Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are our cities ready for e-governance?-Politics/Nation-News-The Economic Times

Are our cities ready for e-governance?-Politics/Nation-News-The Economic Times

Are our cities ready for e-governance?
7 Jan 2010, 0218 hrs IST,

The mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (Eleventh Plan) is currently under way. The Planning Commission is assessing in detail the performance of the economy as well as the performance of individual sectors in relation to the targets set in the 11th Plan. Chapter 11 of the Eleventh Plan is on urban infrastructure, basic services and poverty alleviation. This chapter makes a case for e-governance, as specified in the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

The key objectives of the JNNURM are to introduce e-governance in the municipalities to provide single-window services to the citizens, to increase efficiency and productivity of the urban local bodies (ULBs), and to provide timely and reliable management information. This chapter also emphasises the role of information technology in efficient governance and in provision and management of urban services.

We conducted a study to assess the state of e-governance and other related characteristics of India’s 35 cities with million-plus population. While the findings from this study are still preliminary, they have a number of implications for e-governance in India’s cities. With respect to e-governance, we categorised e-governance services of cities into two types: information-oriented and service-oriented.

In the area of information, we examined whether the budget of the city for the most-recent year was online, whether information for building sanctions and drainage/water connection were online, links to the Right to Information Act (RTI), and links to important locally-provided public services such as water supply, sanitation, sewerage, solid waste management, roads and street lighting. We examined whether the municipal corporation website has a map of the city and contacts for the city.

When we examined the scores on information attributes, we found Greater Mumbai was the only one with a perfect score. The closest score to this baseline was a distant Vijayawada. When we looked at attributes, the most popular one receiving attention on city websites was the link to the RTI which most (23 out of 35) cities adhered to, followed by their contact information. The one attribute that municipal corporations were unable to manage online was the information on drainage/water connection for which the customers’ physical presence seemed to be required. Only four out of the 35 cities could make this facility available online.

In the area of services, we considered the following six attributes: whether there is provision for online payment of property taxes, water charges, online registration of birth and death, online complaints registration, online feedback and whether provision existed for online tendering and auction. We found Greater Mumbai was again the one with a perfect score with all services considered being online, followed by Hyderabad.

When we examined scores across attributes, we found that the most popular one was the online registration of complaints, followed by online feedback. The one service on which most cities performed poorly was online payment of water charges, for which only four out of the 35 cities made a provision. This is a surprise because nearly 12 cities made provision for online payment of property tax.

However, this might be explained due to considerable variability in the institutional arrangement for water supply across cities. In Bangalore, for example, a utility, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB),
is entrusted with this responsibility, whereas in cities such as Pune, the municipal corporation itself has this responsibility. These expenditure responsibilities are mandated by the statute. Hence, the capacities
of the service provider might help explain variability in online payment of water charges.

We found that cities with an information orientation on their websites were Greater Mumbai, Chennai, Vijayawada, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Madurai, Bangalore, Patna and Ludhiana. We found that cities with a user-orientation, or service-focused, in their websites were Greater Mumbai, Hyderabad, Madurai, Pune, Indore, Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Ludhiana, Allahabad and Varanasi.

Our findings indicated that the cities with both low information and low service-orientation websites were Lucknow, Agra, Kanpur, Asansol and Dhanbad.

Summarising, our findings indicated that the largest cities, especially those with more than 10 million inhabitants, fared relatively well in their preparedness towards becoming digital compared to smaller cities. Despite the variance in the adoption of e-governance across the large Indian cities, we should recognise that cities in the e-governance era are much more open to citizen complaints and grievances than they were earlier. Though Indian cities are still evolving in their digital status, governments, private organisations and citizens should take cognisance of the fact that connectivity and information-sharing are the stepping stones for transparency and accountability in governance.

(Mr Sridhar is research fellow at Sasken Communication Technologies and Ms Sridhar is senior research fellow at Public Affairs Centre. Views are personal)

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