The introduction of Information Technology (IT) has affected many noticeable differences in trying to fulfil everyday needs for both the rural and urban community. Rail ticket bookings are probably the most visible example. The Regional Transport Offices (RTO) have computerised their registration procedures. Ration card processes take minimal time due to computerisation. Farmers can browse through the Internet and search for state-of-the-art farming techniques and even market prices. IT also paves the way for research in any given field. Even small shops and offices are now installing computers with some homegrown software.
In the context of India, in particular, investments in e-Governance have been rising. The Government of India invested INR 15 billion in e-Governance initiatives in 2002. By the end of 2004 the spend on e-Governance was up 23 percent and touched an estimated INR 22 billion. Clearly, the jump in expenditure towards these projects is a major push for initiatives within the country as well as a vital indication of the efficacy of Public-Pri-vate Partnerships (PPPs).
Need for e-Governance in India
e-Governance is one way of making India a stronger force to reckon with. Through e-Gov-ernance, and more specifically through effective PPPs, one could reach people at the grassroots level and start building from there. When you empower a person by providing her/him with solid ground to stand firmly on, you make them more self-sufficient and responsible. Making them aware of their potential is the first step towards their empowerment.
Funds, technology and services are tools that help them move forward. Technology needs can be provided locally by the private sector. The benefits of doing so have been tried and tested to show effective results in other countries as well. There can be a synergy achieved between the private and public sector that contributes to growth – the government acts as the regulator and sets up an infrastructure, and the private sector acts as the provider of technology to create that infrastructure. This combined synergy leads to productive solutions. The IT task force report calls for a yearly export target of USD 50 billion (INR 2000 billion) in IT software and services by 2008. Recognising that IT is a ‘frontier area of knowledge, and a critical tool for assimilating, processing and effectively promoting all other spheres of knowledge’, the task force report calls for a national campaign for universal computer literacy. According to the report, the Government intends to promote IT in rural India, use Indian languages for computers (localisation issues), and promote indigenous technologies.
More recently the spread of e-Governance initiatives has had a positive impact on the quality of governance, though their number and reach is still limited. In the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, some 30 info-kiosks run by local soochaks, or operators, make available over a dozen government services, records and certificates to people in and around 600 villages. Similarly the computerisation of land records in several states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh has made it easier for people to obtain key documents with ease.
Funding, a key issue in e-Governance projects, becomes easier when the public and private sector come together. NGOs can play a valuable role in mobilising social support for universal education and for creating the right teaching material and environment. e-Governance should be used to promote private-public sector partnerships in developmental work and to test delivery mechanisms. It is already being applied in various administrative works and has proven to be cost-effective.
Even before formally adopting the Tenth Five Year Plan in 2002, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, “We have to forge public-private partnerships in the widest possible range of activities in both physical and social infrastructure to leverage private sector resources and skills for development”. In his speech the PM urged all concerned Central and State ministries and the National Development Council (NDC) to participate in the task force. There is a lot of stress being placed on these partnerships because of the value addition they provide to people, and ultimately, to the economy. Some of the important issues that need to be addressed with regard to PPPs are:
1. The various models for public-private cooperation
The government and private sector must meet regularly and discuss appropriate models suited for a particular scenario. There has to be a thorough weighing of ideas, brainstorming and judging of the pros and cons of any suggested model. The model must favour effective development, short-term and long-term, and at the same time be viable and cost-effective.
2. The role that the government should play for facilitating the private sector torapidly develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Once a project is initiated by the government, it must have complete support and backing by the government. The regulatory body of the government must ensure that policies and procedures are well defined and properly implemented so as to encourage the private sector to do business in an effective manner. There must be clear levels of accountability and transparency to deter misuse and mismanagement of the defined policies and procedures.
3. How private sector initiative and enterprise could be encouraged andchannelised for achieving maximum benefits
In terms of providing technological services, there is no dearth in the private sector. With so much competition, there is an increase in the quality of these services, which would ultimately be best for the people. Also, nowadays there are so many entrepreneurs with some ‘big idea’ or the other. By taking advantage of these abilities and capabilities, countries such as India could stride forward into the future. Moreover, with over 70 percent of the populace residing in rural areas, there could be good Return On Investment (ROI) for private sector companies if they provide the government and people with their cost-effective products and services.
4. How private sector companies could collaborate with each other to achieve win-win situations
Partnerships within the private sector stand excellent chances to be fruitful in providing better products/services. The outcomes possible as a result of these collaborations could range from better quality products, cheaper prices, to constant innovation. These factors also make the private sector a stronger force to deal with. Private sector enterprises have had more experience with e-Business models than the government. The government can benefit from their experiences
-successes as well as failures. The possibilities are endless.
Challenges in e-Governance
Enterprising e-Governance projects present their own set of challenges – unique and otherwise. One of the inherent problems of such initiatives is the problem of employment. With the advent of computerisation, manual labour has taken a beating. Over 70 percent of people live below the poverty line, and there is an estimated change of about 250 million jobs due to new technology being installed.
The most glaring challenge to setting up a system of effective e-Governance is awareness. After an idea or plan is conceived, it becomes imperative to make it known to the people who would be most affected – the poor. Otherwise it might come across as just another government initiative to them, and they would lose out on what is really taking place. By explaining to them and making them understand, one could get their confidence, which is a very important ingredient in the ‘development’ potion. Another challenge is to make people understand how this new technology would help them help themselves. Yet another challenge is to convince communities that their standard of living would be improved through these solutions. This might seem tough, with India being the land of extremities.
What we need to do is bridge extremities, and the only way to do that is to make both extremes meet halfway. Any kind of development leads to change – in institutional operations, people’s lifestyle and attitude. While some may be ready to embrace these changes, many remain sceptical and often doubt the effectiveness of such radical change, even if they are for the better. Hence, the changed processes would have to be properly understood, accepted and adopted to ensure effective development. The strength that private partners bring to the table is in providing cost-effective and intelligent solutions for the implementation of needs related to e-Governance.
This writer is optimistic about India being self-sufficient in technology, and the government being supportive or focused on rural development. The potential for the rural community is limitless and the opportunities for the private and public sector to make measurable changes together are huge. e-Governance will stand to be the catalyst or tool to accentuate the growth of the rural community. Needless to say, the private players would be there.