Right to Information Act comes into force in India

e-Government

India

Right to Information Act comes into force in India

The path-breaking Right to Information Act (RTI), giving legal rights to people to seek information from the government and curb corruption, came into force in India, on 12th October, placing India among the 55 countries to have such legislation. The Act was passed by the Parliament in the last budget session and got presidential assent on June 15. It is aimed at bringing about transparency and accountability in the working of public offices. The new law, would not be applicable in the Jammu and Kashmir. The passage of the Bill would create opportunities for the people of India to participate meaningfully in the democratic governance.

The centre has to appoint a Central Information Commission, which will consist of a Chief information commissioner and central information commissioners. Senior retired Indian Administrative Service officer from Jammu and Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah, has been appointed the Chief Information Commissioner. To ensure that the information sought is provided quickly, the Act makes it obligatory for the Public Information Officer (PIO) to provide the information requested for, as permissible under the act, within 30 days. The authorities are required to respond to queries in as little as 48 hours, if it is a matter of life and liberty.

The Bill exempts security and intelligence organizations from the Bill’s purview. Another remarkable feature is that the provisions of this Bill shall have overriding effect in the event of any conflict between the provisions of this Bill and the Official Secrets Act, 1923, or any other law for the time being in force.

Mizoram adopts e-Governance

The Mizoram government has set up a state-of-the art infrastructure hub. The e-Governance project venture, funded by North Eastern Council (NEC), aims to share information through a multi-core fibre optic connectivity between all secretariat buildings including Raj Bhavan, Assembly house, and the Chief Minister’s office, with more than 500 nodes.

As informed by the state Information Technology (IT) deputy secretary that the state’s -governance centre is fully operational including online tendering information, office automation procedure, intranet for Mizoram government, messaging services for Mizoram government’s employees and an official government website. The project was completed at the cost of Rs 375 lakh.

Apart from the connectivity to the government employees, 360 high-tech personal computer systems would also be distributed among them.

Village panchayats to be computerised in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu government proposes to computerise all 12,618 village panchayats in the current year. Till date, 1,113 village panchayats have been provided with computers. They were covered in the first phase of the computerisation programme launched by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa last October.

The second phase, scheduled to be taken up shortly, will cover 5,409 village panchayats. Orders have been placed with the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited (ELCOT). Last week, it informed the Rural Development department that the supply would be made by the first week of November. Apart from around 5,400 panchayats, the Local Fund Audit department will be computerised. The cost is estimated at Rs. 28 crore.

In the first phase, 385 panchayat unions, 29 offices of Assistant Directors of Panchayats in the districts and the Directorate of Rural Development were also covered. The total cost was Rs.10.37 crore. Funds for the two phases have been provided from the 11th Finance Commission grants. The proposal has been sent to the Government for sanction of about Rs.32 crore to cover the remaining 6,096 village panchayats.

The ELCOT has been sounded for making available the computers. An elaborate training programme is being given to panchayat presidents or officials. A Web-enabled software, designed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), in consultation with the Comptroller and Auditor General, is being used for maintenance of accounts of Panchayat Raj institutions.

West Bengal prepares e-Governance roadmap

West Bengal government said that it has roped in Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, to prepare a vision document and roadmap for effective implementation of e-Governance schemes. The institute would prepare the vision document for 2005-10 focusing on the aspirations and needs of the masses, particularly the rural populace.

The government was planning to network all the 3,354 gram panchayats in West Bengal within the next three years for providing e-Governance services. The state government has also proposed setting up of citizens’ service centres at each gram panchayats. Eight gram panchayats in four districts have been selected for pilot projects, he said. However, the list of services to be offered and prices charged were yet to be finalised.

University of Madras goes for e-administration

The University of Madras has gone for a total e-solutions package that will cover all academic departments and administrative offices. The Rs. 85.94 lakh project, the first for a south Indian university — Osmania University in Hyderabad and Anna University have only partial packages — will be implemented by

HTC Global Services Ltd, a Singapore-based firm.

The project will be implemented in phases, starting with the examination system and then move across to distance education centres and finance. All university departments will be interconnected.

The University is also going for a virtual university jointly with the universities of Mumbai and Calcutta and evolving an e-learning curriculum for undergraduate courses.

DIT establishes mechanism for evolving standards for e-Governance

Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India which is driving the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) had constituted a Core group on Standards to arrive at an Institutional Mechanism and Processes to be put in place and recommend key areas for standardization.

Some of the key priority areas of immediate concern that have been identified for standardization are Technical Standards, Localisation Standards, Quality & Documentation, Security Standards, Meta Data and Data Standards for various application domains.

An Apex body has been constituted under the chairmanship of Secretary, DIT with senior representatives from Government, NASSCOM, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), etc. with a mandate to approve, notify and enforce the Standards formulated by various Working Groups and to oversee that they are in accordance with international practices in this regard. Director (e-Governance), DIT will be the convenor of the Apex Body.

National Informatics Centre (NIC) has been entrusted with the task of originating white papers on all the desired standards which would serve as discussion papers for Working groups to develop the standards. The Working Groups with members from DIT, Associations, Industry, Academia, representatives from Central & State Government etc will be constituted with the approval of DIT.

The approved standards by the Apex Body will be released on the web by Standardization Testing & Quality Certification Directorate (STQC). STQC will further ensure conformance & certification (where required) of these standards.

Jharnet to connect 4500 government offices by June

All the offices of Jharkhand government in India will be linked through a statewide communication and information network ”Jharnet” by June next year.

Jharnet will connect about 4500 state capital, district and block level government offices by the end of this financial year. It would function as an information super highway for the state government and would satisfy all the information needs of the state, besides allowing access to the other nodes which will work as the dissemination points of information.

Municipal bodies in Kashmir go online

The Kashmir Urban Local Bodies have gone on air with their departmental website www. ulbk.org, making seven municipal bodies accessible through internet and connected to the Directorate Urban Local Bodies.

The website besides containing details of social infrastructure including educational institutions, Health institutions etc., locals could apply for building permeation and deposit tax on line. The website would contain detail’s of the development works under execution in a particular are tender notices etc.

India govt inaugurates computerisation of Judiciary programme

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated a Five-Year National Programme for Computerisation of Judiciary. Technology and a scientific approach could contribute significantly to improving the justice delivery system and ensuring better court services. The plan, aims at complete automation at the registry level, the digitisation of law libraries and court archives, and installation of video conferencing facilities in court complexes.

Cisco-VSNL tie-up for broadband in India

Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) has announced the deployment of India’s “largest broadband network ” using Cisco Systems’ end-to-end solutions. This is part of VSNL’s objective to provide enterprise and broadband customers with bandwidth of between 10 mbps and 100 mbps capacity.

The first phase of deployment which will connect one million subscribers in six months across eight of the largest cities in the country, and will cost Rs 500 crore, most of which will be spent on Cisco’s solutions. As VSNL already has a domestic network of 36,000 km of lit fibre, largely consisting of owned capacity, Cisco’s broadband solutions will be overlaid on this wherever broadband is to be deployed.

World

US citizens’ satisfaction with government improves

The federal government continues to show a gradual upward trend in online citizen satisfaction, as the aggregate satisfaction score improved quarter over quarter and year over year for the third year in a row. According to the latest findings of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI, www. theacsi.org) special report on federal government’s online performance, the e-government sector is gaining on several fronts but still faces considerable challenges.

The Index aggregate satisfaction score increased 1.2% for the quarter to 73.5, which represents a 3.2% improvement from September 2004 and shows that online government maintains an upward trend even as citizens’ standards continue to rise. This increase parallels the year-over-year increase of 4.7% in the ACSI’s annual e-business measure released last month. The ACSI e-business index measures portals, search engines and news and information sites, categories that are comparable to most government sites in the Index. A total of 13 federal websites achieved satisfaction scores of 80 or above this quarter – a superior score for either private or public sector — while four sites were rated below a 60.

European Commission sets up biometrics portal

The European Commission has launched a public information portal on the subject of biometrics, a technology that is becoming increasingly popular in the context of e-Government services. Biometrics involves the use of technology to recognise unique biological traits, such as fingerprints; it can be used as a means of authentication with regard to e-services, passports and ID cards, as well as in efforts to fight terrorism and organised crime. The European Biometrics Portal’s stated aim is to provide a comprehensive overview of biometrics activities in current and future EU Member States. The site provides news and event information, access to in-depth assessments of successes and failures of specific projects, and references and links to policy statements, along with an area for discussion forums. The portal is also open to scientific and policy contributions from governments, industry and civil society authors.

Peru seeks to promote open source software

The government of Peru has approved legislation that would oblige public bodies to consider open source software alongside proprietary software when procuring IT equipment or systems. The Peruvian Congress passed a bill that prohibits public institutions from purchasing IT systems that tie users into any particular type of software or that “limits information autonomy.” Under the legislation, public bodies would also be barred from having a predetermined preference for any kind of software, whether proprietary or open source. Bids from IT suppliers would be formally assessed based on cost and suitability to the circumstances, with the results of the evaluation to be made available online providing there was no threat to national security. Congress voted unanimously in favour of the bill, which must now go before the president, who will either sign the bill into law or send it back to Congress for modification. If the bill is passed into law, Peru will join a growing list of countries who have recently begun promoting the use of open source software, including China, South Korea and France.

e-Tendering in Ireland on rise

The number of companies using the government’s e-tenders website has increased by 62 percent in the past twelve months. Usage figures from the Department of Finance, which manages the e-Tenders site, reveal that there are now over 27,000 companies registered on the procurement site, where as much as EUR100 million worth of business is conducted each year. The average number of visitors to the site each month has grown by over 62 percent year-on-year. July 2005 was the busiest month for the site; during the month some 96,000 users visited the site. Previous figures had indicated that a large number of SMEs believed that the e-tenders system was most beneficial to larger companies. These new figures are good news for the Department of Finance, which has been running a year-long campaign to boost awareness of the e-tenders website, particularly among small and medium sized companies.

Kenya prepares for e-payments

Government suppliers in Kenya are set to be paid electronically under a new e-government initiative approved by the Cabinet, according to a report in the Kenya Times newspaper. Payments to suppliers will be processed online and lodged to suppliers’ bank accounts over the Internet, saving the government billions of shillings in reduced paperwork. The move is part of a broader e-government programme that will see e-mail replacing the letter as the official channel for government communications. All of the main government offices have been equipped with Internet access in anticipation of the rollout of e-government. It is hoped that, within a year, citizens will be able to avail of online services such as passport renewal and ID card applications.Asia

Pakistan launches online tax return facility

The government of Pakistan has introduced electronic filing of income tax returns. The new e-service is available at www.cbr.gov.pk, launched by Central Board of Revenue (CBR). The necessary forms for filing tax returns can be downloaded from the CBR’s website and, once filled, returned to the CBR by e-mail.

In order to avail of the facility, taxpayers will need to obtain a digital signature from the National Institutional Facilitation Technologies, for which there is a charge of PKR 5,000 (around EUR70). The government said online filing of tax returns was aimed especially at Income Tax Practitioners and Chartered Accountant companies, who file multiple returns on behalf of their clients. Amendments have been made to government legislation to give legal recognition to electronic returns and to allow tax practitioners who file multiple returns on behalf of clients to only obtain one digital signature.

Dubai launches Mobile and e-Permit portals

The municipal government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has announced the launch of its new Mobile Portal. The portal is a specially designed version of the Dubai e-government portal, www.dubai.ae that is available to users of mobile phones and PDAs. Services have been made available in categories of traffic, Islamic affairs, financial information, travel booking, Dubai information, and entertainment. Among the information available via the portal are visa information, prayer times, stock market updates and television schedules. Users can also avail of services such as booking flights, traffic fine payments, and currency converters.

Dubai’s Civil Engineering Department (CED) has also launched an ePermit that aims to make the building permit process more efficient and easier to use for engineering consultants. This site allows engineers who register their details to submit online applications for building permits for projects that fall under the auspices of the CED. Engineers can track the progress of their applications via the portal, and applicants will receive feedback on their submissions following assessment by the CED and the Environment, Health and Safety and Fire Protection departments.

Brunei launches four e-Government projects

Of the 13 projects that have been earmarked for over BND40 million (EUR19.6 million) in funding by the government, four were launched for the Ministry of Religious Affairs. These are are the Infrastructure Networking and Data Centre, the Zakat Management System, the e-Islam Information Kiosk and the Islamic Information System (SisMi).

The data centre will house all of the ministry’s servers, the Zakat Management System is an IT system that will aid in the collection and distribution of tithes, the SisMi will develop systems and applications related to the task and responsibilities of the ministry, including the development of a new website and the e-Islam Information Kiosk project will involve the placing of 18 kiosks offering information in strategic locations such as mosques, government buildings, the hospital and the airport.

Philippine agriculture to get ICT help

Four agencies of the government have collaborated to offer modern technology through ICT to farmers.

The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development-DOST, DAP, PhilRice-DA and the Department of Land Reform (DLR) recently signed a memorandum of agreement on the use of ICT for the enhancement of the agricultural technology to the sectors concerned.

Designed for the farmers, fishermen, extension workers, researchers and agricultural businessmen, the program called “Knowledge Networking Towards Enterprising Agricultural Communities” or K-AGRINET is focused on the e-extension or e-learning modules about rice production and other farm related topics. This will be given through Web-based information services.

Chinese government boasts of a 100 million strong Internet user community

China happens to be one of the fastest growing online markets in the world. Latest reports claims that the country now boasts of more than 100 million netizens. Most of these users are on advanced Internet connections like the ones based on ADSL broadband Internet service. The information was released by the Optical Telecommunications Committee of China Telecommunications Society. The finding based on the 16th survey into the development of Internet in China reveals that there are 53 million broadband subscribers, most of whom are Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) clients. The survey also came out with the interesting finding that 17 per cent of surveyed users were not satisfied with the connectivity, while 40 per cent were only found to be moderately satisfied.

ICT for Development

Commodity Suchna Kendra gets launched in Maharashtra

In an attempt to link the traders across the Indian state Maharashtra with each other, Comodity Suchna Kendra hub has been launched at the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC), Pune. With this 290 APMCs across Maharashtra got place in the digital map. The idea is to furnish national and futures commodity prices alongside India’s first Composite Commodity Futures Index, Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX)-COMDEX, on a real time basis to all the APMCs hooked to the Pune hub.

HP Labs launches vernacular keypads in India

With a total headcount of 700 across its six labs globally and operations in India for the past three years, HP Labs (HPL), is all set to roll out vernacular keypads in the domestic market as also a system to capture, store and redistribute educational programmes from television along with printable data in quality format. These vernacular keypads are called Gesture Keyboard and were launched in an e-Government conference Conflux 2005 on 17th October.

This Gesture Keyboard (GKB) is a pen-based low-cost device that can be used to input text in local language. HP has developed the device for Devanagari and Tamil scripts and the same technology can be extended to any Indic script. It is compatible with various editors, databases, search engines, and mailing and chat applications. These keyboards were earlier pilot tested in rural kiosks in District Pune. telecentre.org ready to get launched Set to launch in World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in November 2005, telecentre.org, a public/private partnership programme housed at Canada’s IDRC. It intends to support activities that would benefit grassroots telecentres as well as to deliver services and resources that connect and nurture the telecentre movement globally.

The idea is to use communication to help the people who make telecentres “work” to collaborate in solving problems, sharing resources, and – in general – supporting each other. Telecentre.org will also undertake research, social marketing, and awareness raising designed to help policy makers, funders and others who understand the development potential of telecentres.

India to help Africa bridge digital divide

India will assist the African Union in facilitating tele-education and telemedicine across the 53 member countries through the project, to be called the Pan African Network Project (PANP). The PANP will also put in place a communication network, including video conferencing facilities, providing connectivity to all heads of State Government in the African Union.

Village phones for farmers in Uganda

Faced with the challenge of improving communications among grassroots farmers in the Kayunga district in Central Uganda, Information Communication Technologies for Africa Rural Development (ICTARD) has distributed village phones which form a key part of the information and communication system there for the farmers helping them to plan their crop production and gain access to markets. The farmers themselves have maximized the use of the village phones to access market information from any part of Uganda. They use locally developed SMS services to send and automatically receive updates on market prices. Because of this, farmers no longer have to wait for buyers and middlemen who con them.

Tele medicine service for remote India

A pilot project aiming at the difficult and remote areas of the Indian state Himachal Pradesh has been sanctioned by the Centre for introducing tele medicine service in the Shimla, Chamba and Kinnaur districts from next month.

The people living in these districts would receive medical attention without visiting the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital in Shimla. The experts sitting in this hospital will be able to examine the patient through this service. The facility to consult other specialists in PGI Chandigarh will also be available through a tele medicine network already established between Shimla and Chandigarh based institutions.

Geo-Informatics

GIS/GPS to track garbage trucks

The Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH) in India has decided to adopt a three-pronged strategy, including building of a scientific sanitary landfill at its dumping site of Jawaharnagar, to tackle the solid waste generated in the twin cities. Introduction of new and large capacity garbage trucks, more dumper bins and improving communication facilities of its sanitary staff are among other steps announced by MCH. Garbage trucks would soon be fitted with GIS/GPS systems for tracking and more efficient movement. To begin with, Jawaharnagar site would be levelled properly and waste will be dumped in a more ‘orderly’ manner with internal roads to prevent it from being spread over a large area. To carry the garbage, three new 25 tonne capacity trucks would be pressed into service next month.

Food inspection in Sharjah to use electronic maps

Armed with the new PDA advanced system, Sharjah Municipality inspectors are all set to conduct their examinations of various outlets selling food including supermarkets, restaurants and groceries to safeguard the health of consumers. The equipment has entailed an estimated cost of half a million dirham. The main objective of using the device is to ensure the safety of the food items offered for sale in the emirate of Sharjah. The PDA device will ensure the quality and the safety of various food items offered in the market. The device features electronic maps that will facilitate the job of the inspectors in determining the locations of the food outlets and the other outlets that needs to be inspected. The PDA device will also ensure that all the outlets selling food items are regularly inspected. He said in the last few months a number of supermarkets and restaurants were closed as they were found violating health norms and selling unsafe food items.

The device will also enable the inspectors to strictly ensure the safety of food available in the market. The device will also help us in preparing comprehensive and accurate inspection plans in the future. Through the PDA the inspection of each outlet will take less time and will be more flexible than before that will save the time of both the inspectors and the owners of the inspected outlets. It will efficiently contribute in completing the inspection in less time and make it easier for the inspectors to keep track of the outlets they have already inspected and the other outlets that still need inspection.

Population and Socio-economic Atlas of Nepal

Recently the Population and Socio-economic Atlas of Nepal was published. With 210 maps on 10 different themes related to social, economic and demographic indicators, the atlas offers graphic versions of data from the 2001 census, dissecting Nepal into cross-sections viewed through a host of parameters. The atlas will be a very useful tool for geographers, development planners, policy makers and researchers. Jointly conceived and produced by the Survey Department and Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) with support from the EU, the main objective was to present demographic socio-economic indicators based on the last census.

Kenya turns to digital mapping to fight crime

The Kenya government has embarked on a multi-million shilling project to create detailed digital maps of all the major urban centres in the country, showing street locations and landmarks. The project, to be completed in the next three years, is expected to boost the government’s efforts in improving security by helping the police respond to crime and distress calls faster. As part of the current project, the Survey of Kenya managed to reclaim old maps of Kenya’s towns held by the British Museums. The cost of the countrywide project is still undetermined.

The digital maps can only be useful to security forces when existing anomalies in the structural aspects affecting major urban centres are addressed. He said that the main contentions are street naming and the accuracy of information on entry and exit points in different parts of the country.

India to launch RISAT configured for disaster management

India would launch Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT) configured for disaster management by the end of next year. RISAT with all weather capability would be launched onboard PSLV. Other planned remote sensing missions include Oceansat-2, a follow up to operational IRS-P4 (Oceansat-1). A Disaster Management Support System was also being evolved involving space http://www.csdms.in/eg/images/articles and communication system. It would be a multi-agency mechanism with real time network and nationwide data base about suceptible regions. For efficient disaster management that includes different phases, mitigation and preparedness, response and recovery and relief, information in terms of quick and clear view of the situation holds the key.

ORSAC to telecast EDUSAT programme in Orissa schools

The Orissa Remote Sensing Application Centre (ORSAC) has submitted a proposal to telecast EDUSAT programme in 1000 schools across the state. The programme would be shown in 600 Primary and Upper primary schools and 400 High schools by this year. The Centre has agreed to allow the state government to utilise Rs 22 crore from the existing funding under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) for implementation of EDUSAT programme in 1000 schools. ISRO and Department of Science had already communicated decision to establish EDUSAT Hub in ORSAC building and provide 10 SIT free of cost.

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