Originally Published 2013-06-18 00:00:00 Published on Jun 18, 2013
The National electronic Governance Plan (NeGP) has more or less got all the right ingredients. It just needs to be mixed in the right proportions.
NeGP: Much ground covered, much remains to be covered
At best India today has islands of electronic governance. So no one can convincingly dispute the need for an integrated nationwide approach of providing digital governance services to all its citizens. Philosophically that's the basic principle guiding the National electronic Governance Plan, better known as the NeGP. The need to digitally link all citizen governance services and delivery systems was recommended by the 11th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Based on its recommendations the Department of Information Technology (DIT) and Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DAR&PG) formulated the NeGP in 2006. The NeGP is monitored and coordinated by the National e-Governance Advisory Group.

Interestingly, the report took a lot of inspiration from the Singapore ONE (One Network for Everyone) programme, which was instituted exactly ten years back in 1996. It was developed in three phases - phase one (1996-97) focussing on building infrastructure, key services, piloting and testing, phase two (1998-2002) concentrating on developing an interactive broadband multimedia industry and advanced applications and services and phase three (2002-present) focussing on mass adoption at work, home and education. In taking inspiration from the Singapore ONE programme, the best reference point for NeGP's relative success or failure, by default, can only be that programme. The NeGP has 27 Mission Mode Projects (MMPs), 8 integrated projects, 8 central projects and 11 state projects. The integrated projects deal with e-biz, e-procurement, e-office and single window India portal conceived as a repository of all e-governance delivery systems and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) for trade. The central projects include the highly successful effort to digitalise income tax, central excise and passport, immigration and visa services, apart from electronic delivery mechanisms of UID, insurance and banking services.

First up, let's take the delivery infrastructure. It's divided into core and support infrastructure. The core delivery infrastructure includes National/State Service Delivery Gateway (NSDG/SSDG), State Wide Area Networks (SWANs), State Data Centres (SDC) and Common Services Centres (CSC). The NeGP is also developing eForms for service delivery, while the support infrastructure includes wired and wireless last mile connectivity at state, district, block and village level. It's here the government scores highly for taking the hard route, since a dedicated infrastructure is required for consistent delivery of services. A similar approach was taken by Singapore, though its primary aim for building such an infrastructure was to increase the adoption of broadband Internet.

The delivery hardware, however, is predominantly dependent on the legacy systems of NICNET, ERNET, statewide Intranets, National eGovernment Data Centre, State Data Centres, Resource Centre for eGovernance, GIS National Spatial Data Infrastructure and Language Resource Centre. It's here the government loses a lot of points for not picking up the real tricks from Singapore, which involved the private sector in a big way by integrating its larger Information Technology policy with the programme. Today, close to 80 percent of Singapore has access to high quality broadband connections, up from a measly 7 percent in 1996. That's a tremendous achievement.

Second, an evaluation of delivery platforms reveals the difference in the Indian bureaucratic mindset and the Singaporean one. Indian bureaucrats still think of e-governance as a task confined to developing websites. Some websites, mostly the ones developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), are complaint with international standards like W3C, but the majority of the ones at the state, district and local levels have basic issues like javascript and CSS errors. The policy makers of Singapore realised early on that delivery of services has to be a combination of pull (websites) and push (applications) mechanisms. As a result of this farsightedness, today Singapore has over 120 mobile e-governance applications (http://www.egov.gov.sg/egov-masterplans/egov-2015/programmes/mgov-sg). It's available even in iTunes stores, Google Play and the android platforms. The Indian government is waking up to the potential of push mechanisms, but they are still taking only baby steps. It needs to make a concerted push towards an application centric e-governance eco-system.

Finally, any assessment of NeGP would be incomplete without an evaluation of the programme's preparation for the future technological environment of interactive touch-screens, voice recognition systems, embedded digital systems in everyday objects and smart systems. Singapore is already setting up high speed wireless LAN hotspots all across the island, ensuring that all libraries have broadband access and evolving innovative and sustainable measures like the PC reuse scheme, where each refurbished computer is bundled with six months of toll-free internet access. It has also already negotiated with telecom service providers to give on deck and pre-loaded e-governance applications to smartphone and tablet owners. NeGP has a lot of ground to cover here and needs to involve critical stakeholders like telecom operators, application developers and software companies to create a wireless bundled services package. Just three steps can help the government connect the islands of electronic governance and spread the digital network far and wide. Step one: involve the robust ecosystem of Indian application developers to create an integrated system of e-governance applications. Step two: focus on voice web and create IVRS applications for rural areas. Step three: go wireless.

(R. Swaminathan is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation and a National Internet Exchange of India Fellow)
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