e-governance, Kerala
The government’s ambitious project Kerala-Fibre Optic Network or K-Fon, to give high-speed Internet connection to around 20 lakh BPL (below poverty line) families, will be a key component of the e-governance and digital governance project

Here is how Kerala has become the country's first fully e-governed state

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Kerala has powered ahead in e-governance. This southern state has achieved its goal of becoming India’s first fully e-governed state and this is a major step forward in the country’s digital transformation journey.

In simple terms, this means that most government services in Kerala are now available online, making it easier and more convenient for citizens to access them.

E-governance or electronic governance is a model of governance for the information age that aims to implement procedures and frameworks for utilising information and communication technologies at various levels of government, the public sector and beyond.

Kerala has built on its legacy as the first fully literate state in India to achieve this milestone through a number of policy initiatives intended to transform itself into a digitally-empowered society. The government has digitalised the delivery of essential services across many domains with a focus on a knowledge-based economy and 100 per cent digital literacy, ensuring transparency, inclusivity and accessibility for all citizens.

In the Kerala IT Policy of 2017, the vision of e-governance is stated as: “Transform Kerala into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy towards sustainable economic growth by harnessing the e-governance ecosystem of the state and provide all public services to citizens through electronic mode.”

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Government perspective

Explained Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan: “The government is taking a number of initiatives to ensure the online rights of the people. The state secretariat, district collectorates, regional transport offices and various commissionerates – all have implemented the e-office system for speedy and effective file management. The government is taking all the steps to spread it to the taluk level.”

The government’s ambitious project Kerala-Fibre Optic Network or K-Fon, to give high-speed Internet connection to around 20 lakh BPL (below poverty line) families, will be a key component of the e-governance and digital governance project.

The e-governance era in Kerala officially began in 1999 with the founding of the Information Kerala Mission and the Kerala State IT Mission. The first e-governance project in India, ‘Akshaya’, was established in 2002 to address the backwardness of Kerala’s Malappuram district. It was a key factor in the district becoming the nation’s first e-literate district.

Kerala can also take pride in creating Techno Park, India’s first technology park, in 1990.

The major and obvious benefits of e-government include improved and transparent public service delivery, effective and fruitful interactions between the government and the people, better information dissemination, the reduction of corruption through increased accountability and transparency, austerity through reduced costs, increased revenue collection, and quicker service delivery.

Also read: Kerala govt approves ordinance safeguarding health service workers

Kerala scores

Kerala consistently performs well in terms of the number of e-services offered. It ranks third in terms of the number of e-transactions per 1,000 people and fourth overall among all states, according to the eTAAL portal run by the Union government.

The administrative reforms commission of Kerala in 2021, in its 11th report, had submitted many suggestions to improve the e-governance scenario in the state. The VS Achuthanandan-led commission had pointed out several areas as scope for improvement in the project implementation.

“One of the major constraints noted by the commission is the lack of technical competency of the departments. Only a few departments have qualified technical persons who can function as business analysts and has an awareness of technology, technical solution process and management of e-governance applications to provide services online to the people.

“A majority of e-governance projects are implemented with the support of the National Informatics Centre (NIC). During interactions with the Commission, some departments raised the issue of a rigid attitude and approach of some project heads of NIC, which hinder departmental initiatives. An organisation like NIC needs to provide agility and innovative approaches for development of e-governance projects, but many times are found to be more rigid in their attitude over the software development life cycle of the project,” read the report.

However, the current leadership of the KSITM is finding it smooth working with the NIC. “We are partnering with the NIC on various fronts and it has been going well,” a senior official at the Mission told The Federal. If some particular departments have any issues, they could sort it out on their own. “There is no conflict or issues with the central agency,” he added.

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Over-dependence on Akshaya Centres

Another notable point raised by the reforms committee has been the functioning of Akshaya centres.

“Akshaya Centres facilitate more than 90 per cent of e-governance services available to the public. There is a tendency among the public to approach the Akshaya Centre even if they have access to computers and Internet connection,” said the report.

Further, it added, “Even though Akshaya Centres play a huge and commendable role in making e-governance service available to all categories of people in the state, over-dependence on these Centres holds back people from learning how to avail the services by themselves, which is a basic aim of e-governance. Giving proper awareness to the public along with making the applications more user friendly, easy to comprehend and enhancing the user experience may help to solve this issue.”

The digital literacy programme carried out in select panchayats might prove a solution for this. Last year, the Pullumpara village panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram district achieved the distinction of becoming the first totally digitally literate panchayat in India. All the villagers can now use digital devices ranging from smart phones to computers, claims the local government department.

Data privacy is another issue that was pointed out by the administrative reforms commission, which the government should be very careful about.

AADHAR hiccup

E-governance provides a platform where a person can avail optimal services from the government and become an important stakeholder in the governance of the country.

Governments often collect huge amount of personal data to provide online services. The data is also shared across multiple agencies. The government needs to put in place robust systems to ensure data security and privacy so that citizens do not suffer due to data breaches affecting their Right of Privacy, the ARC report warned.

Some of the think-tanks of the LDF government criticise the government’s lack of concern for the Central government’s efforts to make the AADHAR compulsory for a number of services. Despite the CPI(M) leadership’s reservations about AADHAR for a variety of reasons, state government officials don’t seem to be bothered by the Centre’s drive.

“We are implementing a variety of AADHAR based services already. Our Akshaya centres are the authorised agency for the enrolment of UIDAI/Aadhaar. We do not find any issues in it, nor the state government has any issues with it,” said an IT mission manager.

“The AADHAR related services are overrated in outcomes and this has been the attitude of the bureaucracy from the top, right from 2016,” said a policymaker with the LDF, who prefers to remain anonymous. “And, as far as data protection and privacy are concerned, whenever data of the public is collected there is no case where there is protection of personal information. The latest case in this regard is the collection of genome data,” added the policymaker.

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