E-GOVERNANCE AND TELECOMMUNICATION
The Government of India has declared the year 2001 as the year of e-governance. E-governance means the application of information technology in various government activities to provide better services to the citizens. With the focus on 2001 as the year of e-governance, many State governments have taken up this challenge very seriously and there is a healthy competition today among them.
India has always had a chronological divide. India is like a snake whose head is in the 21st century and the tail in the 17th century. It has always been a multi-speed India. Thanks to the information technology, there is an opportunity in this century to make India a single speed modern country in tune with the 21st century.
Information technology is ultimately coming together of computers and communications. Therefore, telecommunications is vital for e-governance. That is why the government policies are now designed to encourage making e-governance an operational reality. Six Cs are important to achieve better e-governance. These six Cs are - Computer density, Connectivity, Content, Cyber laws, Cost and Common sense.
As for computer density, the Government of India accepted the first report of the National Task Force on Information Technology and initiatives have now been taken to make computers more easily affordable. The second important aspect is connectivity and that is where telecommunication comes in. The telecom policies of the Government by encouraging the private sector provide an opportunity by which companies in the private sector as well as government organisations like Railways, Power Grid and Electricity Boards can provide the bandwidth needed in the form of optic fibre networks. Connectivity would take a quantum jump in the current year. The third aspect is content and it is here that the Government can use imaginatively the unemployed youth to put in computer readable form of all government orders, regulations and forms so that the access to information and also transactions become easier for the citizen through the computer. The fourth C is cyber laws. The Government of India must be congratulated for being the second government in Asia and twelfth in the world to have a separate Information Technology Act. This goes a long way in ensuring that the shift from paper based governance to e-governance is not stymied because of the lack of legal framework. The fourth C is cost. In the last two budgets, the Finance Minister paid special attention to the needs of the information technology industry and practically all the incentives which the industry had demanded have been given by the Government. Hence, so far as the cost aspect was concerned, Government has taken action to see that IT based solutions become affordable.
The beginning of the 21st century has been so much dominated by information technology (IT) that the joke is that in the dictionary all words will now start with the letter "e". Perhaps existence itself will now become e-existence. It is, therefore, not surprising that everybody is talking about e-governance. A little reflection, however, will show that there is a lot common between information technology and governance. Governance involves processing a lot of information and also ensuring that decisions taken are fair and objective. It is the need to ensure objectivity that results in red tape because the Government has to keep records and accessing of records become a problem. If the system is based on paper, as most of the systems now are, the time taken to access information is very high. It is possible to reduce the time taken by using intelligent systems but still so long as precedents have to be traced and access to information is based on files, there is bound to be delay.
On the other hand, IT, particularly computers and communication are designed for speedy processing, and that too, speedy processing of massive data. Information retrieval also becomes almost instantaneous. As in governance, there is a very old function and in information technology, a very new technology, which seems to answer some of the perennial problems and complaints about the government.
Andhra Pradesh has championed the concept of smart government. The smart government stands for Small, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent government. The question before us is can the application of IT in government functions lead to not only e-governance but also smart governance? There is no doubt that a smart government can be had through intelligent application of IT.
A healthy development is seen in some government departments. The computerisation of railway reservation system is a case in point. With the same staff, nearly double the work is now handled. Thus, the objective of small government can be achieved by intelligent use of IT.
A moral government is one, which is less corrupt. IT can help in checking corruption. Today, corruption has become a national menace. The Transparency International in its Report of 2000 mentions that so far as Corruption Perception Index is concerned India ranks 69 out of 90 countries. The Human Development Report 1999 published by Mahbub ul Haq Centre, Islamabad says that if corruption level in India can be brought down to that of Scandinavian countries, the foreign direct investment will go up by 12 per cent and GDP growth rate will go up by 1.5 per cent.
Corruption is flourishing in the country because of - scarcity of goods and services; lack of transparency; complicated rules and red tape which encourage corruption through speed money; legal cushions of safety created for the corrupt people under the very healthy assumption that everybody is innocent till proved guilty, and tribalism or biradari between the corrupt. We talk about people being thick as thief not thick as honest people.
It is therefore logical to see that if each of these five causes of corruption can be tackled by IT, then to certain extent one must be able to check corruption.
It is a known fact that delay in procedures and lack of speed in decision making is breeding grounds of corruption. This immediately leads to the conclusion that with a wise use of information technology, one must be able to speed up the processes and to that extent reduce corruption. Imagine the velocity of business going up all over our government systems by using IT extensively. Automatically, the present temptations for corruption and the scope that exists for speed money will be greatly reduced.
The information technology can help in checking corruption by reproducing deliberately missing documents from the memory of the computers to prove a casein a court of law. Of course, this will also mean enacting cyber laws. Again there is a happy development that Government has already enacted the Information Technology Act 2000. So, even in effective punishment of corrupt, IT can bring a valuable input to bring the guilty to book.
What we need, today, is a greater display of imagination in locating causes for corruption and seeing how, in each, IT can help.
Using IT can enhance accessibility of government and in turn lead to greater accountability. Combined with a Freedom of Information Act, it is possible to use IT, as probably Andhra Government is doing, to put all government orders on the web-site and also have information kiosks where government offices can be easily accessed. Not only this, services to public also can be enhanced by access to public.
Responsiveness of the Government automatically increases because greater accessibility and accountability goes with a greater sense of responsibility. Transparency in the Government also helps a lot. For greater access to information, the web site experience of CVC helps in ensuring that the public at large can know what the Government is doing and how it is doing its job. SMART government is, therefore, possible through e-governance.
In an environment when the economic environment of countries are getting closely knit thanks to IT, there is a need for a common understanding of what constitutes crime. In the world of brick and mortar, only now the need for laws like money laundering is being realised and this is taking place at a slow pace. Fortunately for the IT sector, United National Conference on Information Technology Laws (UNCITRAL) has helped in creating at least a basic framework of certain definition of what constitutes for example digital signature and cyber crimes. The Indian IT Act is based on the UNCITRAL.
The increasing application of information technology in practically every aspect of the economy including banking was encouraged because of the ease of the increased velocity of business and consequently increased customer satisfaction as well as new opportunities for doing business.
One important feature of the Information Technology Act is that it recognises offences that could be committed in the era of information technology and has provided for penalties. For instance, Chapter XI identifies the crimes which are relevant so far as the banking sector is concerned. These are - Tampering with computer source documents (Section 65); Breach of confidentiality and privacy (Section 72); Publishing false digital signature certificate (Section 73) and Publication of digital signature for fraudulent purposes (Section 74)
An interesting and important feature of the I.T. Act 2000 is that it recognises the borderless nature of the world of the new knowledge economy Section 75 provides that the Act will apply for offences or contraventions committed outside India also. This is an interesting provision and at least from a legal point of view seems to give protection to the banking industry or for anybody connected with the e-commerce. How this provision will be reconciled with the concept of sovereignty of nations is a matter which probably needs to be clarified.
The various initiatives taken by the Government on the policy front of information technology and the interests shown by the various State governments are indeed commendable. This year 2001 will see e-governance become an operational reality in India laying the foundations for a better future for the country.
*Central Vigilance Commissioner