A visit to any Regional Transport Office (RTO) in the city is an indicator of how government-to-citizen interfaces work. While the frustrating, long queues and short-staffed counters were supposed to be addressed by e-governance initiatives, such hopes largely remain on paper.

Not many of those visiting the RTOs even seem to be aware of the Transport Department's e-services portal — http://transport.tn.nic.in/transport/ — which has been active for close to two years. “I had no idea that there was an online service portal,” said M.Elangovan, who was at RTO (South) for his son's driving licence. “I regularly pay Rs.10 at the booth outside the office to get various types of forms,” he added.

Such forms can be downloaded for free from the portal. One can also fix up an appointment with the Regional Transport Officer to get a license instead of waiting in long queues or use it to send in grievances.

Between January and March 2010, only 252 appointments were booked online in the Chennai zone. Of these, 47 were complied with and the remaining are ‘pending'. In the same period, the portal registered 42 grievances. All are pending.

“E-governance initiatives are launched in a symbolic way, but within a few months they die out. The Department has not made the service conspicuous enough. Nobody knows about it,” said M.K.Subramanian, Secretary of the Automobile Association of South India (AASI).

Kris Dev, co-founder of the Transparency and Accountability Network, said “e-governance is not just about downloading a form. What is required is a genuine tool that can interface the government and the citizen. A user must be able to keep track of the progress of his application and a transparent Management Information System (MIS) must publicly reveal the number of pending cases.”

The result of such systemic lapses is frustrated users like Rakesh Jain, who says he's being going to RTO (West) for the past 10 years and has not seen much change. “Even for a simple name transfer, one has to go through an agent. There are no helpline or guidance mechanisms.”

Stressing that a critical mass of users must first start using e-services that are meant to simplify processes, Transport Commissioner S. Machendranathan said “Efforts would be made to publicise the availability of such services at RTO offices. We will also consider incorporating some kind of escalation mechanism to alert superior officials about pending cases.”

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