Author- Ananya Kanth
Governance is the most important aspect of a State as the structures and procedures involved are the basis of rule of law and the empowerment of the citizens, and therefore,it is the path towards development. The State of Punjab has been struggling for years to walk up the ladder of good governance as the economic governance of the state has been a matter of grave concern, having more liabilities than the revenue incomes, mismatched targets of revenue collection and poor contribution of taxes to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). The government has been trying to overcome these challenges and has focused on other aspects of governance to build a robust Punjab. The focus has been on smart governance and the government has been trying its best to leverage the usage of technology to give a boost to E-Governance. The focus is also on providing adequate benefits to its citizens by bringing transparency and accountability into the State’s governmental structure and reducing red-tapism – a move towards restructuring and taking Punjab to the greater heights in the decades to come.
Public Governance Reforms and Ethics Commission
The Punjab Governance Reforms Commission (PGRC) was formed in 2009. Abolition of non-statutory affidavits in the state is one of the most important recommendations of the commission, for which Punjab had been conferred the “best governance practice” award by the Government of India. Punjab is the first Indian state to abolish non-statutory affidavits. Another recommendation of the commission, adopted by the State government, was the enactment of the Punjab Right to Service Act 2011 and formation of the Punjab Right to Service Commission, to ensure the delivery of services to citizens in a timely manner. In addition, a Department of Governance Reforms and Public Grievances was formed. PGRC was later abolished andPublic Governance Reforms and Ethics Commission (PGREC) was constituted in 2017 under the Amrinder Singh led Government.
The PGREC aims:
- To promote proactive, responsive, accountable and efficient governance at all levels of the Government.
- To suggest measures to accelerate social and economic development of the State.
- To focus on citizen centric governance and promote transparency, accountability and corruption-free service delivery of public services to citizens
- To promote ethics in Governance.
It looks into matters related to fiscal policies,health care and nutrition, school education, social security and welfare, infrastructure development including city governance and rural governance, and examines and gives recommendations to all proposals of more than Rs. 50 crore received from Departments/Boards/Corporations.
In 2018, PGERC called for probe into Rs 31,000 Cr. CCL (Cash Credit Limit) gap and its settlement. The commission, headed by former chief secretary KR Lakhanpal, examined the food credit account and its settlement in detail, and made recommendations to the state government.
The Department of Governance Reforms is the nodal agency of the State Government for e-Governance initiatives in different departments. Through its Implementing Agency- Punjab State e-Governance Society (PSEGS), the Department of Governance Reforms is executing various e-Governance projects under National e-Governance Programme (NeGP) and State e-Governance programme to improve service delivery to the general public.
E-Governance – The Vision towards a Digital Punjab
The advancement in technology and its diverse usage in this new era has brought in a paradigm shift in the field of public administration. “E-Governance is the movement of governments to deliver their services and programmes online and also to provide government information promptly. It further interacts with the citizens and this is done electronically. This results in the formation of new relationships between the citizens and the state.”Thus, the rise in usage of information technology like internet and mobile phones for dissemination of information, registration of complaints etc. are all part of e-governance and often initiates good governance. In Punjab, these are being used widely to tackle corruption by facilitating transparency, cost effectiveness and empowerment of the people.
Punjab has become the first state in the country to roll out e-Office facility for seamless electronic movement of government files and to make decision making efficacious and transparent.The e-Office facility comprises of hi-tech inter and intradepartmental service facility and the officers are expected to use it to the fullest potential for the greater good of the public.The new initiative aims at bringing a shift from manual handling of files to online dealing and thus reducing a burden on the employees and can further prove to be a milestone in transforming work culture and ethics in the public administration.
As a part of the “Digital Punjab” Mission, the Punjab Government has created a state level IT cadre for the properly and effectively implementing the e-Governance initiatives.
Notably, the Punjab government envisioned the ‘Digital Punjab’ project to transform the state into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy by transforming the old established physical ways of doing business and providing government services in new ways that are optimised around real-time system.
Realising the fact of long waiting time and delay in service delivery and burden of physical infrastructure and the bewilderment due to multiple front end delivery mediums like SUWIDHA,FARD Kendras , Saanjh Kendras etc., the need for unified service delivery centres was strongly felt and the “Sewa Kendras” came into existence. It aims at services being delivered timely under Right to Service Commission (RTS) and integration of individual departments. The main motive is to bring a change in service delivery mechanism across Punjab and make the delivery services hassle free for the masses.
In addition, “e-Sewa” is the software that is used to deliver services in Sewa Kendras. The complete software has been developed in-house by the Software Cell established in the Punjab State e-Governance Society (PSeGS).
“State Data Centre (SDC)” has been setup at SAS Nagar (Mohali) in the office of Directorate of Governance Reforms to act as central repository of applications & database of various e-Governance projects. Organisations of Government of Punjab can avail website portal hosting services from SDC.
Another initiative, “PAWAN” Connectivity with National Knowledge Network (NKN) is operational now. It is vertical connectivity to act as an intra-government network.
To end the long drawn VVIP culture and the red beacons that were prevalent and had been misused at times, the State Government abolished red beacon lights on the vehicles. This was later adopted by the Union government.
As an addition to the e-Governance efforts, PUDA 360 has been launched, an e-properties module to facilitate online property transactions, thus bringing greater efficiency and transparency in the functioning of Punjab Urban Planning & Development Authority (PUDA).
A Thrust for the Local Government
The civic services being provided by the local government is getting a push by e-Governance efforts. Under e-Governance project, this has been implemented:
- Official Websites for all 167 ULBs have been created for providing information about government services.
- Facility of Online Application for new water & Sewer connection along with online billing and collection.
- Online collection of Property Tax to facilitate citizens to pay from anywhere and anytime and improving transparency and accountability in the functioning of the ULBs.
- Online Application for Fire NOC & Trade License under ease of doing business.
- Mobile Application for citizens and employees for handling Public Grievances.
- Double Entry Accounting system has been rolled out in pilot towns to increase transparency and accountability.
In a move to tackle corruption in the State, recently Punjab’s cabinet approved the introduction of the “Punjab Lokayukta Bill, 2020” which is aimed at covering all levels of public functionaries.The Chief Minister will also be under its ambit.This will repeal the existing Punjab Lokpal Act,1996 as the proposed new legislation has wider ambit.
The Punjab Transparency in Public Procurement Act 2019 was also enacted by the State legislature.
An e-auction mining policy, which is fully transparent, un-interrupted and un-influenced by anyone in the Government, has been adopted.There has been Highest ever Revenue from Mining during the year 2019-20 (approx. Rs. 400 Crore expected).
Guardians of Governance – A conflict yet to be resolved
In 2017, the government set up the“Guardians of Governance (GoG’s)” comprising of ex-servicemen aimed at ensuring ‘effective implementation of government schemes at the grassroots.’It was described by few as the brain,eyes and ears of the government.Some claim that they are bringing in positive changes.Recently, in the wake of Covid-19, Punjab government deputed 3,195 guardians of governance to assist Mandi Board for the smooth procurement of wheat. On the other hand, GoG’s have been facing opposition right from the very beginning.The opponents claim that there is no need of GoG’s as there is already vigilance and audit departments in place.Some even claim it to be a hindrance to grassroot civilian democracy and there has been rifts between legislators and GoG’s at times. Recently, at the Faridkot unit of Punjab Panchayat Union,Panchayats were against GoG’s ‘interference’ in development works as they claimed that GoG members were making unnecessary interference in the execution of various developments works and was leading to a delay in the completion of these works in rural areas.
The government has tried to change the governmental structure and bring in positive changes. The following recommendations can be an impetus to the efforts being made:
- The government can start digital literacy programmes to increase IT literacy in the State and awareness campaigns to help educate the masses about the schemes and their accessibility.
- There should be focus on education along with IT literacy. Schools and colleges should focus on regular workshops aimed at Digital Punjab and Digital India as a whole.
- There should be evaluation of the present portals, apps, schemes and their reach at regular intervals and necessary changes should be made with time.
- The data related privacy and security should be given utmost importance and it should be reviewed time and again.
- The ease of regulatory compliance of the changes adopted should be reviewed.
- The feedback of the people should be given importance and surveys should be undertaken to assimilate the views and suggestions of the people into the governance structure, thus strengthening the democracy
- There should be coordination between GoG’s and the decentralised levels of the government.
The State of Punjab is in a transformation phase trying to develop a balance between the various aspects of governance and utilise its different components to their fullest potential. The technological changes have been trying to make the government structure less cumbersome and more citizen friendly. The impetus given to e-Governance has definitely brought in transformation and they are the steps towards a new Punjab. The present times demand the review of the changes being made at regular intervals and required modifications should be brought in for the proper implementation of plans at all levels of the government and for its effectiveness at the grassroots level. The sustainability of the steps is very important. In a nutshell, the transformations adopted in the governance part can be the stepping stones towards building a thriving Punjab.
- “PM confers ‘best governance practice’ award on Punjab”. 21 April 2015
- “Punjab governance reforms panel calls for probe into rs 31 000cr ccl gap its settlement”, Hindustan Times, Dated June 15,2018.
- PROGRESSIVE PUNJAB: A STEP TOWARDSE-GOVERNANCE, Purva Mishra
- Punjab’s digital push: State rolls out first e-Office facility in the country, The Indian Express Dated: November 1 , 2019
- Amarinder’s push for Digital Punjab Mission, The Tribune, Dated: September 16, 2019
- SOME KEY ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF PUNJAB, Government of Punjab (https://punjab.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Achievements-of-the-Govt-31.07.2019-Final-1.pdf)
- Panchayats against GoG’s ‘interference’ in development works, The Tribune,Dated : February 4,2020