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Vote... from home

On the polling day in Delhi, visiting E-Envoy of the UK, Andrew Pinder tells SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY that the day is not far when British citizens would cast their ballot in general elections online.

Making a point... UK's E-Envoy Andrew Pinder in New Delhi. — Photo: S. Arneja

ON A trip to India for the first time, E-Envoy of the British Government, Andrew Pinder happens to be in New Delhi on the polling day.

"The city looks beautiful," he comments. Well, better he remains in the dark to the fact that polling day being a holiday has its plus points here - few men and machine on roads and so, a clearer view of the landscape. Good enough to impress a first-timer to the National Capital, isn't it?

Setting the turf to make Prime Minister Tony Blair's e-agenda a reality by turning all services in the UK online by 2005, Pinder naturally is not short of queries about how "the Indian system" functions. In fact, during his four-day official visit to Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, he would meet key Indian e-government and industry figures to "share experiences" with them on e-governance.

"About one-third of the services in the UK are already through Internet. We also had online municipal elections in some places. The mission was quite successful," he avers. Voting during general elections in England, he says, would one day be online minus the queues at the booths.

"But it is going to take some time. We need to amend our laws which say that a voter has to be in polling booth," says this former head of Citibank's European Operations and Technology. Elaborating on the services available to a common citizen through Internet at present, the official says information about all jobs in the UK is on the Net now. The written test, which finally decides issuance of a driving licence in England, can now be taken online. "Information about property, schools in the neighbourhood, hospital appointments, passport application, business transactions, government policies, you name it and we have it online. This is our government's endeavour," he adds.

A rather amazed Pinder on knowing that a passport status can be checked through Net in India, that electricity and telephone bills can be paid online etc, says his team in England are at present, working on authentication of the users of the websites. "But, it is much easier in the UK as it has records of each and every resident," he compares it with India.

Besides, for him, in a country where 58 per cent of adults over 18 years are Internet-friendly, where 48 per cent of households have PCs, piloting the e-agenda is much easier. India is progressing well in this field, one agrees, but we are way behind in sealing the loopholes and thereby not been able to win an ordinary user's confidence.

Meanwhile, Pinder wants to utilise his last day in Delhi "looking around the city". Let's hope that he does not alter his opening line.

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