[ The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 3, 2000
Lead Article 2

Moving towards
Net-enabled governance
By Peeyush Agnihotri

IT means Information Technology. IT also means India in Transition. Eventually the former has been responsible for the latter.

India, the land of Kamasutra, has attained puberty. The looks are e-changing and the outlook has e-changed as well. Today, it stands at the crossroads, having shed its bullock-cart image and is yet to transgress fully as a Web-enabled country.

Bury Gurukuls in the pages of history. Egurukool is here. Gyandoot (Intranet in Madhya Pradesh) is being talked about in the state too familiar with Meghdoot.

Business houses are spending to acquire the new-technology-looks. By 2003, Internet online usage will grow by 53 per cent in Asia. Presently, India has nearly 1 million Internet accounts and 3.7 million Internet users. The number is likely to go up further between 25 and 30 million within the next three years.

Interestingly, a recent survey indicates that Chandigarh ranks fourth in the country as far as PC penetration in homes is concerned. Bangalore takes the top slot, followed by Pune. Chennai is just 0.1 per cent ahead of Chandigarh and Ludhiana ranks 15th among the top 25 Indian cities.

True, India is stepping into adulthood, e-speaking. It is the land of comsutra at present. The dotcom revolution is generating both hits online and hoopla offline. The country ranks second in providing software services to other countries, just trailing behind the USA.


Yet, like a typical teenager, the country is looking at the changes abashedly. Should it follow the unwinding path of the red tape or should it spin the Web of the latest technology around those staid bureaucratic wrangles, where one has to wade through a pile of forms before getting even the most meaningless government document?

It is a virtual triangle of the government, industry and the citizens. Every corner needs the other to function smoothly. Currently, the various strata are not permeable. The process of getting anything from a driving licence to a ration card is cumbersome, antiquated and confusing. To top it, you have yelling sentries and stiff babus with no-enquiries look in their eyes.

The Net can provide convenient, efficient and cheap services to all. The best part is that it can bestow greater benefits upon the less privileged by reining in corruption, ubiquitous in the corridors of the government. Though it is not possible to please 1 billion citizens yet e-adalats may replace lok adalats in future.

"E-governance will make the government more responsive and accessible. Contact with the public will increase and redressal of grievances will be quick. Within three years, e-governance is going to percolate right down up to the village-level in Haryana," P.K. Chaudhary, Commissioner and Secretary, Industries, Haryana, says and adds that user-friendly kiosks will be installed in towns and cities.

The era of click is replacing the epoch of brick. "The level of awareness is very high in Chandigarh. Panjab University has even introduced e-com as a subject in our department. At such a fast pace, e-business and e-governance are going to be a part of our life within the next few months," Priya Bains of University Business School, says.

Corporate sector is ecstatic. Foreign collaborations, joint ventures and MoUs are being signed. New business opportunities are emerging and companies are surfing the high tide. Some have already started functioning in the "IT-savvy states" down South, while others have their eyes fixed on saada region.

"Gujarat has introduced smart optical cards for issuing vehicle registration certificates and driving licence. This state, along with Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, is way ahead of northern states. We have suggested revenue generation model by installing user-friendly kiosks for Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. The response has been quite encouraging. However, Punjab lacks initiative," B. Shankar Pandey, Deputy General Manager, Shonkh Technologies, says.

"Probably, Punjab does not have enough money," is what Ashish Mathur of Hope Technologies, has to say. His company also deals in installation of kiosks.

"Come to my side of the table and see my predicament. Last year, we had asked for Rs 25 crore for creation of necessary infrastructure but got only Rs 3 crore. This year too we will not get even half of Rs 18 crore we have asked for. Still, the state government has chosen Fatehgarh Sahib as a model district to create IT infrastructure on a limited basis," N.S. Kalsi, Director, Technical Education and Special Secretary, IT, Punjab, remarks.

The tenacious few corporate giants know that Punjab cannot remain insulated from the rest of the country. "There would be an upward shift towards this region from Delhi and Gurgaon, the present IT-happening cities of the North. A lot of business would be generated through the Web and e-biz is going to be the in thing. Already, some viable dotcom proposals from Punjab have been funded by venture capitalists and an interesting one concerns rural economy. I cannot divulge further details on that," Saurabh Srivastava, Executive Chairman, IIS Group of Companies, says.

Already, the process is underway to make the Web accessible through the Cable TV operators. Recent studies indicate that the Net users may grow by over 300 per cent within a year this way. P.S. Murthy from Cybermate Infotek Limited nods in agreement, "Web-explosion has taken place. With e-commerce gaining ground, new problems like digital security might creep in. More digital certification authorities would be needed in India within a year or so.

There is the other side of the coin, too. For a common man, who fumbles while operating a TV remote, the whole concept of digital certificates and Net transactions is intimidating. To him, that means more channels to fix and feed. He is comfortable with cutting furlos from office, burning fuel and sweating it out in serpentine queue to pay his bill. The total cost involved may be more than the bill itself. Then that is the way the life is.

The labyrinth of various Acts and laws may act as an unconformity. Giving a personal code number to Indian citizens during the census survey and sharing their personal data with other state departments is being deliberated upon. However, the Census Act prohibits sharing of departmental information with others. The present census is to be completed in this financial year and the next would be due after 10 years. That might be too late.

"This is a valid point and we are holding a meeting with the Registrar in this regard," Chaudhary says.

In a country where touts and middlemen are better off than educated professionals, vested interest might thwart the whole process. The Net revolution has not been able to dislodge the income tax consultants in the USA, who still do roaring business. "This is because the tax system is too complicated. As far as India is concerned, I cannot comment as this is my first visit to India," Bob Walcott, a consultant from the Baltimore Technologies, says. But then, is the e-governance not about making the complicated things easier?

Bandwidth is another grey spot. As a wag puts it, "Bandwidth is a problem on Indian roads as well. Traffic jams and heavy rush." Net access is no better, either. Download trickles and site view is a nightmare.

The e-industry is trying to settle it. "Bandwidth is a problem with the VSNL itself. We have started cable Internet for the commercial sector, which would take care of slow connectivity. In due course, we might extend the facility to domestic sector," Gaurav Soni of Glide Internet service says.

Infrastructure precedes implementation. For e-governance and e-business, clearing of the IT projects, setting up of software technology parks, networking of cities and access to the public, are must-haves. Things are e-moving in the secretariats and policy makers, enablers and implementers, all are enthusiastic.

Enthusiasm is caught not taught and it has already reached a feverish pitch. For once, pied pipers in the industry, government sector and in the IT segment are swaying to the tunes of the mouse. The virtual world is soon going to become a reality.