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India has set an ambitious target to become a USD 5 trillion economy in the next few years, however, it can only be achieved by transforming our villages into self-sustaining centres of economic development, with a technology-driven Digital Local Governance framework.
Why do Panchayati Raj institutions (PRI’s) need Digital Local Governance?
Impact of Pandemic: The pandemic has established the key role of technology and data-driven decision-making. Panchayati Raj institutions (PRI’s) have played a pivotal role in responding to the transmission of Covid-19 in rural areas. Hence, it is important to upscale the national efforts towards the adoption of frontier technologies in the government functioning, to the lowest level.
Induce mass technological revolution at a lower level: Being at the interface of rural citizens and governance structure, the panchayats are an effective vehicle to induce mass ICT culture at the local level.
It can build a “digital inclusive society” where large sections of the rural population can benefit from new technologies; can access and share information and services freely, and can participate in the development process more effectively.
Collect reliable data at the grassroot level: The Gram Panchayats are uniquely positioned to collect reliable data at the grassroots level and thus, it is essential to leverage the underlying potential of Gram Panchayats. Platforms such as eGramSwaraj can strengthen the data collection and governance architecture in the rural sector.
The evolution of Digital Local Governance in India
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj is committed to using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to facilitate Panchayats in effective functioning and empowering the panchayat functionaries to utilise technology in their day-to-day operations.
Over the years, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has collaborated with State Panchayati Raj Departments to improve the governance measures of the Ministry.
Rise of Panchayat Enterprise Suite (PES): In 2009-10, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj commissioned a comprehensive study covering all States and UTs to identify all the Information and Services needs of the stakeholders viz. Central Ministries, State Departments, panchayats, and its citizens.
This led to the identification of 12 Core Common Applications that addressed all aspects of panchayats’ functioning from internal core functions to citizen service delivery. Together, these applications constituted the Panchayat Enterprise Suite (PES).
The e-Panchayat suite of applications was launched by the Prime Minister on 24 April 2012. This is celebrated as National Panchayati Raj Day.
Geo-tagging of assets: MoPR has developed mActionSoft– a mobile-based solution to help in capturing photos with Geo- Tags (i.e, GPS Coordinates) for the works which have the asset as an output. Geotagging of the assets is done in at least three stages viz. (i) before the start of the work, (ii) during the work, and (iii) on completion of work.
This would provide a repository of information on all works and assets related to natural resource management, water harvesting, drought proofing, sanitation, agriculture, etc.
Gram Manchitra (Geospatial planning application): Gram Manchitra was launched in October 2019, as a spatial planning appiication for facilitating and supporting GPs to perform planning at the GP level with the use of Geo-spatial technology.
The application is being integrated with spatial and non-spatial data from various Ministries. For instance, Banking amenities like Bank branches, ATM, banking correspondence, etc. (Ministry of Finance); Postal Facilities (Ministry of Communication); Schools (Department of School Education & Literacy), etc.
This application is also linked with Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) report, Mission Antyodaya (MA) and MA gap analysis, and Resource Envelope allocated to the Gram Panchayat.
eGramSwaraj (eGS, Simplified Work-Based Accounting Software): It is a single platform for all planning and accounting needs of PRIs including various other aspects of Panchayat functioning. This application is developed with an aim for tracking every expenditure incurred for each of the activities proposed under the
Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs).
The application brings in transparency, accountability, and real-time monitoring of the GPDP. It has been developed by amalgamating the functionalities of currently available applications in the e-Panchayat Mission Mode Project (MMP). This application forms the base for the system with the Public Financial Management System (PFMS).
eGramSwaraj-PFMS Interface (eGSPI): It was launched in 2018, for enhancing transparency and accountability, integration of accounting module of eGS and Public Financial Management System was carried out to provide an interface for the panchayats to make online payments, viz. expenditure incurred under Central Finance Commission. eGSPI is a one-of-its-kind interface for GPs to make real-time
payments to vendors/service providers.
AuditOnline: It was launched in 2020 subsequent to the recommendation of the Fifteenth Finance Commission. It aims to further strengthen financial management and transparency of Panchayats.
What are the upcoming reforms to improve digital local governance?
Considering the emergence of frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Ministry is in the process of bringing several improvements in the eGramSwaraj portal as well as better utilisation of existing platforms such as Gram Manchitra.
Since Gram Panchayats are mandated to plan and execute activities relating to the twenty-nine focus areas listed in the Eleventh Schedule. So, an endeavour is underway to bring the scheme beneficiaries list of the eighteen departments. This will further enhance transparency in the Gram Sabha meeting.
The Ministry aims to elevate the eGramSwaraj portal as a comprehensive platform that could not only bring transparency, but it could also bring ease in financial planning and utilisation at the Gram Panchayat level.
Considering the successful integration of the eGramSwaraj with the PFMS platform, the Ministry is exploring the development of an integrated platform with Government e-Marketplace (GeM) for the Panchayats, to avail various kinds of services from vendors/service providers to meet the requirement at the grassroots level.
A Chatbot, driven by Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning, for addressing the most common eGramSwaraj issues is also being developed.
In conclusion, The aforesaid interventions are bound to enrich the digital local governance framework of the country and contribute to the technological prowess of the Panchayats and the nation.