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Your cell phone as key to govt services
Shubhankar Adhikari  NEW DELHI | 26th Feb 2012

E-pramaan, to be launched in June 2012, is expected to reduce long queues and also eliminate corruption. Photo: Abhishek Shukla

ong queues at government offices may become a thing of the past if the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) has its way. The initiative, called e-pramaan, will authenticate users so that they can access government services through their cell phones and computers. This, officials feel, will free the users from the need to visit government offices often for purposes such as getting a caste certificate or land deed.

"Users have to get their cell phone numbers verified during a one-time registration. They can then access government services that are available on their cell phones," NeGP director Rajendra Kumar told The Sunday Guardian.

"The intention is to reduce the need for people to visit government departments." The NeGD plans to launch e-pramaan, which is in pilot-test stage, by June. "UID/Aadhar numbers can also be used for accessing government services once they are available."

The initiative is aimed at scaling down corruption by reducing interaction between bureaucrats and the common people, a senior official says. Raghavan Suresh, director of the Bangalore-based Public Affairs Centre concurs, saying, "We have several examples of e-governance initiatives (like e-pramaan) reducing corruption. When the process of paying property taxes in Bangalore went online, corruption was nearly eliminated. An initiative like e-pramaan can improve efficiency by eliminating middlemen, paper forms or the need to stand in queues. Patronage and favouritism in government departments can also be reduced."

Kamal Jain, senior manager of capacity building at the National Institute for Smart Governance, cites a study done by IIM-Ahmedabad of three e-governance projects in 12 states, which revealed that the initiatives significantly reduced corruption in most cases. "The use of cell phones as a medium to deliver services through e-governance would be very effective. Cell phones have much more penetration and popularity than the Internet in rural areas."

But Anupam Saraph, advisor to the government of Goa on e-governance, says that e-pramaan lacks several components to become useful and fight against corruption. "The framework is silent on the issue of privacy. It is unclear how a user is going to find out how his identity information has been used or who is handling it. The user is also not in control of the authentication process. There is a huge risk of large-scale scams and identity thefts," he warns.

Charru Malhotra, assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, agrees. "The privacy concerns of the citizens are at stake. The question is whether they would like to share the data required for authentication for e-pramaan."

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