Government of India has released for public comments a draft Bill on Electronic Delivery of Services. (EDSB-2011).  It appears that most of the provisions of this  bill when it becomes a law will be overlapping with ITA 2008 to the extent that one can raise a genuine doubt whether this Bill is in fact required or not.
ITA 2000 was enacted with effect from 17th October 2000 and  addressed the issue of E Services delivery by Government as part of the legislation on the use of electronic documents.
Under Section 9 of the Act, it was specified that the use of electronic documents by the Government agencies will remain a discretionary aspect of the department and the Citizen shall not have the right to demand that services be delivered to him through electronic means.
Sections 6, 7 and 8 provided the enabling features where a willing Government department could use electronic documents for the purpose of normal E Governance services such as receiving applications from Citizens for various services, issue of permits and licenses using electronic documents, retaining documents in electronic form and for the issue of Gazette in e-form.
The provisions of the Act on recognition of electronic documents, digital signatures, cyber crimes etc applied to both Government and non Government agencies.
ITA 2008 (Amended ITA 2000) became effective from 27th October 2009 and in particular introduced a section Sec 6A to address the issue of “Electronic Delivery of Government Services”.
The section is reproduced here for immediate reference:
Sec 6A: Delivery of Services by Service Provider
1) The appropriate Government may, for the purposes of this Chapter and for efficient delivery of services to the public through electronic means authorize, by order, any service provider to set up, maintain and upgrade the computerized facilities and perform such other services as it may specify, by notification in the Official Gazette.
Explanation: For the purposes of this section, service provider so authorized includes any individual, private agency, private company, partnership firm, sole proprietor form or any such other body or agency which has been granted permission by the appropriate Government to offer services through electronic means in accordance with the policy governing such service sector
(2)The appropriate Government may also authorize any service provider authorized under sub-section (1) to collect, retain and appropriate service charges, as may be prescribed by the appropriate Government for the purpose of providing such services, from the person availing such service.
(3)Subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), the appropriate Government may authorize the service providers to collect, retain and appropriate service charges under this section notwithstanding the fact that there is no express provision under the Act, rule, regulation or notification under which the service is provided to collect, retain and appropriate e-service charges by the service providers.
(4)The appropriate Government shall, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify the scale of service charges which may be charged and collected by the service providers under this section:
Provided that the appropriate Government may specify different scale of service charges for different types of services.

While ITA 2000 had already provided the necessary powers for Government to use electronic documents for Governance, and certain State Governments had already implemented E Governance plans through private sector companies supported by the rules framed under the appropriate sections of ITA 2000, the new section 6A was considered as providing a clarification that private sector agencies could be used for delivery of services on behalf of the Government and collect service charges even for those services for which the legacy laws did not provide collection of service charges.
In effect Sec 6A had already provided an opportunity to the Government to “Tax” the citizens for the use of Electronic form of service delivery over and above the present provisions of charging for E Governance services.
Though Citizens of the Country have been led through a garden path that IT will reduce cost of service and increase efficiency, Section 6A had already enabled increase of cost without any obligation of better service.
Naavi.org had raised an issue at one point time questioning the validity of Government charging a fee for Electronic Copies of Gazette notifications stating that it was the right of the Citizen to receive the Gazette Notifications.
Section 6A countered this argument and enabled a new source of revenue to the Government so that the tax revenue collected at present which imposed an obligation on the Government to Govern the country was used only for meeting the overheads of the Government, and service obligations were slowly shifted to the private sector under additional charges.
The logic under which roads were constructed out of toll collections, education was privatized, health care was privatized etc was now being extended to every aspect of Governance and Section 6A enabled the Government to deliver all its services to public through the electronic means and charge the public fees for such delivery.
It is possible that this status had been brought to the attention of the Government and the Government wanted to correct its approach to imposing the e-Governance tax on the public through the introduction of a separate Bill which appears to be the objective of the EDS B-2011.
Except this and the need to repeal Section 9 of ITA 2008 creating a “Right for Citizens” to demand service delivery through Electronic means,  every other aspect of the bill could have been implemented through appropriate rules under the ITA 2008.
EDS Bill 2011 therefore appears to lack justification for its very introduction. An amendment deleting Sec 9 of ITA 2008 would have been more than sufficient to accomplish the objectives of the Bill.
We need to therefore think deeply on what could be the other hidden objectives of the Bill that is not visible on the surface.
(Watch out for more in the next article)

Naavi of Naavi.org

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