I have never had a pleasant experience at a government office--be it getting a property registered or having to procure a birth or death certificate.
There are several things I have disliked at these offices--the way the citizens are treated, the presence of touts, the dingy filthy offices, and the fact that these offices only left me more disillusioned about the state of affairs in my motherland.
I am sure most Indians share my view. And that's why e-government projects come as such a breath of fresh air.
Recently, I had the first-hand experience of a mission-mode e-government project here--the Passport Seva Project (PSP) that was implemented by India's biggest software company, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
The Indian government initiated the PSP to mitigate problems faced by citizens in obtaining passport services. I would not say my recent experience at the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK; or the center that issues the passport) was a pleasant one (yes, there were quite a few problems that I faced), but then I didn't have to go through a tout, no one asked me for a bribe and the office, for a change, was not dingy, or stinky.
Let's look at the flaws first. Under the PSP, passports are to be issued within three working days. That's not happening as yet. At the PSK, we heard tales of people who received their passports after two months. Even if you go for the Tatkal (or urgent) scheme and pay an additional charge, your passport will take at least a week to reach you. (The PSP's promise is to reduce this to three days for regular processing period, and one day for passport applications under the Tatkal scheme).
The biggest problem is getting an appointment at the PSK. Appointments are to be sought through the PSP portal. But in the case of the Gurgaon PSK, you have to log in a bit before the clock strikes 1800 hours and type as quickly as you can...if you are lucky, you will get an appointment. The slots get filled up within a matter of seconds.
I thought this was a very poor deployment of technology. Why should appointments be given only after 6pm?
The result: people (who are not tech-savvy) still go to a tout to get an appointment.
At the center, systems are pretty well laid out. However, I didn't see any priority given to children under three years of age, senior citizens or even handicapped people, as promised.
The PSKs badly needed a helpdesk outside the center. Everyone was just walking in; some didn't even have the "mandatory" appointment. And these "intruders" were taking up the time of officials--who had to explain the entire procedure of applying for a passport--when these officials should be attending to those who already had appointments and were waiting for their tokens.
Moreover, there is discrepancy in information on the Web site and what is actually required at the center. For instance, the Web site says you can give your Income Tax Return as proof of address, while the official at the counter said it was not admissible.
Similarly, the Web site does not tell you to need to carry your educational certificates such as graduation degree so that officials can verify it at the center.
But then, it''s still not a bad start. One only hopes that TCS works on these glitches, and that more e-government projects come up in India, and soon.