Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Electronic Service Delivery Bill

The Indian Ministry of IT has put out a draft Electronic Service Delivery Bill 2011 for comments to general public. The intended Bill seeks to accelerate the process of electronic delivery of services to public by government departments by prescribing a time-bound transition from manual to electronic services, and creating an associated regulatory infrastructure.

My comments, based on an initial read.

It is an appreciable start, meant to galvanize state departments into action. While some states such as AP, Karnataka and Delhi have taken sizeable steps in e-Governance, the rest are largely laggards. If nothing else, this bill should make governments sit up and move a bit.

I specifically liked the wording around the use of service providers for delivery of services and collection of associated charges. If implemented properly, this will result in a new era of PPP opportunities for IT service providers in e-Governance. 

Yet, the bill gives too much leeway to individual ministries on the extent and time-frame of implementation. One good alternative would have been to prescribe a minimum set of services that each ministry must e-enable. In the current form, it would become the headache of the regulatory Commissioner to push ministries to expand scope.

Another open point is the open implementation timeline. Despite prescribing a 180-day limit for governments to decide on the scope, it makes the cut-off date for implementation, discretionary. Knowing the legendary delays in implementation of e-governance projects, this is a quagmire.

In sum, a great start. May run into financial impediments unless the associated investment burden of states is appropriately addressed (not everything can be a PPP with limited investment); and political bottlenecks could be envisaged since it seems to exert quite a bit of central influence on state functioning.

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