The panchayat is not only an institution of self-governance but is also responsible for the delivery of goods and services in rural areas. Besides performing duties laid down by law, the panchayat needs to select beneficiaries for centrally-sponsored schemes and deliver these in keeping with their intended benefit. Hence, the smooth functioning of the panchayat is an imperative for ensuring good governance. The government’s E-governance programme seeks to do exactly that.
The E-panchayat mission mode project (MMP) introduced by the central government under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is intended for:
- Automating the internal work flow processes of the panchayat
- Enabling electronic delivery of services through the panchayat
- Making the panchayat more transparent, accountable and effective as organs of decentralised self-governing institutions through adoption and implementation of E-panchayat applications.
The process of information and communication technology (ICT) driven initiatives at the panchayat level was started on the recommendations of the 7th Round Table Conference of state panchayat ministers in Jaipur in December 2004. It was expected to help the panchayat perform their ‘Constitution-driven and legislatively-mandated functions’ better and ensure efficient local governance.
Eleven core common software applications were conceptualised after the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) commissioned a study covering all states and union territories to identify the information and service needs of stakeholders. These core applications address the various functions of the panchayat, ranging from planning, monitoring, implementation, budgeting, accounting, social audit to the issuance of certificates and licenses. Together, all these applications constitute the Panchayat Enterprise Suite (PES).
The function of each of these applications is thus:
- Local government directory that captures all details of local governments and assigns a unique code. It also maps the panchayat with assembly and parliamentary constituencies, besides giving details of elected representatives.
- Area profiler that maps the geographic, demographic, infrastructural, socio-economic and natural resources of a village/panchayat, thus providing a universal database for planning sectoral programmes.
- Plan Plus helps the panchayat, urban local bodies and line departments in preparing perspective, annual and action plans.
- PRIASoft captures the receipt and expenditure details of the panchayat through voucher entries and automatically generates cashbook, registers, and utilisation certificates.
- ActionSoft facilitates the monitoring of physical and financial outcomes under various programmes.
- National Asset Directory captures details of assets created/maintained for organisation and management and helps avoid duplication.
- ServicePlus is designed as a dynamic metadata-based service delivery portal for electronic delivery of all services. The functionality of the erstwhile grievance redressal application has also been subsumed into this application.
- Social Audit captures details of statutory meetings held at Zila parishad/block panchayat/gram panchayat levels and prepares social audit reports.
- Trainings Management is a portal meant to address stakeholders’ training needs by maintaining training material and feedback given.
- National Panchayat Portal is a dynamic web site to share information in the public domain.
- Geographic information system (GIS)is a spatial layer to view data generated on a GIS map.
The above core common software applications were planned; but initially, only four of these applications, namely PRIASoft, PlanPlus, National Panchayat Portal and Local Governance Directory were rolled out. Six more applications, that is, all except for GIS were launched on National Panchayat Day—April 24, 2012. Workshops are regularly organised by the central government to familiarise state government functionaries with applications for effective implementation of the project. Currently PRIASoft, PlanPlus, National Panchayat Portal and Local Governance Directory have been in use for the past four years. MoPR has also provided training for the other applications. User manuals, frequently asked questions and computer based tutorials are available online in English for all Panchayat Enterprise Suite (PES) applications. The states were asked to translate them in their regional languages. Demo web sites have also been made available for these applications, and queries raised are answered through interactive Google groups created for the purpose.
With over 2.4 lakh panchayat functionaries in three tiers all over the country, achieving geographic and demographic coverage is a huge challenge. Yet, the devolution of powers, notwithstanding the different rules framed by every state, has turned out well. An analysis of the four applications that have been rolled out shows that:
- PRIASoft—an online cash-based double entry accounting software that implements the model accounting system for PRIs, has been a major success with 1.2 lakh panchayat bodies on board and about 65,000 panchayat making online voucher entries during 2011-2012.
- Over 75,000 annual draft plans and action plans of different plan units (urban local bodies/rural local bodies/line departments) are available online on PlanPlus. The software facilitates planning by the panchayat and over 43,000 plan units have uploaded their annual action plans online in 2011-12. This includes 82 zila panchayat, 1300 block panchayat and 41,500 gram panchayat bodies.
- Over 2,36,500 dynamic websites have been created for the panchayat on the national panchayat portal, indicating 95 per cent adoption.
- Local governance directory captures detail of local governments and assigns a unique code to the panchayat to ensure inter-operability amongst all applications of the PES. It also maps the panchayat with assembly and parliamentary constituencies.
The pace of adoption of these applications varies across states due to inadequate infrastructure, manpower and capacity of the PRIs, posing a challenge in the implementation of the E-enablement project. However, states have come up with innovative ways of overcoming these challenges. To reward such initiatives, MoPR has introduced an annual E-Panchayat Puraskar since 2011. In the very first year, the award was given for adoption of the Model Accounting System (MAS) and PRIASoft. In 2011-12, it was given in recognition of efforts made by state governments to implement the first four PES applications. The E-panchayat MMP has been dovetailed with the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA) in the 12th Plan period, and support is extended to states as regards computers and staff. States have been divided into two categories based on their level of preparation for it and awards are given for their performance in each category.
ServicePlus is an important application which provides a configurable service delivery framework for any department to deliver any service—regulatory, statutory, developmental or consumer utility service and can be the basis for a single unified service portal. It takes care of the nature of services given, application form design, enclosures, work flow and the like. In fact, this metadata-based single software framework is for defining and managing the entire life cycle of services.
Generally, computerisation has focused on meeting the internal work flow processes of the panchayat such as issuance of birth/death/marriage registration certificates. The ‘Panchayat Darpan’ web portal disseminates information to the general public on all schemes being implemented by the panchayat, funds extended to the panchayat under various schemes, besides information on circulars and orders, the names of appellate officers dealing with right to information, the methodology to file and hear complaints over e-mail and telephone, as also general information on contact numbers of state and panchayat level officers. Panchayat Darpan has information on panchayat officials, on the geographical location of the panchayat, work musters of all works completed under various schemes, receipts and expenditure under various schemes and under Panchayat Nidhi. With this software, data of all 23,006-gram panchayat since 2011-12 is made available, along with details on the 13th Finance Commission, state finance commission, stamp duty, own taxes, performance grant, panchayatfund, MP/MLA fund, panchparmeshwar, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Only two entries —cash book and works register are made at the panchayat level. The other documents for accounts, financial management and scheme-wise information are automatically generated from them. The ServicePlus application has not gone very far, though, excepting for Maharashtra, which E-delivers a number of identified services using it. Nevertheless, what needs to be appreciated is the ease of delivering basic services through the internet for the ordinary rural citizen, and hence reducing the gap between the availability of rural and urban services. It is this that has made rural India accept E-governance in the same manner as the mobile phone, the simplicity of which is reflected in the remark of an old migrant worker in a village who acknowledged the role of computerisation in helping him “put money in his account in a bank 500 km away”.