Using IT to deliver public services How we can and why we must

Written by Ranesh Nair | Ranesh Nair | Isher Judge Ahluwalia | Updated: Jul 29 2010, 02:48am hrs
Standing in long lines to pay our bills at a government department or agency and being at the receiving end of the apathy of a public servant across the desk is a familiar experience to most city dwellers. But there is good news from some cities on how e-governance or use of IT in city administration is making a difference to the delivery of public services in urban India.

Andhra Pradesh was the first to use e-governance for better administration. Following a pilot launched in 1999 in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, a much larger scale eSeva was launched in August 2001. The centres of eSeva provide over 150 services, e.g., online facilities for birth and death certificates, passport application submission, voter card issue, bus pass issue, payment of electricity bills, water bills, motor vehicle tax, house tax, telephone bills, insurance premium and money transferall at one location.

There are 312 such centres functioning from 8am to 8pm on working days and 9am to 1pm on holidays. Every municipal town in the state has at least one eSeva centre. SMS alerts to citizens and fines on departments that cause delays, are means through which service delivery standards are being improved further.

The efficiency of e-governance is hugely enhanced by the fact that the back end computerisation is as high as 80% in Hyderabadthe highest of any city in India. This means that the servers of the different government departments and the private service centres are connected with the portal of the state government. In the absence of such back-end connectivity, the missing links have to be bridged by service process re-engineering, including some manual stepping in.

The service centres work on a public private partnership (PPP) framework. The Andhra government provides building space and furniture, while the private partner, as service provider, is responsible for manpower, front-end IT infrastructure, software, maintenance of hardware and general office expenses.

The service provider charges for services per transaction and the exact charges are discovered through a bidding process when the contract is awarded. At present, charges range from Rs 2 to Rs 5 per transaction for a service from G2C, and from Rs 5 to Rs 8 for a service from B2C. The private partner gets 80% of the service charge in the greater Hyderabad area, and 90% in all the other districts. Assuming that the public partner gets Re 1 per transaction, on average, this amounts to a monthly income of Rs 39 lakh for the government, since 1,30,000 transactions are recorded every day.

A World Bank study shows a marked improvement in the perception of the quality of service delivered through eSeva: a score of 4.66 (close to very good) compared with 3.39 (slightly better than satisfactory) in the pre-eSeva regime.

Bangalore has a similar program of e-governance, Bangalore One. A one-stop shop with 65 service centres, Bangalore One is in its 6th year of operations, serving 1.1 million citizens every month. More than 30 centres are open 24x7x365.

Bangalore One is also a PPP between the Department of e-Governance, government of Karnataka and CMS Computers Ltd. Fee to the vendor is structured in a manner which provides him with an incentive to increase the number of transactions. The fee ranges from as little as Rs 2 for booking tickets to Rs 250 for the online filing of income tax returns (which is still less than the Rs 300 charged by the Income Tax Department).

A recent evaluation by IIM (Bangalore) of Bangalore One reported a 97.5% reduction in corruption. A significant increase in collections for traffic fines also demonstrated the willingness of citizens to visit and pay at a customer service centre with better ambience rather than at a court or a police station.

Bangalore has put technology to excellent use in the collection of property taxes by using Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. As a result, Bangalores property tax collection shot up from Rs 440 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 780 crore in 2008-09 and further to Rs 1,000 crore in 2009-10.

Ahmedabad and Surat are also forging ahead with e-governance for better service delivery. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporations city civic centres have won the award for International Best Practices 2004 at Melbourne for e-governance. Launched in September 2002, the number of transactions has increased 5 times. Coming on the heels of the property tax reform of 2001, a huge improvement in the convenience of paying property taxes at the city civic centres, has resulted in a sharp increase in property tax collection from 38% of the demand in 2002 to 80% of the demand in 2008. Property tax and vehicle tax payments can be made in 10 minutes. Birth and death certificates can be procured in 2 days. More generally, complaints filed online are directly received by the Commissioner and are automatically directed to the concerned officers. The status is known immediately and attended to within 24 hours in a majority of the cases.

Surat, which won the national e-governance award for 2007-08, runs 16 city civic centres. From the date of opening the first civic centre in May 2003 till date, more than 73 lakh transactions have taken place. The procurement of goods and services was brought on to e-tender system in 2007 and about 873 e-tenders have been successfully floated, processed and awarded till date. A special touch screen service is available at 11 locations at public places in English and Gujarati at zero cost to users not familiar with computers. In the short span of over a year, these kiosks have registered over 36,000 hits.

The capital city of Delhi was late in joining the train but did so in February, 2009 with Jeevan, a tripartite partnership of Delhi Administration, State Bank of India and 3i Infotech to bring e-governance to the delivery of public services. In just over a year, 369 out of a total of planned 520 customer service centres have come up, offering over 100 services including tax payments, utility bill payments, marriage registration, employment exchange, air and rail tickets, movie tickets and insurance. While 95 centres have been set up by the Delhi government, the remaining 274 have been given on a franchise model by 3i Infotech. The centres are open from 8am to 8pm on all days including Sundays. The emphasis is on G2C services and the high demand for e-governance is reflected in 15 lakh transactions that have been conducted in the course of a year and a half.

These success stories have led the Government of India to initiate a nationwide e-district project under the National e-governance Plan. The project aims to e-enable the delivery of high volume public services by creating a robust and scalable infrastructure. It is then for the local governments with the help of State Data Centres and State Wide Area Networks to tap into this e-infrastructure and walk the last mile.

Isher Judge Ahluwalia is chair of Icrier and chair of the high powered expert committee on urban infrastructure. Ranesh Nair is a consultant to the committee. Views are personal

This is the 7th in a monthly series on urban infrastructurepostcardsofchange@expressindia.com