No Long Queues…

With increasing pressure on limited resources due to the ever rising
population and the static character of organizations, providing public service
has become a challenging task for governments. The recent proliferation of mass
media and information technology in day-to-day life has made governance even
more difficult. The exposure to happenings around the world has increased
citizens’ expectation from local governments. In order to cope up with such
challenges, governments have been adopting the new philosophy of “ART”
i.e. accountability, responsiveness and transparency at the point of delivery of
public services and utilities.

Problems confronting citizens

A recent appraisal conducted by Centre for Media Studies (CMS) among eleven
key departments in Delhi found that the non-availability of information on
service standards, indifferent staff attitude, procedural delays as well as the
non-availability of correct information on various services are major problems
confronting citizens. The departments surveyed included industry, excise, the
Delhi Vidyut Board, the Delhi Jal Board, sales tax, education, social welfare,
health, food and civil supplies, transport and public works.

Citizens’ Charter

To resolve the above problems, several state and central
government departments in India have adopted the Citizens’ Charter approach in
the last four years. The Citizens’ Charter aims to provide information about
the services offered by each department and sets up standards for an open,
transparent and accountable government at all levels. From the citizens’ point
of view, it aims to raise standards of the government service and make services
more responsive to their needs.

Despite the noble intentions, the Citizens’ Charter
approach has failed to achieve its objectives in India. This is where
information technology could play a major role in successful and effective
implementation of charters. One of the major reasons for failure of the Citizens’
Charter is the limited use of IT in solving citizens’ problems. In fact, an
appraisal study conducted by the Center for Media Studies found that more than
80% of citizens are not aware of the services rendered by the departments. No
wonder then that many citizens end up using alternate channels of agents and
brokers to get work done in government departments.

Key implications of e-services

The success of IT will depend on the following aspects: Each
public service department will require an IT strategy to enable the department
to improve the efficiency of the internal and the external process. Further, the
online government services require support from the citizens. It requires a
mindset change in public attitude towards using the services electronically. The
exposure to the Internet will play a key role in accepting online government

Another area of concern will be the accessibility and usage
of computers. In India, high costs of PC and related hardware and low speed
connectivity will remain a bottleneck. Further, a low literacy rate among poorer
citizens and older generation will be of concern. People with little exposure to
technology will still prefer face-to-face contact with the departments.

Citizens could overcome the technology barrier with the
introduction of interactive kiosks at different government departments. The
focus should be on delivering services using different platforms like computers,
telephone, TV and radio and bring about a change in the mindset to promote the
use of the e-services platform.

Another area of concern for citizens is the lack of clarity
in the delegation of responsibility in government departments. This can be
tackled by specifying responsibility assigned to members of the service
providers who can deal with the queries and problems of the citizens

E-services will only reduce the need for face to face to
contact. With the increased use of information technology, departments will be
technologically upgraded to meet both front and back office online requirements.

Moreover, the distance between the government and citizens
will be reduced in terms of interaction, feedback and redressal, which will lead
to avoidance of intermediaries thus encouraging transparency. The greatest
advantage for citizens will be the availability of governments at any time and
at any place.

Director, Centre for Media Studies (CMS)

Using IT to Solve Citizens’ Problems

The effective use of IT can transform the way people acquire information and
use it to get work done in government departments. Here are key initiatives
government departments can take up to develop e-charters
and implement the concept of ‘Open Governance’:

First and foremost, there is need to develop a website on Citizens’
Charter, which will be linked to sites of various other government departments.
The website will ensure that citizens have access to information on various
services, obligations and responsibility of staff and service conditions. More
important, departments will be obliged to provide online services. Privacy and
confidentiality of users will be maintained by giving a customer ID and
password, so whenever a citizen complains against any department or official,
his identity is not disclosed and is not harassed further.

Development of e-charter cyber cafes at different locations. These cyber
cafes can be used by citizens to download application forms, online processing
of applications and redressal of grievances. Cyber cafes can provide these
services at a nominal cost.

Consultation and online discussion between the service providers and users.
There are Lok Adalats, where a citizen needs to go to specific location and at a
specified time. The same objectives can be achieved through e-chat between
Government departments and users. This will go a long way in solving problems of

Citizens’ complaints need to be registered online and the status updated on
a periodic basis. If a citizen has not completed all the formalities, then he
should be informed via e-mail or telephone so that he need not even visit the
government office.

Once a citizen makes an application for any particular work, he can be
informed about the progress of the matter within the department either on the
department website or via email, so that he need not wait to meet an official
for his work.

To pay his monthly bills, a citizen need not visit the department, prepaid
cash cards can be used as a convenient mode of payment at any time. Departments,
in association with banks, can use the third party transfer of funds through
e-banking. Further, the statements of bills can be made available to the
citizens online.

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