Saturday, May 17, 2008

How e-governance is reducing corruption in TamilNadu

The only way we can drastically reduce corruption in our country is to reduce the stages of dependency of us (citizens) on government. For this, if government services are available at citizen's place, there would be very less dependency or need to go to government offices and bribe every single person from peon to the actual officer.

This e-governance which first must begin with automation of government tasks has now come a long way in TamilNadu and is increasingly becoming a role model to the entire country.

What is this? Electronics Corporation of TamilNadu Limited (ELCOT) is a state sponsored company headed by C.Umashankar, an efficient IAS officer who is credited with the achievement of making Thiruvarur taluk a fully automated e-governed place. It is the only fully computerised and automated e-governed place in India, where everything from land records to RTO or pensions are automated. Now, through automation - widows, old age people get their pensions directly credited through their bank accounts and need not visit government officers and bribe everyone. Thank you, Mr.Umashankar - I think Karnataka needs you badly. Hope that someone replicates your functioning style.

Noting this recognition, TamilNadu government asked him to lead ELCOT- a company fully owned by government, but run and managed by independent software programmers and IAS officers. Govt funds the company and company does implement all the projects. It is having full powers to implement e-governance projects.

ELCOT has completed the first phase of construction of TamilNadu State Wide Area Network (TNSWAN) along with HCL and TCS which provided the required hardware equipments and tasks ranging from digging cables to providing routers etc. The TNSWAN provides the connectivity backbone for the State over which voice, data, Internet, intranet and video conferencing services have been launched.

Now, TamilNadu has 708 points of presence (POPs) established all over the State linking the State headquarters to every district (31), taluk (395) and block headquarters (282). Offices located within POP have been given Wired and Wireless LAN connectivity.

Which means you have a connectivity of every village, taluk and block levels. With this in completion, ELCOT will deliver a host of Government to citizen services. 5440 centres of COmmon Citizen service kiosks will be developed and installed in every village.

Already 3 such kiosks have been inaugarated.

The departments/services which have almost completed computerization include: Land records, commercial taxes, registration, agriculture, food and civil supplies, health, panchayats, education, treasuries, municipalities, transport, employment, industries, social welfare, and secretariat.

Now these 5440 kioks and centers will provide G2C services - land records, registration, certificates, ration cards, electoral rolls and cards will be offered to citizens. Similarly business-to-citizen (B2C) services such as railway and bus ticketing, utility payments, online education, banking, insurance, agriculture, telemedicine etc. will also be offered through these centres.

Every such kiosk will have the first LINUX based Machines (like an ATM) developed indigenously with both English and Tamil interfaces.

Issue of land ownership certificates (Chitta extract and ‘A’ Register extract), birth/death certificates will now become easy as details can be filled either on the Internet sitting at home or going to these kiosks.

The open source softwares used are Suse Linux, Jasper Reports, JBOSS, Mozilla Thunderbird, Netbeans etc. All open source and hence has reduced the costs significantly. Consequently, ELCOT hires software programmers and trainers to teach government officials how to use and operate them.

Individual programmers working under ELCOT have developed several softwares. One of them is online property registration. Here the party which wants to register property will first enter all details of the property online, pay the registration fees, choose an appointment date and take a print out of the same. On the day given by the computer, one can go, show all documents get them registered. Yet another software developed is to issue Farmer ID cards with the help of government records and already 7 million such cards have been issued. They serve like an Identification Card. Of course, the next question would be can cloning or duplication of these cards be done? I am not too sure of this, but the step is much cleaner process than manually identifying a farmer as it exists today. I definitely am sure that hologram or some sort of anti-tempering technique will be used.

As an example of how corruption has come down drastically in the Land Revenue and Land records department is automation done in Chennai city. Now people in Chennai can go to any kiosk already set up in 20 Sub registrar office across the city or use internet at home to apply for Encumbrance Certificate (a certificate which causes delay and corruption in most states) by giving details of the property and paying the required fees. The output will be got within 5 minutes if used at a kiosk at Sub Registrar office as all land records have been computerized. Similarly, extracts of marriage certificates (if you need a certified copy), birth and death certificates, property evaluations (the kiosk contacts PostgreSql database which calculates the property value based on current market value) and several others can be got by just paying a meager Rs.15 or Rs.20. if you apply Online, the Encumbrance will be delivered to you by post only if courier charges are paid online. Similarly, the kiosk will also give you a list of government registered/licensed stamp vendors so that citizens can get the stamping done only at these authorized places so that fraud cases can reduce.

So, this way you avoid middlemen and brokers in most of the transactions. Of course, it has not eliminated corruption, it has reduced it dramatically. Now, for most part when citizens simply need documents, they need not go to Government offices, stand in lines, pay bribes at every counter. Of course, when the first time we register property or create such documents, do we have to bribe? Probably, yes, but at least once done we need not worry about getting it the next time. If the new transactions don't go into the database and as a result of which you don't get the records, then at least you will have some acknowledgment proof of transactions done. So, one can contest the claim. Hence, I feel this is not going to eliminate corruption, but definitely reduce it very much.

The first thing, however, we need to note here is the computerization of all government papers,ledgers, registers. In this direction, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Chhatisgarh are working at this. However, TamilNadu has an edge over all the other states in the country.

I thank Mr.Umashankar and TamilNadu government which has consistently supported him irrespective of DMK or AIADMK in power.

I am confident that technology, if used, in this manner can change the face of India and remove corruption which is continuing to plague the country. It's a long way to go, but if everyone starts, it will become a reality. This is sure to happen as even backward states such as Bihar have completed 20% automation of land records. This is a daunting and complex task because each state was ruled by different rulers and each state has a different land distribution and assessment method and parameters of land ownership.

References: Article 1,
Youtube video of ELCOT
Article 2 - The website of TamilNadu where forms are available for such services
Article3 - The website where request for Encumbrance certificate can be filled online