Digital India has been one of the most pressing policies in recent years. Be it Demonetisation or E-governance, the benefits of technology in both the common man’s life and administration has been tremendous. This led the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to debate on the issue of creating an effective legislature through technology.
The idea of E-Sansad and E-Vidhan originated in one such Whip meetings organized by the MoPA. After almost two years since the policy rolled, here is an overview of what went right and what did not.
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What is E-Sansad?
E- Sansad is a program rolled out under Digital India as an attempt to ensure transparency and accountability in the legislature. The Nodal Ministry for implementation of this program is the Ministry of Parliamentary affairs.
It aims to digitalize and provide access to parliamentary documents, debates, and speeches on the internet. Further, the program also looks to cut down on hard copies of documents, bills, and drafts among the members of the parliament.
It also provides impetus to India’s GoGreen Policy by cutting down on paper usage and acting as a role model for the country through leading by example.
The E-Sansad is the policy for the parliament, whereas the E-Vidan acts as its counterpart for the State legislatures. The E-Vidhan can transport efficient governance to the grassroots level and create an impact in the life of the general public.
It was rolled out in the 18th All India Whips Conference in Udaipur. Lawmakers, though agreed that it is a great initiative, doubted the effectiveness of its implementation.
Need for E-Sansad
Heavy files and lots of paperwork have characterized Indian parliament for long. This makes various documents inaccessible and generally unmanageable to sort.
There is no single window for the public or parliamentarians to access all parliamentary information without hassles.
Around 5100 copies of the Budget were printed in 2015. The obsession with hardcopies is impractical in today’s digital era and requires a mechanism to comfortably shift into soft copies.
Various developed and developing countries across the world, like the United States and South Korea, have technology as a major player in the legislative proceedings. There is no reason why India should be left behind.
There is a huge communication gap between the parliamentarians and the citizens. Digitalization is the only way to reduce this gap and improve accessibility.
18th All India Whips Conference
A whip is a member of a political party’s parliamentary body responsible for the discipline of the members in the parliament. The agenda of the two days 18th Whip Conference in Udaipur was “Effective Functioning of Legislature.” It was here that the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar floated the “Paper Free” Plan.
This was accepted and implemented as E-Sansad at the national level and E-Vidhan at the state level. Though the various parties unanimously accepted the need for digitalization in the parliament, they were divided on its successful implementation.
Policies implemented through E-Sansad
The government of India through the E-Sansad and E-Vidhan program achieved the objectives of many of its policies, the important ones are:
#1. Digital India
Digital India is a flagship initiative to transform India into a digitally empowered society and Knowledge Economy. E- Sansad is one of the 31 mission mode projects under Digital India. By integrating the parliament and the lawmakers through Information Technology, E-Sansad has kick-started the process of digitalization in the administrative system as well as the society in general. E-Sansad, as a mission under Digital India, has the potential to transform how a common man looks at governance.
#2. Go Green
India’s commitment to sustainable growth and protecting the environment led to the Go Green Initiative. Various policies and practices are being taken up at the local, state, and national levels for an environmentally friendly society. The government distributed printed copies of documents, drafts, bills, and discussions to its members. The E-Sansad and E-Vidhan is an attempt to put an end to this practice and go for a paperless parliament as much as possible.
The National E-Governance Plan was launched in 2006 to provide governmental services to citizens through electronic media. The E-Sansad Programme essentially acts as a bridge between people and their representatives. It provides transparency, accountability responsiveness, and accessibility to the public. Recently during the third phase of E-Governance, all debates and discussions since before independence were made available to the public through a single portal. Another objective of E-governance is public involvement, and E-Sansad is a leading mechanism in achieving the same.
Significance of E-Sansad
There is no doubt that E-Sansad and E-Vidhan are the first steps towards creating a model democracy with transparent, accountable, and productive. Citizens will be able to check the performance of their representatives and the level of their representative’s participation. This will allow them to make better choices and pressurize the lawmakers to contribute to debates and drafts.
Goods and Services by the government can be delivered effectively without extreme dependency on middlemen through tracking the reach of such facilities. Corruption and misuse of government funds will be easier to track in the long run. For Example: If an MP claims to have spent 20 crores on a scheme, E-Sansad and E-Vidhanwill allow citizens to respond in real-time whether such benefit has reached them.
It will reduce the need to file an RTI for most information on the proceedings of the parliament, and it will be easier to keep track of what amount of the government’s intentions in the parliament are coming into action.
E-Sansad and E-Vidhan will allow greater citizen participation. In a heavily populated country like India, it is almost impossible to obtain an effective mechanism to encourage citizens’ involvement without technology. Citizens can easily voice their problems to their representatives online and draw their attention towards the issue.
It will help India be on par with other developed democracies that are reaping the benefits of digital achieve like the United States and the United Kingdom. With its limited resources, E-Sansad and E-Vidhan will help India achieve the objectives of E-governance
E-Sansad and E-Vidhan, through its database, will provide an easier and effective way of storage and reduce the space required to store files and folders. It will also make the process of looking for them in the future hassle-free
The parliament uses extensive papers at both the national and the state level. E-Sansad and E-Vidhan will help in digitalizing these documents and preventing paper wastage for hard copies. The parliament being environment- friendly will not only benefit India in achieving its SDGs for the United Nations but also set a great example for businesses and common citizens.
Such a database of important parliamentary documents will help researchers, students, debaters, lawyers, and other professionals to refer to these when required. In India, courts are overburdened, and a lot of cases are pending regarding the interpretation of the law. E-Sansad and E-Vidhan will reduce such burden in the future as it will allow documentation of intention behind the law, which can be easily accessed, and thus, the laws can be interpreted without ambiguity.
Criticisms against E-Sansad
India is a multilingual country. Thus, any mechanism of this kind must also provide an option to access in regional languages. Further, E-Sansad and E-Vidhan promises a lot but does not have the potential to undertake Grievance Redressal in the most grassroots level of democracy.
Derek’O Brian, TMC MP said that although going paperless is nice to hear, it is like saying “cashless” after demonetization. It is not only improbable to achieve but also difficult to transition.
The resources required to undertake the process are quite elaborate. India has not had a good history with such elaborate general data management. The Aadhar details leak is an example of the same. Measures must be taken to ensure no such data mismanagement occurs.
The implementation of E-Sansad and E-Vidhan has a lot of challenges. From educating the MPs on its usage to maintaining the database and help it reach the public, the government must find innovative measures to make it a success.
Two years after the process began, there is very little progress done in implementing it. Without a timeline and specific list of actions to work on, experts fear that E-Sansad and E-Vidhan will remain a name in the list of policies planned by the government.
The Way Forward for E-Sansad
In spite of all the criticisms faced by E- Sansad, and E-Vidhan, such digitalization is indeed the future. The number of people with access to mobile phones and the internet in India is increasing day by day, even in remote rural areas. Already, various governmental services, applications, complaint forms, etc. are available online. Further, around the world, digitalization has been the mode of connection among various entities.
A day where each MP in the parliament will appear with a laptop, participate in the debate, upload a video of his argument, obtain suggestions and raise grievances of people during his speech based on what they contact him online about is not very far.
Most governmental policies fail due to the lack of innovative thought, incorrect understanding of practical problems, and the absence of a timeline. To achieve success in digitalizing the parliament, the government must create definite goals and predict the time required to achieve the same.
Then, working closely with both parliamentarians to help them understand the mechanism will be useful. It is necessary to ensure the objective of E-Sansad or E-Vidhan is to deliver transparency to people rather than making it a platform to advertise the achievements of the ruling parties.