Delivering services to the common citizen in the digital mode remains a big challenge for the Central and State governments. Although the Department of Information Technology asserts that IT infrastructure has “largely” been put in place under the National eGovernance Plan, outcomes have been poor even for mission mode projects such as issue of passports. A lot of work will have to go into re-engineering government processes before the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 introduced in the Lok Sabha can start delivering results. The legislation covers the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir, and, like the Right to Information Act, aligns the States as well with the goal of serving the citizen better. The Bill mandates the delivery of public services or other services in the electronic mode, including receipt of forms and applications, issue or grant of licence, permit, certificate, sanction or approval and the receipt of monetary payments. It also provides for setting up central and State Electronic Service Delivery Commissions, an oversight mechanism that can potentially streamline the working of the bureaucracy.
Electronic governance infrastructure can serve as the backbone for delivery of services, but it cannot work a miracle in the absence of administrative reform. Making that point three years ago, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission called for a step-by-step analysis and assessment, from the standpoint of rationality and simplicity, of every service that a government organisation provides. The elimination of unnecessary steps, simplification of others, and re-engineering of the process to ensure suitability for e-governance must follow. Government departments tend to adopt notoriously cumbersome procedures, often demanding basic documents multiple times. Only if this system and mindset are overcome can the new law start providing e-services within five years of its commencement. Equally important, government must use a common data standard for uniformity and interoperability. While that task requires a fair amount of work, some electronic services can be launched well before the deadline. This is possible where transactions do not require all legacy data to be made compatible. It is welcome that specific e-services to be covered are required to be published within six months of the Bill becoming law, and progress updates provided annually. The public outcry against corruption has brought forth some measures to eliminate rent seeking and lack of accountability from a government under pressure. Now, it must show sufficient political resolve to deliver.