Governance and Right To Information

Governance in INDIA

Expert committee on e-governance – recommended the use of open source software-Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) – e-administration

Posted by egovernance on January 8, 2007

Expert committee on e-governance – recommended the use of open source software-Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) – e-administration


To cut costs, an expert committee on e-governance headed by the vice chancellor of Anna University – central technical university – recommended the use of open source software. One such open source vendor is Lifeline to Pvt Ltd, an ICT company that has entered into a market agreement with the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT). But before marketing it, ELCOT decided to implement e-administration in its own offices.

ELCOT is a government-owned corporation overseen by the state government’s IT department. It has been appointed to monitor the state’s e-Governance mission and is the implementor of policy decisions taken by the IT department.

Since April 2004, after evaluating other software, ELCOT has switched to a web-based, platform-independent e-administration software of LL2B that uses a Linux-based application. (Linux is renowned for becoming the global open source community’s rebuttal to Microsoft’s proprietary Windows operating system.) LL2B’s president V D G Krishnan said the open source route more than halved the costs, which could then be used to train users. This advantage has enthused the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board and the Treasuries Department to go the paperless office way.

Concerns of transparency and accountability have also been the moving force behind e-governance and Krishnan believes tools such as his will open up the system to public scrutiny. Other ICT experts however, differ radically from this point of view and fear that e-governance could fail if the implementers internalised the inherent faults of the prevalent system into e-governance. “Technology by itself cannot be the cure for what ails the system. The person manning the computers could still demand speed money; it would require a change in value system of the society,” says Santosh Narayanan.

“A part of the public-partnered underground drainage scheme in Alandur Municpality pre-dates e-governance. The receipts for deposit payment have not all been digitised and there is some confusion about who has paid and who has not. Those who have misplaced the deposit receipts find it difficult to get duplicates because of this duality.” says an Alandur-based flat promoter.

In both these muncipalities the back-end operations for property and water tax collections are yet to be completely and coherently digitised. “The tax collectors during a recent a door-to-door collection drive found defaulters in their paper-based records among those who had receipts from payments in the kiosks. Many were forced to pay up a second time rather than face disconnection of drinking water,” says Mahadevan of East Tambaram.

Change would also be required in the government’s approach to e-governance, say experts. Though the need for a central e-governance directorate has been identified, it is yet to be set up. Tamilnadu’s e-governance mission lacks a clear policy guideline and the private participation has been poor with inappropriate tendering processes, especially among small and medium enterprises with innovative ideas.

Vivek Harinarain is the top bureaucrat for Information Technology in Tamilnadu. He confirms that Tamilnadu is in the process of establishing the e-gov directorate, which will take stock of existing e-governance processes. “With the metrics from the national e-governance action plan, the ELCOT has already started business process re-engineering to weed out the mistakes from existing projects”, says Harinarain.

Vijayshankar throws light on tendering practices in government that cause outcomes to go wrong. “For example, the government should seek those who will be able deliver birth and death certificates at the cost of Rs.5 per document that measures up to certain criteria instead of floating a lowest-bidder tender describing the processes that might not be cost-effective”, he says. If the government were to seek vendors who could deliver a service at minimal cost instead of describing the processes through which the services should be rendered, private participation would be greater, argues Vijayshankar.

Other issues about intellectual property rights violation are raising their heads with competing, sometimes even collaborating vendors, infringing on copyrights. With the government willing to give only an in-principle sanction for most projects, vendors are fearful if the ‘Antares vs. CommerceOne’ situation would not be repeated, he says.
(In July 2003, Antares Systems Ltd had sought CommerceOne and Andhra Pradesh Government be restrained from infringing its copyright in its e-tendering software product Tenderwizard. In its complaint, Antares alleged CommerceOne, along with Microsoft and Compaq, bidding jointly for the e-procurement initiative and thereafter, copied and reverse engineered the e-tendering software of Antares and deployed the software.)

Despite these difficulties, Tamilnadu’s IT department is going ahead with its e-governance initiatives. The statewide, wide area network to provide data, voice and video connectivity project was undertaken in the last financial year. Though late, ELCOT has started a standardization project to evaluate e-governance tools and enter into marketing agreements with vendors, as part of its e-government mission. “The less-paper initiative (LL2B’s e-governance tool) has won awards from the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances. It was an economical decision to market this e-administration tool. There will be revenue sharing between the ELCOT and LL2B”, says Vivek Harinarain.

In Chennai itself, the state’s capital, pilot projects have only meant online payment of bills for customers of Metrowater and the electricity utility, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB). IT officials are now scaling up this project to cover other public utilities and other services such as payment of old-age and widows’ pensions.


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