The latest UN e-government survey rankings released last week place India at rank 96, out of 193 countries. India has been bettering its relative e-governance capabilities consistently, from rank 107 in 2016, and 118 in 2014. Significantly, along with the improved ranking, India has transitioned from the ‘middle-‘ to the ‘high-EGDI’ (e-government development index) level group, “reflecting improved online presence boosted by strategies linking digital policies to national development.”
India’s EGDI score is 0.5669. Denmark, at rank 1, has a score of 0.9150; China (rank 65) 0.6811, and Sri Lanka – 0.5751.
Now, within the totality of EGDI, India comes under the “very high OSI” (online service index), which measures the scope and quality of online services). Generally, most countries with very high OSI also have a very high EGDI. The reason India has not made it to the very high EGDI category – and this is significant – is its score on the other two components of EGDI – TII (telecommunication infrastructure index, which rates the telecommunication infrastructure development) and HCI (human capital index, through which the inherent human capital is scored). India’s EGDI is 0.5669 – with OSI at 0.9514, HCI at 0.5484 – and TII at a low 0.2009. Singapore’s TII is 0.8019; Malaysia’s 0.5647; China’s 0.4735, and Sri Lanka’s – 0.3136.
It follows then, that investment in telecommunications infrastructure – and in human capital, to some extent – will help improve India’s score, and give expanded access to online services to its population.
That we would have moved to the high EGDI category is entirely believable: The Digital India initiative has been moving fast to streamline and automate processes, and to transform the way government departments work.
A paper published by National University of Singapore in June, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Singapore, also corroborates this. The paper – ‘Moving Forward: Bilateral Exchanges on E-governance between Singapore and India’ – mentions that post 2015, there has been a spurt in the Digital India programme, and specifically e-Kranti has contributed significantly to increase e-governance. Reportedly, government-to-citizen (G2C) e-transactions have grown by as much as 2912 per cent in 2013-2018.
Nonetheless, the paper points out, that there remains a digital divide between the various Indian states: “The amount of combined transactions made by citizens in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are at least 5.5 times more than the combined amount in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (among G2C e-transactions made in the Mission Mode projects between 2013-2018)”.
The all-important role of the states was also emphasised in a 2015 report of ASSOCHAM-Deloitte – ‘E-governance and Digital India Empowering Indian Citizens Through Technology’. It said that digital empowerment could boost delivery of health, education and other services to rural citizens, “however, the need of the hour is to adopt a grassroots approach starting from the State-level, through awareness building among citizens and imbibing the benefits of e-services …After all, Digital India can only be achieved when it reaches the States…”
That being the case, just how are the states doing on e-governance? But first, some general statistics.
Statistics on etaal (electronic transaction aggregation and analysis layer) of the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) show that in the national transaction count, as many as 3,589 services have been integrated.
Overall, India has been witnessing a rapid growth in online transactions involving citizens and the government, with their number per se going into crores, and with Aadhaar and digital payments leading.
However, when one looks at the percentage of e-transactions in the total transactions, the picture is more sobering: most are miniscule percentages. In fact, railway reservations and passports are shockers – at a mere 1.52 per cent to 0.16 per cent, respectively. One heartening part of the table is that among the top scorers are two services for the country’s farmers.
Now, though the total number of transactions has risen by leaps and bounds, there is great variation across states.
The leading states are way ahead of the others when it comes to transacting with government online, as we can see in the table below. The per-thousand population figures may be a more dependable indicator of pervasiveness of e-governance in the state: For instance, Telangana, which records the highest transactions also, has a high of 17779.2 transactions per 1,000 persons; similarly, Andhra has close to 10,000 per person. Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have the same number at 4,805.6 and 2,976.2 respectively – lower than some others who didn’t make it to the top five by total number of transactions. UP, the 5th leader in total transactions – has a per-1,000 count of only 888.3 transactions, which is lower than many other states’ corresponding number. Thus, size of the population also matters.
These figures show a variation in the implementation of digitisation. Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab are surprises, given their literacy rates, prosperity etc.
The other way to look at this is the number of services integrated. Data from MEITY is given below.
Telangana, again, is the clear leader with 206 services, followed by AP, Gujarat, MP and West Bengal. However, within those – and this is significant – even the best states have only 3.32 and 2.63 per cent share of e-transactions.
Thus, there appears to be no room for complacency; there are the proverbial “miles to go” before even the best performing states can claim supremacy.
The Way Ahead
The Assocham report had observed three years ago, that the rapid growth in e-transactions proves that citizens are quick to adopt these technologies when they’re made available. The onus, therefore, lies on the government, and it must put in place both the infrastructure as well as policies, so that the public benefits from e-governance. It had suggested partnerships with the private sector for identifying areas of concern and then implementing the required systems, and also employ an approach “to implement systemic changes at a granular level, say, in individual government departments, and integrating these to provide a unified, macro-level architecture”.
Three things, specifically, are required to be in place: One is telecom infrastructure, as mentioned above. Next, as the University of Singapore paper points out, the back-end aspect of e-governance needs more focus, and for this, relevant training for civil servants and a coordinated rate of digitisation among government agencies at the national and state levels is needed. Finally, safety and privacy issues will also need to be addressed before citizens are convinced fully.
The Big Challenge For Now
Just as the UN Survey highlights the telecommunication infrastructure as being the key bottleneck for India in achieving greater e-government success, so had the Assocham report said, “Despite the increased focus and pace, execution remains the most significant challenge for the government….the flagship digital infrastructure project, National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) driven by BBNL has been delayed by several years….( in 2015), only 1 per cent of the target has been achieved, i.e. 2,500 gram panchayats connected.”
The National Optical Fibre Network is an initiative for taking broadband connectivity to gram panchayats – a broadband revolution of sorts in rural areas. The implementation has been slow and the target of providing connectivity to all 2,50,500 gram panchayats by 2019 is way behind schedule: as per the website of Bharat Broadband Network Limited, 1,12,866 gram panchayats across 20 states are “service ready”. This is one critical factor in the spread of e-governance in the country – even creating high-speed public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country depends on this.
Being a large and largely under-developed country in this area, e-governance is bound to take time. Add to that the constraints of resources, skilled and technical manpower and, as pointed out above, delay in the optical fibre network, have all resulted in supply side gaps. On the demand side, the government needs to take steps to improve literacy levels, train citizens in a manner that enables them to reap the benefits of e-governance, provide content in a manner and language that they can grasp, and provision of devices. Basically, work is needed on the TII and HCI factors – as the UN report terms them.
Governments, universities, service providers, app developers and scientists will all need to chip in to improve access to e-governance and increase its acceptability among citizens to supplement the mighty effort of the MEITY.
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