E-governance in Maharashtra

By: Rina Mukherji
Notwithstanding the most comprehensive E-governance policy in India, Maharashtra faces several roadblocks to full digitisation. Power outages, cable thefts, and an ambiguous position as regards computer operators prevent villages getting the full benefit of E-panchayats.
Development

The first state in the country to have formulated a comprehensive E-governance policy, Maharashtra has consistently featured on top as the leader in E-governance in the Department of Information Technology, Government of India’s ‘India: eReadiness Assessment Report’, besides being awarded for its exemplary performance in E-governance in 2011-2012.

It is one of the few states that has digitised all its panchayat and health care centres. The State’s 19 government hospitals and 14 government medical colleges are on the way to full digitisation, which cover the entire gamut of patient’s medical records, outpatient departments, pharmacies and radiological services. Doctors feed patient data into the computer while examining them, and prescriptions are typed into the computer. This does away with the problem of illegible prescriptions and ensures transparency in drug usage. At the panchayat level, 19 types of certificates can be obtained under the government to citizen services from the State’s more than 26000 gram seva kendras.

Digitisation in the State has been done with the help of the Tata Consultancy Services’ non -governmental arm, called Maharashtra Online. The NGO recruits and appoints operators who maintain the digitisation services at the panchayat level. However, there exist many roadblocks to the path of full digitisation.

A case in point is the Koregaon Gram Panchayat Samiti digitised in 2011-12, which faces crippling power outages. A major problem of rural India, Maharashtra is no exception.  “The electricity goes off at any time of the day and computers have to be switched off. It is a major hurdle for the smooth functioning of the panchayat”, says Sharadsadhu Tamhane, Koregaon Panchayat Sachiv (Head). “Broadband services are also erratic, and the internet may not function for days together”. This can disrupt everything, especially when people get dependent on the internet. Pilfering of cables, which is rampant, can also pose a problem. The broadband cables for the Koregaon Panchayat office have recently been stolen; hence, the Panchayat is without an internet connection for over a month. “Normally, the operator is paid Rs 3500 a month for operating the systems. Recently, it was decided that when the systems are down, the operator would not be paid a salary. But now, since there is a lot of offline work too to be done, it has been decided to pay Rs 2000 to the operator even when the systems are not in operation.”

In fact, there is confusion about the position of the operator too. Notwithstanding the most comprehensive E-governance policy in India, there is no provision for the emoluments and recruitment of an operator, and hence the operator’s position remains ambiguous.

Even so, the 600 households under the Koregaon Panchayat Samiti that comprises the villages of Pimpri and Turali in Satara district have been given the benefit of a computerised primary health centre, and panchayat office with totally computerised records. It has brought down corruption, and has ensured that health care benefits reach the people. Absentee doctors and lack of medicines are now a thing of the past. E-mails and ready access to the block development officer have ensured quick responses, and hence, a well-oiled system.

However, the villagers are not yet feeding data of the village into the system. It is only access to information that has been achieved. “Rainfall, groundwater and crop data are maintained at the block and district levels. But perhaps, we will start feeding our own data very soon, and maintain a dossier for our farmers to guide cropping patterns,” Tamhane tells me.  

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