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August 27, 1997



The government's promise to become more citizen-friendly has finally gone beyond rhetoric with its Expert Group for Computerisation of Information on Personnel and Citizens' Services suggesting that a national information technology agenda be set up.

The agenda, the expert group says, must include a 'vision statement' which would be the basis of preparing a five-year information technology plan under the Ninth Five-Year Plan.

The report, presented in Hyedrabad yesterday at a two-day workshop on IT applications in government, has said that each ministry or department must allocate 2 to 3 per cent of its budget on IT training and acquisition of hardware and software.

It further called for the establishment of a high-speed reliable nation-wide Internet backbone and national information infrastructure with private-sector participation.

A high-power review committee under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary should be set up to improve administrative efficiency by using IT in government, it was recommended. The committee could include members from the Department of Administrative Reforms, the National Informatics Centre and representatives of other ministries.

The six-member experts group under N Vittal, chairman of the Public Sector Enterprises Board, constituted on December 26 last year, has suggested a multi-lingual public interface with the government and a three-phase delivery of services beginning with the front offices of the respective government departments which already have data available in electronic form or are in the process of doing so.

"This could cover the broad areas of grievance and complaints redressal as well as the area of basic information services built around information already in the public domain, currently managed through manned counters in these departments," it said.

The report called for greater involvement of the ministries at the centre through a five-year plan for information technology and a specific provision for computerisation.

Joint endeavour of the central and the state governments is necessary to realise the IT agenda, it said and suggested a three-prong thrust on computerisation and use of IT systems in government departments.

The thrust areas are interface with public in the context of the Freedom of Information Act, and networking of transaction between various departments of the government of India and other government organisations.

Since NIC's work is directly related to the work of the government, the NIC staff should be required to train other regular employees of the ministry.

Referring to cyber laws the report said it would be necessary to make appropriate amendments in the existing laws. Delivery of government services could be implemented in three phases with a long-term objective to provide an electronic 'one-stop-shop' service available 24 hours a day. It should be charged for from the beginning as introduction of charges later might create difficulties.

For operationalising the government intranet it would be necessary for government departments to build up computerised information bases which could be interconnected.

Recognising the need to provide access in the local language, the report also suggested delivery services in the second phase through information kiosks or manned public access terminals located in remote locations like post offices, railway stations, hospitals and milk booths.

In the third phase it could be extended to the public call offices which would ensure 24 hours operations with value added services such as Internet and email.

The report said, the private sector and non-governmental organisations besides autonomous and decentralised bodies should be brought into the operation at the point of usage.

The experts group suggested identification of 'mentors' of secretary-level officers for spreading IT culture, changing the recruitment qualifications and issuing guidelines to ensure the money meant for computerisation was effectively spent.

A small group of officers should review the status of computerisation in the personnel management system while maintaining confidentiality and privacy, it added.

The report suggested getting computers on lease as a cost-effective strategy and the amendment of the income-tax laws to make investments in computer and IT systems eligible for 100 per cent depreciation in the first year itself. Such a concession given to wind farms has resulted in making them available through leasing companies at 12 per cent interest, it pointed out.

On the intranet backbone, the report said it would help in the establishment of the national information infrastructure, which is critical for ensuring that there is adequate capacity to cope with, the exponential growth of data-information traffic. Stressing that standards must be laid down right from the beginning, the report said the technology should provide universal access so that citizens have an equitable access to information.


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