Empower through ‘e-panchayats’

KP Shashidharan | Updated on January 17, 2018

Collective action: It's based on transparency and communication

The National e-Governance Plan can ensure that higher devolution of funds translates into improved outcomes

Cutting edge technology is, no doubt, empowering. The right application of technology can boost productivity in all sectors of the economy: agriculture, manufacturing, services, business and governmental activities. Technology enables informed decision-making, stakeholder participation and efficient service delivery and can help ensure transparency, accountability, and rule of law leading to inclusive good governance. The potential impact of leading technologies is estimated to be $550-1,000 billion annually by 2025, targeted to improve the lives of about 680 million, constituting 56 per cent of India’s population lacking basic human needs.

Against the backdrop of the Fourteenth Finance Commission’s recommendation and earmarking a grant of more than ₹2 lakh crore from the Union Government directly to about 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, the question arises: How can people at the bottom of the pyramid be empowered by devolution of powers?

E-power to empower

The National e-Governance Plan was meant to make government services accessible to the citizens through common service delivery outlets. Now, e-Panchayat, a component of Mission Mode Projects (MMP), has been launched by the ministry of panchayati raj. The project envisages empowering people in villages by improving governance at the third tier of government for rural local bodies at gram panchayats, block panchayats and district panchayats.

E-Panchayat aims to transform panchayat functioning holistically by applying cost effective integrated technological solutions to overcome challenges including issues such as inadequate physical infrastructure, poor human resources and poor power supply. The more complex constraints are extant grassroots political, economic, and social power structures; and gender, age, caste, communal and other sectarian divides.

Many States such as Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa have taken e-initiatives at the panchayat level, but a nation-driven, integrated, holistic approach is required to make a dent on the functioning of panchayats and thereby improving the livelihoods of people. The e-Panchayat programme hopes to ensure people’s participation in decision-making. To improve the functioning of panchayats in the country, it is imperative that people should be involved in identifying and prioritising projects, programmes, schemes and welfare activities pertaining to them.

The panchayat planning process, budget, accounts, and the maintenance of books of accounts physically or online should capture the entire fund flow from the Centre, States, other bodies and own funds identifying the sources and application of expenditures.

The plan outlay should be linked to development works, projects, programmes and activities and services with functionaries to achieve the targeted, specified, measurable, realistic timely outputs and outcomes. E-Panchayat must integrate State-specific software and central software to enable effective monitoring, transparency, rule of law, and accountability. Internal audits, oversights, social audits and CAG audit should be geared towards actualising the intended objectives.

Automating workflow

E-Panchayat is about automating the workflow processes of all panchayats covering about 30 lakh elected people’s representatives and several lakh PRI functionaries. Information and Service Needs Assessment (ISNA), Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and Detailed Project Reports (DPR) for every State/UT as a whole can help radical transformation through decentralised local governance.

Cloud-computing, mobile applications, m-governance, work automation, digital payments based on digital identity can penetrate hitherto remote localities.

The poor can access e-health care, e-learning, and e-agricultural extension services. Technology enables informed decision-making; intelligent transportation; generation, transmission and distribution of power supply; boosting productivity in farming; and increasing access to clean drinking water. The Internet of Things and connecting sensors to online monitoring can be revolutionary for transforming India.

Simplifying unwarranted policies and regulations at all levels has helped India become the fastest growing economic power. Investment by way of FDI, FII, Indian nationals and NRIs is on the rise.

The transformative technologies, if implemented rightly, can help governance become cost effective, participatory, and citizen-centric, while at the same time empowering the poor.

The writer is former DG, CAG of India

Published on July 03, 2016

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