Though governments don’t do much! Citizens’ initiatives take roots.

Citizen services? Consumer interests? Transparency, e-governance? Do you hear such words from any of the ministers? We dont hear so far! And yet, yes, there are new problems and new initiatives and opportunities opening out. Here we feature a few such services, be it municipal services, or urban development or telemedicine services. Citizens are willing to pay for any services if they are offered transparently, openly and with less hassles and bureaucratic corruption.

IT use is increasing in India, more so in the non-metropolitian areas. Till 2001, the six metros accounted for more than half the PCs sold in the country. In 2004, the non-metros accounted for 53 per cent of all India sales. More important to the rural India and the citizens services arena, the e-governance market as such had now been calculated from the angle of how much PCs are bought and used in the rural India. The e-governance market is estimated to have risen by 23 per cent and touched a market value of Rs.2,200 crores of spending. A silent revolution is on in rural India! That is what matters.

The impact of this spending is laready being felt in a host of development initiatives we are able to notice. How the delivery mechanism or the delivery system in rural India for the citizenship services is fast growing. It is noticed and we can safely claim that rural India is giving a thumbs up to e-governnce initiatives. Such as telemedicine projects are sprwading as one report says like “wildfire”. Telemedicine projects in West Bengal and Aarohi in Uttaranchal are proffs of how the high tech had reached rural interiors.

Government cuts down on e-governance programme?
Yes, there was this news sometime ago. The government had cut down the e-governance budget, almost to one tenth. The reason given out was that the PM is to set up a new Knowledge Commission (whatever is it?) and then he will allot the funds. It is a pity, we thought. As expected the govt’s economic survey has not one word on IT or e-governance! The budget too is silent. It means only one thing: either ignorance or someone mislead the government. We thought Mr.Dayanidhi Maran is intelligent enough to see the benefits oif the e-governance programme for the country. Now see what one e-governance project is doing. In Bangalore the State government has appointed UTI Bank. We thought the same type of programmes can be multiplied for other cities and also for various departments of the government.

Even in a state like Assam, projects like “Government at the Doorstep” and Rajiv Gandhi Computer Literacy Program’ is touching the tribal population in areas as remote as Majuli. It can play an important role, why a revolution, in all coitizens services delivery schemes. This would call for massive business process re-engineering effort to shorten the chain of linkages between the government and the citizens. Moving the proicess of PC penetration would significantly increase only if citizen services delivery is dramatically improved. Just two current programmes discussed widely are introduction of computers at the gram panchayat levels and setting up a variety of citizen services centres.

Perhaps, the Prime Minister or his colleagues may not know fully well the various initiatives already on through various NGOs and even by some business driven models.One such is the one by the Chennai IIT-developed indigenous technology that would make telecommunications developed by an innovative professor. We have seen the project working in one remote village. The project didnt take off widely in our oopinion because the bankers are simply unwilling to treat any untrodden path.

Also the State level politicians are not interested. A pity. When at a time Naxalite activity is spreading even in Karnataka and as we see in rural Karnataka lack of employment, drought and the failure of some agro enterprises like groundnut crushing oilmills business had added up to unemployment intensity and the strengthening of the Naxalite activities. In Tumkur district of Karnataka one JD(S) State level treasurer, Dr.G.Venkatramaiah, a founder of a hospital, says the reasons for Naxalite activity is no drought work for more than a year. 241 villages are affected by drought. Karnataka state-wide only one fifth of cultivable land is under cultivation. So, what to do? A water expert, B.S.Bhavanishankar, former adviser to Karnataka, former Chief Engineer, Govt. of India and World bank consultant says that Karnataka the State has the highest percentage of drought prone area of 79 per cent of its geographical area in the Krishna -Cauvery Basin. What is more important he says that by undertaking some hightech engineering water conservation strategies, the large quantity of water that gets wasted down the Western Ghats into the Arabian sea the West flowing, some 2,000 tmcft annual average surface water flow can be turned into irrigation potential.

He says the engineering and ecological challenges can be tackled. But then where are the leaders and visionaries? One way, as the JD (S) leader says an industry for each hobli, opening of job-oriented courses, professional institutions. Why not info kiosks for every village? We can ease the life of citizens for their services delivery from government machinery and local governments, generate other services, create an awareness about latest information, prices etc. It tools can generate the new confidence and create a positive hope and outward look for the unemployed. We need politiicans who knows the difficulties of rural folk. Unfortunately in Delhi, what you see? Just urban living, world bank ex-employees in top jobs. Or retired officials re-deployed!

Maharashtra for a new development model for Mumbai
Luckily, S.M. Krishna, the Maharashtra Governor had advised the State government to go for a home-grown development model for Mumbai. Krishna, with his experience in Bangalore where the Bangalore Agenda Task Force under the leadership of the IT giant, Infosys CEO Mr.Nandan Nilekani had transformed Bangalore into a model for the international agencies to visit and copy some of its features. So, when the Maharashtra CM made a presentation to the Governor (who had also had come back from a visit to China and where he might had watched the city developments had wisely advised the CM to think on the Bangalore lines.

An NGO and a peoples’ charter
The Chennai-based NGO, Catalyst, under the able leadership of Mr.A.K.Venkat Subramanian, a retired IAS official and his band of some dedicated individuals had been waging several citizenship rights and services issues. In a latest issue of the trust, there is wide publicity for a peoples charter by the Tirunelveli Corporation, in the Southern most district of TN. On 20.11.2004 the State minister receieved the charter. This charter sets out the time limit within which certain citizen services are delivered. Thus, for instance, New drinking water supply connections. Consent at once! To correct the application, if any: 7 days. To give permission and also payment:within 15 days! Sewerage repair : 24 hours to 7 days to 25 days (for new connections). Birth registration instantly if it is within the first 21 days of birth, for others : 7 days. Death certificates, the same day limits. To get food adulteration prevention licence and other businesses : 45 days. There is news about the Corporation of Hyderabd which underakes to pay a compensation of Rs.50 per day to the applicants for licences/permissions/Certificates who have paid fees/charges for the corporation. So, India is changing! India is going the IT way.Only online transactions would ensure transparency, elimination of corruption and timely citizen services and deliver efficient government services. Unfortunately, the government in Delhi seems to be IT illiterate! The e-governance programme of the government neednt wait for any new commission whatever. There are so many pilot projects in many states. We hope the concerneed Central ministries put their own administration as many as possible online.

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