Use of ICT in government has come a long way from early days of computerisation. The challenge now is to ensure content in local languages and reliable connectivity
Satendra Singh, Secretary (IT), Government of Jharkhand
The first phase of ICT intervention in government was digitising or back office operations, which made it easier for the operations that were still being done manually. Following this phase, processing speed was improved and hassles reduced. In the next phase, focus was laid on processes and we saw considerable speeding up of many government processes. The third phase involves delivery of services which would become easier and time bound. Now the various state governments are implementing the Public Service Delivery Act, which mandates the delivery of services to the public within a certain time-frame.
Many times, these frameworks are developed by the IT department but the services are to be delivered by other departments. Due to lack of will, coordination, and communication, implementation does not match intent and as a result the public suffers. One such example is the State Service Delivery Gateway (SSDG) project, which is a centrally funded project through DIT, MCIT, which envisages the services to be delivered in an electronic way. But this Bill requires an intent notification from the departments specifying the services they intend to make available online. In the absence of proactive action from user departments, it is difficult to prepare the technical framework for implementation. The Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) Bill presently under discussion in the central government mandates that every department should notify within a certain period of time what all services they want to deliver electronically. The Government of Jharkhand has enacted its own ESD Act in September. The Act has been circulated to all departments and it has been made mandatory for all departments to notify within six months the services they will move to the electronic mode.
Availability of useful and useable content is the biggest challenge to the effective use of ICT in governance and development
Issues and Challenges
Availability of useful and useable content is the biggest challenge to the effective use of ICT in governance and development. Even for transaction-based services, content is important. For example if in a particular service all the content is in English then it is difficult for a large number of people to use it.
The e-District project has been launched in Jharkhand where all the certificates are being given online. Applications are collected at the Panchayat level and they are collectively transmitted to the relevant authorities. The certificates are then prepared with digital signatures and sent back to the Panchayats and whoever has applied for a certificate can then collect it from there. The application has been developed as a bilingual one and till now we have issued around 5,000 certificates. And the point to note here is that most of the certificates have been issued in Hindi. This is something that we have to keep in mind – any application has to be in local language for it to be truly effective.
The other issue that we faced is of connectivity. For any project involving online transactions, good and reliable connectivity is one of the prerequisites for success. Ensuring connectivity in rural areas often remains a challenge.
Another issue is of capacity building of the village level or Panchayat level workers. When we started training workshops for the project, we found that 80 percent of them had not even seen a computer in their life. These are challenges one will face in any large-scale project and it is important that steps to handle these are built into the programme design.