The Promise of E-governance

D Parthasarathy, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

 

In recent times, governments, NGOs, the corporate sector and academia, all have come to recognize E-Governance as a potential driver as well as enabler to reinvent government and public administration, that it can help deal with development problems efficiently, and deliver services to citizens in a more responsive and responsible manner.

         E-governance – sometimes also referred to as Digital Governance – refers to governance processes in which Information and Communications Technology (ICT) play a significant role. ICTs can improve the delivery and standards of governance services, as well as enhance the participation of people in governance. Since most government agencies tend to withhold information from citizens – which can be a means to maintain and extend undue control over society – E-governance is perceived as one of the principal mechanisms of empowering citizens through greater access to information regarding government plans, programmes and policies, as well as their implementation. In addition, E-governance has the capability of enabling citizens to exercise greater influence on public decision-making by providing timely access to quality information. Rather than remain passive recipients of services provided to them, citizens gain the ability to participate in, and influence decision-making processes which affect their lives.

The Role of ICTs
In general, ICTs play a role in transforming the traditional functioning of government into E-governance practices in three ways:

  • Automation of repetitive tasks, thereby improving effi- ciency of government processes – eg. birth and death re- gistration, obtaining licenses and permits, etc.
  • Supplementing existing efforts and processes to improve governance by using the Internet for providing greater transparency in government functioning.
  • Providing new government services or mechanisms for better service delivery which was earlier impossible through non-ICT modes eg., ability to access and bring together information from different sources, faster dispo- sal of applications, reducing paper work etc.

         In practice however, especially in India, E-governance has simply meant digitalization, or automation of governance services. It has mainly involved provision of basic services and information, rather than work as a two – way tool involving public feedback for improved government decision-making. 'Governance' as differentiated from 'government' is often used to mean a more participatory approach to development and service delivery as opposed to a top down, bureaucratic approach. However, the governance aspect is rarely to be found in most of the E-governance projects in India, which are merely glorified clusters of information kiosks. If governance is a political process dealing with reform of government functioning towards "good governance", governance reform requires attitudinal and constitutional changes, which cannot be brought about merely through digitalization and infusion of ICTs......... more on next page