Former Reserve Bank of Indian (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan had once opined that a strong government doesn't mean simply military power or an efficient intelligence apparatus; it should mean effective, fair administration — in other words, 'good governance’.
For the ‘Union of states’ that is India, the state governments are instrumental in the governance delivery mechanism. In fact, the states arguably have a far greater role in delivery of government services and have considerable leeway on almost all governance aspects. This has meant that there are wide disparities in governance aspects between states, and that states can learn from each other to improve on their own governance.
Over the past few years, the central government has spurred on a healthy competition between the states, by institutionalising comparative reports on important sectors of governance.
For example, in 2015, the NITI Aayog started measuring the School Education Quality Index. This report evaluates the performance of states and Union Territories (UTs) in the school education sector, and encourages them to improve their scores by demonstrating progress across its key aspects.
Similarly, the good governance index (GGI), compared the states and UTs on 10 broad sectors of governance — from commerce and industry to public health to social welfare and development to judiciary and public security.
Each state was evaluated on 50 parameters, and finally, a composite ranking was arrived at. The GGI, released in December 2019, ranked Tamil Nadu at the top amongst the 18 big states. Its position was well deserved, considering that it has done spectacularly well in sectors like public infrastructure, judicial and public security and public health.
However, the oddity is that Tamil Nadu is at the bottom of a different governance index — National e-Governance Service Delivery Assessment ranking 2019 (NeSDA).
The NeSDA 2019 rankings rate the effectiveness of e-governance service delivery models across states and UTs — it benchmarks the effectiveness in integrating digital tools in governance. The importance of NeSDA can be better understood against the backdrop of the digital transformation in India over the past decade.
The digital era has brought plenty of opportunities for change. The private sector has been quick to leverage digital tools to make their operations leaner and more efficient, thereby integrating digital in our everyday experiences.
The government too, has immense potential for greatly enhancing public services delivery by adopting e-governance. EY has identified that digital adoption can deliver huge benefits to governments, by driving efficiencies and effectiveness of governance, finding new solutions to policy challenges, understanding citizens better and achieving better outcomes.
The Indian government has made a start with the ‘Digital India’ programme which envisions three key areas of impact — digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen, governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens.
The NeSDA rankings are another important block in understanding the relative performance of states on overall e-service delivery effectiveness from a citizen’s perspective.
States are evaluated on seven key parameters including content availability, ease of use, information security and privacy, status and request tracking amongst others.
Therefore, NeSDA is not merely a ranking of how well information technology has been leveraged by states in governance, but in fact, it reflects the future orientation of states.
For example, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh had enabled their citizens to complete key transactions digitally, including — job seeker registration, employer registration, application for registration under Shops and Establishments Act and application for a licence for a contractor to recruit migrant workmen.
This has huge significance today, since digital adoption obviates the need to visit a government office, thereby reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission and improving speed of service delivery. For a state like Tamil Nadu that has been a pioneer of governance initiatives for decades, the dismal performance in adopting e-governance is striking.
However, it is encouraging to note that there have been some recent developments in Tamil Nadu to address the e-governance shortfall. The state’s nodal agency for digital governance, Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA), has proposed a slew of initiatives like the agreement signed with IIT Madras to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology in areas of health, education and agriculture; a dedicated safe and ethical AI policy; knowledge proof identity based services delivery project etc.
The latter project seeks to improve the service delivery mechanism by leveraging the state family database (SFDB) and block chain backbone infrastructure. These projects and policies are being heralded as the ‘transformative phase for emerging technologies’ in e-governance.
Tamil Nadu has undoubtedly done well to earn its laurels in the GGI. It is hoped that it will take up e-governance with equal zeal, and digitally transform its public service delivery systems to better serve citizens and businesses alike.
With a robust civil society and well-functioning institutions, it is only a matter of time before Tamil Nadu ushers in a digital transformation of its public service delivery system, and improves on its NeSDA ranking.
Carl Jaison is research analyst at CPC Analytics. Omkar Sathe is an IIM Calcutta alumnus, with a keen interest in public policy. Sahil Deo is co-founder of CPC Analytics.
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