May-June 2005

Government@net – new governance opportunities for India

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Kiran Bedi, Parminder Jeet Singh, Sandeep Srivastava
2001; Sage Publications India Pvt ltd, New Delhi
374 Pages; Price INR 320
ISBN 0-7619-9569—2 (US- PB); 81-7829-054-5 (India- PB)

“Bringing the Internet and governance together means bringing the greatest technology of our times to bear on the most fundamental concerns of our Society” – (Quoted from the book)

Government@net authored by the country’s known IPS officer Dr. Kiran Bedi, along with  another IPS officer Parminder Jeet Singh, and Sandeep Srivastava, CEO of IYCworld.com is an  excellent effort to present the opportunities offered by Information Society Technologies in  reforming the process of governance. The language of the book is so simple that even a layman  having no technical background can also understand the need for ICT usage in the  process of governance. Additionally, the book also portrays the Internet as a great democratic  tool and an economic enabler.

Though the book was written in the year 2000-2001 and we have seen great changes in the  fields of Internet and e-Governance arena since then, the authors have been able to provide a  holistic view, at least theoretically, as to how the use of Internet may emerge as a compulsory  mechanism for efficient and participatory governance processes. The only caution to the  readers is that they should check up the latest figures wherever statistical data regarding  usage and applications of Internet is provided in the book.

The book has been organised into 14 chapters. The first two chapters provide an introduction    to the Internet in a very philosophical manner describing Internet and governance as meant for each other by their very neutral democratic nature and sheer enormity of size, thus enabling the realisation of “me government” wrapped around the personal needs of the citizens rather than wrapped up as per the wishes of governors. In the first chapter, the authors have described the history of evolution of communication technologies and their role in shattering the age-old control systems. After discussing the problems of access of information needs of the citizens for providing effective feedback for government, control and efficiency issues for governments, the authors have presented Internet as the solution to these issues. The authors describe the present system as the stopgap governance that responds only in emergency situations, and see the opportunity in ICTs to change the situation forever.

The third chapter explains the power of the Internet and the advantages of using Information Society Technologies for governance. Chapters four and six discuss local knowledge communities and citizen centric governance while chapter five is dedicated to describing the opportunities for government intervention in areas of basic needs. Chapters seven through 11  describe how government agencies can use the Internet innovatively to deliver services to the  citizens. Chapter 13 is regarding the roadblocks and challenges governments are likely to  face while moving on the path of e-Government. The last chapter is dedicated to tie up the  thoughts presented in the entire book to develop a possible future approach for India.

The authors in their introduction to the subject have stressed that e-Governance would   actually mean more governance (e-Democracy) and not less governance. The book provides a holistic and effective framework of e-Governance. Says Dr. Bedi, “Governments are needed to provide services and e-Governance will make it possible to give prompt, honest, and visible service”. Quoting an example from her own area of work i.e. Indian Police Services, Kiran Bedi explains that if an aggrieved citizen wants to lodge a first information report [FIR], he need not go to the police station but file it on the Internet. This would take away the power of the police officer to refuse to file a FIR, which is so often the case. According to co-author Sandeep Srivastava, “e-Governance is a government structure which is efficient and effective and is duly controlled by its citizens”. The titles of various chapters of the book are very interesting and present the entire gamut of e-Government technologies, intricacies,knowledge  management and other areas in a very simple manner   comprehendible by readers with a non-technical background.

The book takes the best practices from all over the world. Experiments like the Warna Wired  Village Project in Maharashtra, the Gyan Doot Project in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh,  Friends Project in Kerala and many more are using Internet not as an elitist  medium but as a social phenomenon that has the power to touch the day-to-day lives of every  Indian. The book inspects the constraints that define the present government systems, and  attempts to explore how new Internet-based ICTs can remove these constraints and offer  opportunities for the delivery of government services to all sections of the society.

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