Click on the dotted line and file returns

Updated: Mar 27 2006, 05:30am hrs
As the ministry of company affairs logs into one of Indias largest e-governance projects, expect corporate India to don a digital avatar too. All transactions with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) will be in electronic mode in a couple of months. While this spells a transparent publicly accessible repository of information for India Inc, the tech world is busy celebrating the expected boom in digital security market.

Digital signatures, for one, are expected to see a 10-fold growth in the next two to three months. Insiders expect significant growth in cryptography-based applications too.

Estimates peg the demand of about 20 lakh digital signatures from directors and other authorised signatories of the seven-lakh registered companies in India. To put this in perspective, Indians have acquired no more than two lakh digital signatures in the last six years since the IT Act was incorporated.

Filing and registration of documents, a statutory requirement under the Companies Act, will go electronic under the MCA-21 initiative. The ministry has built a portal that will be the entry point for online registration, filing of returns, reporting financial results and requests for permissions by businessestheir number has grown from 30,000-plus companies in 1956 when the ministry was formed to about 7 lakh today. Such e-filing is prevalent in countries like US, UK, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore, but no one has a holistic end-to-end approach compared to India, says Tata Consultancy Services global government industry group head, Tanmoy Chakrabarty.

The first portal was launched in Coimbatore last month, and last week saw Delhi go live. Within two months, corporations all over the country will no longer need to visit the Registrar of Company offices and would be able to interact with the ministry using the MCA-21 portal from their offices or home or by going to the facilitation centres, which have been set up.

With a main data centre in Delhi and a back-up business continuity server in Chennai, all the 24 offices (four regional directorates and 20 RoCs will be networked. We will also set up 53 temporary physical front offices (PFO) to facilitate the filing of documents in electronic form, adds Mr Chakrabarty, promising handholding support for small and medium businesses.

MCA-21:E-Governance In Action

Get Digital Signature Certificate
Your identity on the Internet
Step 1: Enable active X-controls in your browser and create a user account on Internet
Step 2: Enroll for a digital certificate
Step 3: Complete paper document process and make payments
Step 4: Download digital certificate
Enroll on MCA portal for Directors Identification Number:
A unique and lifetime identification number being issued to all current and prospective directors.
Mandatory for all directors to interact with the ministry.
Download form from the MCA21 portal and e-file
How companies gain
eFile returns and other statutory compliance related filing
View public documents v Request certified copies
Register investor complaint
Track transaction data
How MCA gains
Track companies defaulting on compliance of corporate laws
Provide for cross-referencing of financial statements of companies filed with the MCA and other regulatory bodies.
Help lenders in their credit evaluation process

For starters, digital signatures, in the foreseeable future, are not likely to involve scribbling with electronic pens on interactive notepads. Your signature is likely to be a simple bit of encryption embedded in your PC or on a flash memory drive that tells other computers that your request for a commercial transaction over the Internet is coming from your computer. Like a written signature, it guarantees that the individual sending the message really is who he or she claims to be. To be effective, digital signature must be beyond forgery.

The IT Act 2000 provides the legal sanctity to digital signatures based on asymmetric cryptosystems. In India, seven certifying authorities (CAs) issue digital signature certificates for electronic authentication of users Safescrypt, TCS, MTNL, NIC, IRDBT, customs & central excise and code solutions CA (GNFC). For an individual user, it could cost about Rs 1,000 or higher while corporates can expect bulk discounts for 25 or more users.

For e-filing, all companies registered with the Registrar of Companies have to procure legally valid digital signature certificates. And once they have their digital signatures in place, they might start using it for more applications, opines SafeScrypt general manager, Shivangi Nadkarni.

Compliance is expected to become a catalyst in pushing cyber-authentications find many more applications in the corporate world.

Web surfers and e-mail users might soon start putting a digital version of their signatures on more documents and transactions.

And the industry is working overtime on providing that extra push that could help digital signature go mainstream.