Aditi Sinha and Prateek Behera write about an e-governance initiative that is streamlining the system of government service delivery in Rajasthan.
e-Mitra is an e-governance initiative taken up by the government of Rajasthan in association with several private entities to form a dedicated, transparent, and a viable system to assist the community with more than 300 deliverable state services under a single ceiling.
Under this initiative, Common Service Center (CSC) counters or kiosks are set up in urban and rural areas to provide services related to different government departments without the need for people to visit government offices.
A couple of months ago, we got the opportunity to work with Vision India Foundation as Governance Journalists and we were assigned e-Mitra as part of our documentation project. (Vision India Foundation is a movement founded by faculty and alumni of various IITs to bring systemic, long-term reforms by working on public policy, governance and institutional frameworks of India.)
This was when we encountered Lalita Devi, an old widowed lady living in poverty in the small town of Chirawa, Rajasthan. She is a mother of four and a grandmother of six living in poverty and burdened with societal and familial problems that took away her sense of optimism at one point in life. We interviewed her during our visit to an e-Mitra Kiosk in Chirawa where she had come to receive her caste certificate. She shared her experiences and problems she had faced in the process of trying to procure the certificate. Her delicate face with sharp curves marking her age undoubtedly showed her strife. Her encounters with the government staff had been obnoxious and often cumbersome. Bereft of any contacts, she had to visit various offices and wait for long hours before anyone would address her. But this was before e-Mitra came up.
In spite of all those adversities, Lalita now has a vision for a better India. When e-Mitra was launched, it appeared to be a blessing in disguise for this old lady.
She was able to fulfill all the requirements for the certificate without further delays, thanks to the streamlined system. And then she started using e-Mitra for all her requirements.
e-Mitra is the largest e-government initiative in the country with roughly 36,000 kiosks across 32 districts of the state, collecting over Rs. 3000 crores in yearly revenue collections. Since its inception in 2004, it amassed tremendous traction. Outsourcing its urban and rural outlets to private owners has made it notably a more reliable and transparent body than most offices affiliated with the government. It is advantageous particularly because of the broad range of services that it provides at one place. Under the e-Mitra project, a citizen can avail three kinds of services from any kiosk across the state: utility bill payment services; submission of application forms; submission of grievances. There is a considerable number of G2C (Government to Citizen) and B2C (Business to Consumer) services that are offered by e-Mitra. Moreover, close to 25 government departments provide G2C services to the residents of Rajasthan.
The owner of a rural kiosk in Chirawa says, “e-Mitra has benefited every stratum of the population, especially the SCs, STs, and BPLs. They don’t feel technologically handicapped while visiting a kiosk. They trust the operator because of their continuous show of determination.”
Private entities acting as Service Centre Agencies are responsible for choosing and training kiosk entrepreneurs and therefore, work in close collaboration with the Department of Information Technology and Communication (DoIT&C) to ensure efficient functioning.
To our consternation, our preconceived notions turned upside down upon visiting DoIT&C, Jaipur. Mr. R K Sharma, who is the head of e-Mitra was incredibly supportive of us when we turned up with our case study. He met us personally to discuss the principal issues faced at every stage of the process. Additionally, he gave us insights on how his team plans to combat the various challenges faced by them. Connectivity seems to be the biggest challenge according to Mr. Sharma. As we know, India still lacks fast Internet connection. If this is the case, attaining goals might be exhausting for Mr. Sharma. Interaction with Shilpi Patni, a project officer at e-Mitra informed us about the lack of awareness and reluctance to use such services among masses in rural areas. Despite such concerns, Mr. Sharma is confident about the Government’s plans that it would connect the entire state. His long-term plans for e-Mitra includes complete digitalization that will enable residents to avail benefits of any service without requiring to commute. He wishes for e-Mitra to be replicated in other states as it would then serve a larger population.
Mr. Sharma believes this project fosters entrepreneurial activities in rural areas. What’s more interesting is that there is an increase in the number of female kiosk owners! People who would otherwise earn very less are now operating and investing in kiosks. The decrease in the initial investment to Rs. 5000 has made it much easier to open kiosks. Moreover, freedom to run any side-businesses at the same place helps the owners to receive some extra income.
It is not only easing out the process of delivering services but also promoting female entrepreneurship and generating employment.
Another kiosk owner in Jaipur spoke with us on good governance. He believed in good governance because it gives the public more power. When the public gets power, only then the country is run ‘by the people.’ According to him, transparency is the answer to good governance. As e-Mitra follows the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model, transparency level reaches the highest it ever can; competition increases to almost perfection and moreover, people’s trust in the system is back.
It’s ironic how the solutions to Mrs. Devi’s problems was with the government itself. e-Mitra is an initiative by the government to improve upon its inefficiencies. Similar to Mrs. Devi’s, a million lives in Rajasthan might have improved. e-Mitra is a government project, but it doesn’t match with our old perception of how the state operates. Reforms and dynamism similar to this help in changing a country’s economic landscape. Our project at Vision India Foundation (VIF) thus made us change our opinions about the government. It showed us what goes into managing a mass.
Know more about e-Mitra here.
(Written by Aditi Sinha and Prateek Behera)