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How the use of online services catches on
September, 19th 2011

One reason why B. Gopalakrishnan decided to join a computer class at 69 was he wanted to put an end to a practice of standing in a queue to pay bills. It used to be a joke among us retired people that we would inevitably meet at these offices (EB and telephone). In fact, it was a very strenuous process, says the retired bank employee now using e-billing services.

Over the past couple of years, an impressive number of e-filing, e-payment, e-booking services have not only managed to put an end to the tediousness of standing in a queue, but have also brought about changes in the nature of delivery of services in the city. But this increase in numbers is only the first step. These services must be evaluated in terms of accessibility, acceptance and integration with existing facilities too, say experts.

Increasing patronage
There has been a marked improvement in the patronage of online services of various government agencies, including Chennai Corporation with nearly 6.29 lakh people downloading birth and death certificates from the civic body's website since it was launched two years ago. Of the nearly 15 lakh consumers remitting electricity bills every month, about 70,000 pay online.

TNEB also offers the Electronic Clearing Service facility. Nearly 45-50 per cent of the overall reservations at Southern Railway are done through e-ticking, according to Priamvada Viswanathan, Chief Commercial Manager (Passenger Marketing), Southern Railway.

TANGEDCO and Chennai Metrowater are gearing up to upgrade their online electricity bill and water and sewer tax and charges payment. While both these agencies are planning to rope in banks to strengthen internet banking service, experts note that there is no resource centres to guide consumers. These issues point to the fact that in many organisations, e-services are used only as an add-on to the normal procedures.

For instance, Life Insurance Corporation would not accept or send scanned versions of documents. It is always an exchange of couriers with mails sent in between. Technology has to substitute procedures, not duplicate them, says P. Sudarshan, associate professor (Humanities), IIT- Madras. People who might not be adept at technology should also be able to utilise them.

Computerised post offices are seeking to achieve this with staff helping people to get application forms for learner license, community certificate, ration cards and also pay tax and bills. They may download applications, print certificates and also register online. The post offices charge Rs.5 per form.

Saving the amount of time and money spent on travel is the biggest achievement. Ten years ago, I remember the frantic rush I used to make to Velachery to pay my EB bill, from my office in Villivakkam. It used to be the worst during the middle of the month, says D. Ananthraman. Even government employees vouch that much of their work has reduced with the help of technology, so much so that staff involved in bill collection could be deployed for other works.

Cyber threat
Online services have made life easier, but there are other concerns. The situation has given rise to greater security threat. Now that a person holds more than one card, chances of losing it and subsequent misuses have also increased. There are around five cases of credit card fraud reported from the city alone every week, says M. Sudhakar, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, CCB.

Making it effective
Kris Dev, IICT and e-Governance Consultant notes, government services are still lagging behind those of private players. Online booking in government-run buses, trains and airlines do not allow you to choose seats. Online grievance redressal is bad. Similar complaints have been received from citizens for filing RTI petitions against passport offices and police verification. There are complaints of delays even in Information Commission's complaint disposal, he says.

Rural Access to Services through Internet centres (RASI), an initiative of the State government, although it ran successfully, folded up. The centres run by self-help groups to issue various certificates after people submitted application forms were closed as the District Rural Development Agency showed little interest.

Only about 10 per cent of the nearly 83,000 BSNL users in the city pay their bills online. Many users cite lack of a hard copy of the receipt or an acknowledgment of the bill as a reason for not paying online. While BSNL provides the facility to register complaints about voice quality and call transmissions online, only some users use it.

The Department of Commercial Taxes is also working to improve its services. There used to be mismatch in reports of tax paid and turnovers earlier because there was no interlinking of systems, but a new system will soon intelligently scrutinise minute details and will offer SMS alerts, online help desk facility and provide refunds online, says a senior official. Entry tax is soon to be made online. The new system will also profile the risks of deals certifying them as high or low, depending on their history and commodity for sale. Five banks have already been authorised for e-payment of taxes, while seven more would be authorised soon, the official said, adding that 81 per cent of the dealers file tax online.

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