Boost for grass roots democracy through ICT in rural India

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New Delhi, Jan 17 (UNI) From issue of birth and death certificates, tax payments made electronically and use of e-mail in their gram panchayat offices itself, people in rural areas can look forward to getting a range of services through e-governance.

If the proposals of the Expert Committee on Information Technology for Panchayati Raj submitted to Union Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar today are anything to go by, the project could be the biggest connected government project in the world with nearly quarter million gram panchayats in the country to be connected over the next three years.

Under the ambitious project, computerisation will be undertaken of nearly 250,000 Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) at a cost Rs 5,400 crore over the next three years.

This will help the gram panchayat president or sarpanch in monitoring panchayat-centric schemes, doing financial accounting and reporting, keeping records of gram sabha and panchayat meetings' on their computer in the panchayat office through the induction of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The move is expected to usher in transparency and decentralised planning, help in effective monitoring of centrally sponsored schemes (CSSs), transparency and accountability in grass roots organisations.

The report, which proposes use of ICT for multi-modal training and capacity building, has given extensive recommendation on hardware and system software, application software, open standards, connectivity, domain specific Data and Meta Data Standards, capacity building, adoption of national panchayati portals (NPP), and facility management.

The Secretary, Panchayati Raj Ministry, speaking on the occasion said, "Computerisation of Panchyati Raj Institutions is a mission mode project under the ambitious National e-Governnance Plan (NeGP) of the government of India. This amount provisions computers and connectivity for two-thirds of the Panchayats since the balance one-third are expected to have the infrastructure out of ongoing state initiatives by the time this project is fully rolled out." E-governance will enhance the sarpanches' ability to generate, manage and collect local revenue and automate their own functioning by making available records of the minutes of meetings of the gram sabha. Information regarding governance structure and decisions taken, profiles of elected representatives and their roles, details of NGOs present in the village will help in providing visibility. In turn, it would facilitate social audits strengthening the Panchayati Raj based delivery systems, offering the citizen services that have been devolved to them to ensure speedy and transparent transfer of funds, markets, communication with state and central government departments as a mechanism for capacity building.

Introduction of ICT at the panchayat level will also give people immense opportunity to handle technology, create large-scale job opportunities at the grassroots level, as in urban areas in the form of operational services, maintenance and ancillary areas. The initiative would permeate a culture of ICT usage in rural areas to such a magnitude which probably no other initiative would match.

The initiative will also throw up new challenges to ICT technology developers as they gear up to meet the requirements of technology diffusion in the villages resulting in improved cyber space covering the entire government spectrum of the country, where information could flow seamlessly.

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