The Estonia example for Delhi

| | in Oped

Delhi has the opportunity to be a shining example in e-governance, where the citizens conduct nearly all manners of their interaction with the Government, online. It can learn from little Estonia. Political will to implement is needed

You could be easily excused for not noticing the meteoric rise of Estonia, a small nation situated in Europe, and bordering Finland. After all, this 1.3 million people strong nation hasn’t been involved in any international conflict or has given any earth-shattering discovery to the world. But what Estonia has done is special and enviable, in the Indian context.

Estonia’s economic revival following independence from Russia in 1991 is a case-study in itself. Having seen its economy destroyed by the period of communist rule of Soviets, Estonia rose from rubbles, led by Prime Minister Mart Laar, when it adopted a free-market economy model. Today, Estonia is classified as a developed nation and one of the most wired countries in the world.

In 2013, the United Nations hailed Estonia for being the ‘decade’s best e-governance content’. Estonia isn’t exactly the leading nation that comes to mind while talking of superior technology. This, perhaps, is the most interesting aspect of Estonia’s e-governance model. There is hardly any better example of simple technology being put to exceptional use.

This small European nation has had a difficult past with a prominent history of colonial invasions. The country was under the occupation of Soviet military until 1991. From gaining complete independence in 1991 to emerging as the most efficient e-governance society in the world, Estonia has come a long way and left many lessons for everyone to emulate and emerge as a better society.

The idea of building a distributed digital cable network across the country came out in 2001 from the mind of Arne Ansper, a programmer from the capital city of Tallinn. This distributed network was planned to ensure secure and efficient information exchange among the private organisations, individuals and the Government departments. The network also offers other impressive features including optional Internet voting during elections and tax filing within minutes.

The model of e-governance is so highly developed that citizens do all Government-related tasks online. Each citizen is allotted a personal ID code that he/she uses in various walks of life. The Digital Signature Act of 2000 has further eased the process of e-transactions and e-documentation in that country. It’s a truly amazing success story.

Close to 99 per cent of the 1.2 lakh registered companies in Estonia submit their annual reports to the Government using this network. All the data goes into one central database, from where any Government department can retrieve it for its use.

 The companies aren’t required to submit separate data to different departments, which is very much the case in India and several other nations. Apart from killing corruption, this also makes the entire system much more time and cost efficient, when compared to the mechanism followed in most other countries.

Considering India’s humongous size, duplicating the entire Estonian model in India would take a lot of time, efficiency and political will. But the State of Delhi, with less than 1/30th of the total area of Estonia, can certainly take inspiration from Estonia’s commitment towards e-governance.

As the Aam Aadmi Party Government has completed its 100th day of governance in Delhi, it is time for it to bring the focus back on its promise of e-governance and explore the levels that can be achieved by the digital revolution.

Some of the most interesting promises the Aam Aadmi Party had made in its election manifesto were simplification of value added tax and other taxes for the merchants, mass Wi-Fi availability, increased efficiency in Government departments, and Delhi’s make-over as a ‘world class smart city’. All these ambitious projects fall well within the range of Estonia’s e-governance model. Emulating Estonia’s mass-scale e-governance practices will bring much-needed relief to the public, cut down on red tape and enhance transparency in administration.

Estonia boasts of rapid Internet connections at over 1,000 public places across the country. Most of these places provide free of cost Wi-Fi. This has resulted into use of Internet for many daily activities. In Estonia, close to 98 per cent banking transactions and 94 per cent of income tax declarations took place through the Internet in 2012. The Government’s expenditures can be tracked in real time by anyone using the Internet.

Such measures seem reminiscent of the Aam Aadmi Party’s working, which allows anyone to view the donations made to the party or know of recent decisions to upload land titles online for public viewing.

If the AAP’s plans to making Delhi one of the top five cities in the world in the next five years are to come true, an imminent shift towards e-governance is imperative. The city-State has the potential to achieve what Estonia has.

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