June 13, 2021

A Brief Overview on Electronic Governance

cyber law

Introduction

As we all know, each government department has lots and lots of work, be it paper work or physical. Such huge amount of work when man-handled had more chances of errors which raised the demand of technology in the government sector. This demand of technology lead to the development of e-governance so as to save on cost and time and at the same time, reduce the probability of errors in the work.

Through the means of electronic governance, government services are made available to different sections of the economy in a suitable, systematic and transparent mode.

Meaning of E-Governance

As per the definition given in the Cambridge Dictionary, the term governance means the way any organizations or countries are managed at the highest level, and the systems for doing so. The “e” stands for electronic.

Electronic governance or e-governance can be defined as the application of information and communication technology (ICT) for providing government services, exchange of information, transactions, integration of previously existing services and information portals.

E-governance can be considered as a tool for leveraging the potential of ICT for improving  effectiveness of  government  activities, strengthening  democratic  process  which  led  to    more empowered citizens and more transparent government offices. [1]

In the modern times, electronic governance has transformed from being “just another office tool” to a powerful utility for innovation, change and a tool for rejuvenating public sector.

Elements of E-Governance

The 3 most basic and common groups that are involved with the process of governance are:

(1) Citizens / General Public

(2) Government’s own organs or departments

(3) Business groups / Investors

Types of E-Governance

(1) GOVERNMENT-TO-CITIZEN (G2C): Maximum number of government services come under the head of G2C services which are been acquired by the familiar or most common group of people. These services help the common people to minimise their time and cost spend in carrying out a transaction. A citizen can avail the facility 24*7 from around the world.

Various G2C services of both central and state government have been integrated on the Digital Seva Portal which are accessible by the citizens in the rural and remote areas of the country.

Some of the day-to-day examples of the G2C services can be: (a) Bharat BillPay (b) FASTag (c) Passport services (d) PAN Card / Aadhar Card facility (e) Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and so on.

(2) GOVERNMENT-TO-GOVERNMENT (G2G): The need for active and quick interaction between the different government departments, firms and agencies called for the G2G services so as to increase the efficiency of the government working. These services enable the government departments to work together and share the same database using online communication.

G2G services take place at both local or domestic level as well as international level. At the local level, these services facilitate different departments to access the same information from any corner of the country whereas with the international perspective, such services tend to improve international discretion and relations.

Some of the examples of G2G services are: (a) Smart Gov. initiative by Andra Pradesh government. (b) Khajane Project undertaken by the Karnataka government to manage the treasury related activities. (c) Northeast Gang Information System (NEGIS)

(3) GOVERNMENT-TO-BUSINESS (G2B): Interchange of services between government and business entities is what comprises of G2B services. Such services provides timely information about the businesses in the area to the government whereas at the same time, business organisation can have easy, timeless, placeless, online access to the government agencies and their working which increases the transparency in return.

Some of the areas where G2B services have been provided are: (a) Online GST facility (b) MSME Samadhaan (c) Government e-marketplace (d) MCA e-forms

(4) GOVERNMENT-TO-EMPLOYEE (G2E): Provides online facilities to the employees to bring them together and improvise knowledge sharing. In this type of case, government is major employer and it has to interact with its employees on a regular basis. Such services improve the day-to-day functioning of the bureaucracy and at the same time, deals with the employees.

Examples of G2E services can be: (a) Online salary payment (b) Applying for leave online (c) Online insurance or health care facility provided bt the employer (d) Checking the balance of holidays

Advantages of E-Governance

(1) Transparency and accountability

(2) Better service delivery to citizens

(3) Citizen empowerment through access to information

(4) Minimal corruption in the administration

(5) Improved efficiency within Government departments and agencies

(6) Savings on cost and time

(7) Easy and quick implementation

(8) Better and easy communication

Challenges of E-Governance

Issues that the field of electronic governance faces can be categorised into 3 kinds, viz, (a) Economical (b) Social (c) Technical which has been discussed in detail below:

[A] Economical Challenges –

 Any issue which involves spending of public expenditure can be considered as the economical challenge as e-governance is an costly affair. Such issues have been discussed further:

 (1) Cost: Anything related to technology does not comes cheap. Therefore, to install a good electronic governance system, government has to bear heavy cost of technology and updating the staff accordingly to work with the updated technology.

 (2) Reusability: Technology updates so fast and it is quite difficult to reuse the technology and save on cost, thereby increasing the cost further.

 (3) Maintainability: Technical devices need timely updation to run them properly and efficiently.

[B] Technical Challenges –

Whether it is about the installation or running of technical devices, none can be done without proper knowledge and guidance. Issues relating to such factors have been listed below:

 (1) Interoperability: Unless proper guidance has been provided, technical devices can be too hard to operate for anyone.

 (2) Privacy & Security: Any data that citizens provide to the government needs to be protected by the government. Leakage of data can shake people’s faith in the government.

(3) Authenticity: It’s not just government who is upgrading with time. It’s the hackers and false information providers too. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to identify the authenticity of the data being provided.

[C] Social Issues –

Supposedly, government has provided the facilities online but of what use will it be of unless common people how to avail them. Some of the such issues have been talked about below:

(1) Accessibility: Unless, an ordinary man is able to access the facilities provided by the government, they will be of no use and there are still some parts of the country which are unknown to the world of internet or updated technology.

(2) Usability: Even if government arranges accessibility, citizens will have to learn, at the same time, how to use the provided facility.

(3) Use of local language: In the initial days, as we know internet was only available in the foreign language which was again a hurdle to the development of the technology but was removed gradually by bringing the local language in usage.

(4) Awareness: Any facility bought would be only useful when citizens are aware about it which should be made sure by the government by running of compagins, seminars and other such social awareness programs.

Solutions to the Challenges of E-Governance

(1) Proper Administration: Change or new system has always been resisted. Therefore, a proper administration is required to run the e-governance properly and efficiently.

(2) Hybrid Approach: A hybrid approach needs to be adopted for enhancing interoperability among e-governance applications which will encompass a centralized approach for document management, knowledge management, file management, grievance management and alike.

(3) Awareness: Government should set up or allot NGO’s to take up the take of spreading the knowledge and making people aware regarding electronic governance services in the villages by identifying the grassroot reality.

(4) Dedicated Legislation: A legislation is always needed for right implementation. Framing of proper legislation, particularly dedicated to the e-governance, will lead to smoothing of establishment and implementation of the project.

(5) Customized building mechanism: If government devises appropriate, feasible, distinct and effective capacity building mechanisms as per the needs of the distinct groups of stakeholders, viz, bureaucrats, rural masses, urban masses, elected representatives, etc.

Legal Perspective of E-Governance

There is no dedicated legislation, particularly and solely, to the field of electronic governance in our country. Although, some of the existing laws in India do apply to electronic governance which have been talked about briefly below.

(1) RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005

Indian RTI Act is similar to the Canadian Law. In India, unlike UK and US laws, RTI Act provides citizens with the direct access to the Central Information Commission in case the information is denied to the citizens by any department of the government. Such access avoids delays in the procedures to grant the citizens their basic right to information and to go through the hardships of the courts to enforce their basic rights.

RTI Act ensures the transparency in the functioning of the government by placing an obligation on the government at all the levels and it’s department to provide the common man with the information about the policies, rules and regulations passed by them. The act also provides for the penalties, in case, the government fails to provide the citizens with the appropriate information, timely and in a proper manner.

To help the government provide the citizens with the information, Department of Information Technology is spreading the use of technology through the system of electronic governance and website to display all the information for easy access of the citizens.

For the Act to be more effective, there need to be better information flow among people at the village level who are unaware of their rights because that’s where the grassroot issue lies and efforts are lacking. Government needs to set up NGO to create awareness at the level where it’s needed the most. But still the RTI Act doesn’t totally take up the responsibility of its proper implementation due to lack of enforceability procedures which needs to be taken care of by the government of the country.

(2) INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT, 2000

India is a country to have legal framework for all the ‘e’ (electronic) promulgated as the IT Act, 2000. The Act, also, effected the consequential amendments in the Indian Penal Code, The Evidence Act, 1872, and The RBI Act, 1934, bringing all of them in line as per the requirements of the digital transactions.

Ever gave a thought, what if all the data that is being provided by the citizens to the government gets leak or is used for some other purpose ? Such issues are dealt by the IT Act so as to not shaken the trust and confidentiality that a common person places in the government.

(1) Section 4 – Legal recognition of electronic records:

Whenever any law provides that information or any other matter shall be written, typewritten or in printed form, information in electronic form would also be considered in the same. Such information will also be accessible for subsequent references.

(2) Section 5 – Legal recognition of digital signature:

Wherever a person’s signature is required to authenticate a document or information, it can also be authenticated by the digital signature, in the manner prescribed by the government.

(3) Section 6 – Use of electronic records and signature in government and it’s agencies:

If a citizen needs to file a form, application or a document with government owned or controlled office, agency, body or authority or grant or issue any license, sanction, permit or approval or receive or pay money, it can also be done in an electronic form in the government-approved format.

(4) Section 7 – Retention of electronic record:

Whereever, a law requires the retention of certain records, documents or information for a specific period, such retention can also be made in the electronic form, provided that, such information is accessible, usable for subsequent reference, format of electronic record must be original and represent the original information and the electronic record contains the necessary details as stated by the law.

(5) Section 8 – Publication of rule, regulation, etc., in Electronic Gazette:

Official regulation, rule, by-law, notification or any other matter in the Official Gazette can be published either in Official Gazette or Electronic Gazette. The date of publication will be the date of the Gazette first published in any form – Official or Electronic.

(6) Section 43 – Penalty and compensation for damage to computer:

Though there are systems like cryptography, passwords, to ensure the security of the document, but this still pose threat to the Government due to other measures adopted by hackers. This section provides protection against unauthorized access of the computer system by imposing heavy penalty.

(7) Section 69 – Power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource:

 In the Case of PUCL v. UOI it was held that the procedure is inadequate as the Controller has been given discretionary power and there is no mention of consultation with the accused before punishing him. Therefore proper guidelines needs to be provided in this regard for maintaining the balance between the right to privacy of the citizens and the provision of the search and seizure under the Act.

(8) Section 72 – Penalty for breach of confidentiality and privacy:

This section is targeted only towards the officials who are empowered to collect the data under the Act but the scope only extends to the Adjudicating officers, members of the Cyber Regulations Appellate Tribunal (CRAT) or certifying Authorities under the Act if they commit breach of confidentiality or privacy of any data accessible by them.

Conclusion

Although, the Government of India is acclaiming its success in the area of e-governance but the scenario at the grass root level is not overwhelming and seamless efforts of the government seems to go in vain. Electronic governance is getting momentum in India, but public awareness and the digital divide are important issues to be addressed.

The success of electronic governance measures largely depends on the availability of high-speed internet, and the nation-wide roll-out of 5G technology in the near future will strengthen our resolve.

References

(1) The Right to Information, Act, 2005

(2) The Information Technology Act, 2000

(3)http://www.researchgate.net/publication/268079487_E-Governance_in_India_Definitions_Challenges_and_Solutions

(4) http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l143-Role-of-Law-in-E-governance.html

(5) http://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/e-governance-1

Author: Shree Gupta (University of Lucknow)

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