Prakash Kumar, IT Secretary, Delhi Government, elaborates about e-Government initiatives in Delhi
In recent years the role of the state in reaching out to its citizens has been largely evaluated on the basis of the degree of comfort the citizens have in accessing government services. Gone are the days when disclosure of information and public accountability were part of academic discussion. Today governments are increasingly taking the lead in furnishing information and providing services to its citizens. Information and communication technologies have further eased the problem of reach by acting as cost effective viamedia. In this regard, Delhi government is one of the few state governments that seem to have realised the power of information technology in improving the quality of life of their citizens. In the past few years, Delhi government has executed creditable work in integrating/ automating services from various government departments, and making government forms and documents available online (with an online grievance redressal mechanism coming soon).
Ranked among the top ten e-Government portals on the national level, Delhi is fast moving towards a leadership position in implementing e-Government and providing services through its citizen-centric single window web portal www.delhigovt.nic.in. Through the initiative the government is working towards supplying information and citizen services with a vision that states:
“If a person cannot find the information relating to any government department or services online, it can be presumed that it is not available anywhere else.”
Though the statement may seem ambitious in the light of the prevalent culture in government organisations, the vision of the government and the efforts thus far are worthy of recognition. Following are the excerpts from an exclusive interview with Prakash Kumar, Secretary IT, Delhi government, who has been working relentlessly and innovatively in putting together and coordinating the efforts of various government departments in implementing electronic public services for the citizens of Delhi.
Q: From paper governance to electronic governance – what sort of change does that bring about? What was the idea behind the portal?
A: Clearly, Information that was kept in files and hard to find booklets is now easily available through the website. In addition, most of the services are being delivered online making the life of the citizens in the National Capital Territory and country’s capital much more comfortable. Unlike many other states, Delhi has multiple service providers. For example, health services are provided by the hospitals run by the Union government, State government, MCD, cantonment board, private organisations, and NGOs. The multiplicity of the authority makes it more difficult for the citizens as consumer of services to find exact information regarding the accountability and availability of services. Similar is the scenario with issue of certificates, licenses and many other citizens’ needs. The government portal was designed with the twin objective of providing information and services from 79 odd government department websites in a citizen centric manner.
Q: What has been the involvement of/ feedback from employees, and other stakeholders?
A: The electronic governance initiative triggered a chain of feedback from all the department officers, civil society organisations and various stakeholders. Keeping in view their feedback, the opinion of e-Governance experts, experience of other states / countries, the project to redesign the citizen services portal was started in April 2003. No doubt, all our efforts have been possible due to persistent efforts, political support and involvement of all the stakeholders especially government employees.
Q: At this stage what exactly is on offer for the citizens?
A: Firstly, information has been organised on Delhi government’s portal under the following broad categories:
• Application forms, certificates and licenses
• Online submission of 11 forms
• Environment, health and education information
• Property tax information, birth certificates, emergency services, etc.
• Vehicle registration, driving licenses, metro and railway info.
• Registration of all kinds such as marriage registration, sales tax registration, nursing home registration, etc.
• Ration cards, election, voting, passports
• Police, traffic departments
• Tourist related information
• Welfare schemes
• Daily rates of fruits, vegetable, grains
• Delhi subordinate services selection board
• Tender notices
The information on the website is available in English, and very soon it will also be available in Hindi. In case you are not able to find the service you are looking for from the home page, you may use the site map where the services are listed by categories. Moreover, almost all the departments of Delhi government have their independent websites, and many of them (74) also have clearly drafted citizen charters. Delhi is one of the few states that have enacted the Right to Information Act.
Q: While the earlier discussion on information availability has value, what can the citizen look forward to with regard to services?
A: In terms of online services available, the portal provides online form submission facilities for the following services. The final delivery though is still a mix of online and offline activities.
a) Online registration of new private vehicles
b) Information about old vehicles for buying/ selling purpose
c) Tender notice information system
d) Online filing of application for 11 select certificates like birth, death, marriage
e) Online booking of community halls, parks
Q: On introspection, what has been the progress on all of the above e-Government
A: We have been able to be more open in our administration and decision-making activities through online solutions. People would now be able to follow what we do and how we make decisions closely. I have used the approach of automating those areas first that are problem/worry areas for the employees. This has ensured positive response and active participation from employees in up scaling of the projects. We have been able to achieve our objectives, and I am satisfied with the progress thus far. In addition the turnaround time for government services has been reduced significantly by the online system .
Q: What are the e-Government priorities for your team? How happy are you with
the achievements of your department?
A: My priority, as IT secretary for the Delhi government, is to ‘create an information society for all’. Firstly, this means that government must create affordable access for all, which is a key issue for accessing government services. Secondly, Delhi government must support the creation of content services and applications keeping the citizen as the focal point. Thirdly, I am trying to support the creation of an interpreter application that can interpret databases from different departments and create a central database with common fields so that the interoperability between various applications may be achieved without having to redesign the services for a single window portal. The fourth issue to be addressed is security.
Q: What is the scope of Delhi government’s visioning of electronic governance? Any future plans that could be shared with the readers?
A: The role of e-Government in achieving goals of transparent and efficient governance is very important. A lot of government activities are based on documents and documentation. These can be digitised, dealt with, stored, and consulted online. This leads to enormous efficiency gain. It makes it possible to give better personal service to citizens, and at the same time, have more efficient public sector and government. For successful e-Government there needs to be both efficiency and equity. It is important that all have access. The experience to date shows that in e-Government solutions there is too much concentration on technology, on the front office, on the web site… and too little on reform of administration, on the back office side. To have a real e-Government solution that gives real benefits, there should be one interface – one portal through which citizens can deal with their government. Reform of public administration is necessary so that the back office, and all inter-department work and administration gets done seamlessly. Public administration needs to be reformed so that they work online, cut down hierarchies, and make it easier to consult each other. And for all of this, you need very strong leadership.
Q: For the benefit of the readers what have been some of the landmarks that the Delhi Governments has been able to achieve?
A: If I were to list it, it would be the following:
• First in the country to connect all sales tax offices and complete back office automation. We could achieve this because all the sales tax offices in Delhi are located in a single building.
• We have been able to complete back office automation in 20 offices of the government. Designated government officers from these departments update the data on the portal of the Delhi government every evening.
• The gaps in the collection of stamp tax from the sub registrar’s office have been covered based on the automation done there. This has led the government to initiate steps to fix minimum rates for land transaction in various parts of Delhi.
• Citizens can track the status of their applications with select departments through the portal, IVR (voice) and SMS. They can dial 23392339 for IVR facility.
• Land records for all rural areas of Delhi are available online. Citizens can access these from cyber cafés or home PC.
• One department that has completed automation, and merits mention is the Education department. The department received the Golden Award for exemplary leadership and ICT achievement of the year from the Government of India during the 8th National Conference on e-Governance, 2005 in Orissa. Here, functions from accounts, attendance, transfers, to employee salaries etc. are all online. Rajinder Kumar, Director Education, pioneered the efforts. The department was also the first to use GIS for planning of school locations.
• Registration of Societies, automation of court cases, health and blood bank services, 11 types of certificates are available under the citizen services initiative.
Q.And what about user take-up? Is the citizen response encouraging?
A: This is one are where the results have not been up to our expectations. There are some encouraging numbers for marriage certificates though I must admit that users from all walks of life are not using the online services the way we expect them to.
Q: Could you give some insight into ongoing projects and future plans?
• Services of many government departments will be made available through the Citizen Service Bureaus of MCD, 18 of which are already functional and another 100 are expected to be functional by the year-end.
• Development of software application to integrate all department databases underway.
• Election Photo Identity Card data to be used for integration of some of the databases on people.
• Call centre planned for citizen queries and monitoring redressal of grievances.
• All technical officers to be trained on e- Governance.
Q: What about issues of data retention and right to privacy?
A: My government pays utmost importance to data retention, security and citizens right to privacy of information. My department, in particular, gives utmost importance to security and data protection issues. For this purpose, the department has put in place a comprehensive security and audit policy with the help of CDAC, Noida.
It is evident from Delhi’s performance that citizens having access to the Internet will have many services online and would be able to avoid long queues at government offices. In all fairness it is hoped that for the rest Delhi government seriously considers setting up citizen service centres. Additionally, it would be interesting to see what initiatives the government takes to enhance the take-up of services, as investments in developing online services cannot be considered achievements in themselves unless long term sustenance and user take-up is ensured. What could be affirmed though is the seriousness with which Delhi is moving towards true e-Governance.