January 2006

e-Governance impacts Gujarat

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In Gujarat, e-Governance has definitely come in handy insofar as reduction of corruption and significant increase in the state's tax revenue is concerned. A team of techno-savvy bureaucrats have finally succeeded in bringing corruption under check and consequently increasing state's tax revenues through the effective usage of computers and other electronic devices at some 10 remote interstate border checkposts. Significantly, Gujarat has an extensive road network, which carries a large volume of commercial traffic. Nearly 25,000 transport vehicles enter daily through these checkposts.

Until now in Gujarat, inspection of 100% of commercial vehicles had been impossible with checkpost inspectors being notoriously corrupt. The drive to curb the number of overloaded vehicles has only proved to be ineffective. In order to maximise their earnings from each vehicle, Trucking companies have prompted transporters to load their trucks beyond permissible axle load thus creating a serious safety hazard. In Gujarat's traditional checkpost system, a suspect vehicle is flagged to a stop, and then weighed on a weighbridge located away from traffic. The legal penalty for overload is Rs 2,000 per tonne.

A new approach
The State Transport department firstly introduced SMART card drivers' licenses. The next IT project included the use of computers and communication networks to collect fines from overloaded vehicles. In the computerised process, all the checkposts are monitored at a central location using video cameras installed at every checkpost cabin. The video camera captures the registration number of all trucks approaching the checkpost (There are floodlights and traffic lights which make the checkposts appear like a runway at night.). Software converts the video image of the registration number to a digital form and the details of the truck are accessed from a central database. An electronic weighbridge captures the weight and the computer automatically issues a demand note for fine.

Drivers can use a stored value card for payment. Future plans include integrating payment of sales tax on the goods carried by the vehicles.

Implementation Challenges
The new system has teething problems. Currently, the central database is being created, and for many vehicles it still does not hold the requisite details. Hence, the operator uses his judgment and, depending on the make of the vehicle, selects the permissible weight from a drop-down selection box.

Gujarat has an extensive road network, which carries a large volume of commercial traffic. Nearly 25,000 transport vehicles enter daily through these checkposts. Before computerisation, inspection of 100% of commercial vehicles had been impossible with checkpost inspectors being notoriously corrupt.

The leased line (64 KBPS) connectivity is currently available at only 2 checkposts (Shamlaji and Bhilad, the two largest one). The centralised video monitoring is therefore not working properly. In some checkposts, inspectors may still harass the drivers to extort bribes.

The writing and pattern of license plates is often non-standard and not in compliance with the law. Hence, the license tracking software has not worked properly (only about 35 out of 5,000 numbers were read accurately). Now, trucks with non-standard number plates are required to replace them at the checkpost.

Initially, the system issued manual receipts with limited information since the automatic receipt generated by the computer, without a signature of the officer, was not legally valid. With passage of the IT Act 2000, the RTO's signature has been digitally incorporated on the receipt. Data on the number of vehicles crossing the checkpost suggests that some vehicles have begun to divert through longer routes in adjoining states to avoid the penalty. Implementing similar systems in other states could plug the loophole.



Benefits and Costs       
The new system has produced three-fold increase in tax collection over 2 years. Revenue increased from US$12mn to US$35mn, paying back the total project cost of US$4mn in
just 6 months. On average, vehicles are cleared in 2 minutes instead of 30 in the manual system. Harassment of truckers continues, abetted by the problems with the video monitoring system. The large and medium transport owners are happy with the system because they can come to know the exact date and time their driver passed the checkpost. The pre-paid card means that the driver does not have to carry much money.

Critical Success Factors
The success of the project depends on several factors that include role of top political leadership i.e. the Chief Minister, skilful management of special interest by bureaucrats, reducing discretion to the minimum, education of clients (drivers and transporters), and intergration with other departments such as Sales Tax etc.

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