e-Governance awards elude Kerala despite its proclaimed advancement in the area

Kerala’s pioneering role in the country in implementing e-Governance is one claim that the State government and its functionaries often highlight. However, the State has not always been able to match that claim with achievements when it comes to e-Governance – at least in terms of awards given away for innovative applications at annual national conferences on e-Governance. The tale was no different at the latest edition of the e-Governance national conference hosted by the State in Kochi recently.

Among the gold and silver awards given away for e-Governance applications in 11 categories, the State had just one award to show while Gujarat won four, Karnataka three and Madhya Pradesh had two awards in its kitty.

P. Bala Kiran, the director of Kerala State IT Mission, claimed that the failure to win awards was not an indication of the State’s inability to come up with innovative e-Governance applications. “The fact is that the State filed nominations in just a couple of categories out of the 11. We have been traditionally poor in filing entries and diligently following it up. In fact, our applications are more advanced than the ones that won awards at the conference. We will definitely make amends to better our track record in filing entries and pursuing it from next year,” Mr. Kiran told The Hindu.

But the IT industry players challenge the reasoning. They say the problem runs much deeper.

Anoop P. Ambika, the secretary of Group of Technology Companies, argued that less than 10 per cent of the citizens avail of e-Governance applications either owing to lack of awareness or because the applications were not user-friendly.

“The government while spending on e-Governance applications should also see to it that its citizens, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of those applications, come to know about them and, more importantly, are incentivised to actually use them. E-Governance is supposed to cut government expenditure and wastage of public funds and ensure corruption-free governance while improving the productivity of government employees. But that’s not happening now,” he said.

Joseph C. Mathew, IT adviser to the Chief Minister during the previous government, alleged that e-Governance starts and ends with e-district in the State and even that is not being implemented as originally planned. Even the 75-odd services readied for deployment by the National Informatics Centre were yet to be rolled out while the declaration of expansion of e-district is restricted to mere shifting of services already made available through FRIENDS counters, he accused. Sanjay Vijayakumar, the chairman of the Board of Governors, Startup Village, said while the progress made by the State in e-Governance had to be recognised, the fact was that the technology was growing at a pace faster than the government could respond.

“Besides, we have to stop benchmarking ourselves with other States that are actually trying to catch up with Kerala. “It’s time we compare ourselves with the best in the world, realise the gap and fill it. Startups have to be brought into the scheme in a big way to leverage the technology,” he said.

Within a few years, Kerala will be the first State where every family would have a smartphone. That coupled with Aadhaar penetration can bring about revolutionary changes in delivery of services and enable Kerala achieve its vision of being a digital State.

“But the kind of investments needed for that quantum jump in cutting-edge technology is beyond the scope of government and that calls for innovative public-private participation models,” Mr. Vijayakumar said.

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