sugar cane cultivation and marketing over the Intranet. Land records documents will also be made available through the system.

The Sales Tax Department
has initiated computerisation and 40 offices are to be covered under a project called Mahavikas. This will allow traders and businesses to file their returns online, expecting to improve government revenue collection and save time.

The daily cause list of the High Court is already available online. Computerisation of the district courts has been successful in 28 districts. Plans are at hand to computerise the workings of the entire district, family, industrial and cooperative courts.

The use of geographical information systems (GIS) in providing efficient utility services at
Nashik Municipal Corporation and property tax assessment at Ulhasnagar is underway. The GIS based urban information system is being implemented for the whole state.

Another project targets health as well as the women and child welfare. This will make effective interventions possible in improving health and sanitation and in
tele-medicine. The introduction of the hospital information system will expedite this process.

Public feedback

 "The effort so far has been very successful. All the departments are using the tender applications and have filed 90 odd tenders in record time. Lots of people are using it and most complaints have been addressed," claims Dwivedi. According to him, they are aiming at a completely integrated and paperless system within the NMMC in a few months.

The flip side of computerisation, like learning new skills and high costs is not a deterrent as people are willing, according to Dwivedi. "The main problem comes up due to connectivity problems in districts and villages. People must learn to adopt the online lifestyle," he adds. Soni too believes that acquiring new skills should not be too difficult because of the convenience aspect. 

Dwivedi says the state's initiatives should be taken seriously: "State governments must be willing to share their e-governance systems and adopt from each other. If Navi Mumbai has an excellent
grievance redressal system, there is no reason why another state should re-invent it. That way we could save costs."

Useful Links:
Complete list of e-government services
Technical papers on e-governance
E-governance feature
- E-governance and you
- Centre to support e-governance
- IBM's 'e-government Center'