COVID-19 highlights the need to transition towards paperless public service delivery
Shubham Bansal
June 05, 2020

Scheme and service delivery is a critical function of governments. In developing countries, this function takes on even more importance as it is fundamental to making the day-to-day lives of citizens easier. These services range from a Domicile Certificate from the Revenue Department, which is needed to apply for college admissions, to a Change in Land Use permission letter from the Town & Country Planning Department needed to set up industries or factories. In addition to these services, the Government also supports the underprivileged sections of society through welfare schemes. This includes pensions for citizens above the age of 60, input subsidies for farmers, scholarships for students, among many others. In 2019, more than 70 lakh citizens in Haryana availed some service or scheme from the Government.

Across the country, the experience of availing these services or schemes varies significantly depending on the state. This is because most schemes and services are part of the state’s jurisdiction. Even for Centrally-administered schemes and services, the enrollment procedure still largely remains with the state. In one state, a citizen may be required to visit the department office at the district headquarters to apply for a service, whereas in another one the citizen may be able to apply from the Common Service Centre in her village itself. Despite these varied experiences of applying, one thing that remains common across states is the submission of a hard copy of documents along with the application form. In many cases, the citizen is required to go to a specific office and have a physical interface with a Government official at some point in the process in order to verify her identity, demographic information or verification of land/plot etc.

During the COVID-19 induced lockdown, government-to-citizen (G2C) service and scheme delivery had come to a complete standstill across most parts of the country, with no new applications being accepted or processed. Even as the lockdown is being relaxed, there are likely to be concerns about physical interface or handling hard copies of documents as they may carry the virus as well. States such as Haryana which have already transitioned towards allowing citizens to apply for services and schemes through its online Antyodaya Saral platform, can be nimble, and quickly move towards a faceless and paperless delivery mechanism. Antyodaya Saral is an integrated service delivery platform launched in December 2017, offering 525+ G2C schemes and services through a common online platform. In addition to the online platform, an integrated helpline and a knowledge management system are also in place to ensure that the applicant has the complete information or can ask queries during the application process.

In order to achieve paperless and faceless service delivery, each service or scheme needs to be studied in detail to identify the root cause of a document verification process or in-person visit. Once this mapping is done, some service-specific re-engineering will need to be carried out whereas there will also be some common solutions which can be leveraged across all services and schemes. Some of these common solutions may be:

  • Standardised application forms: The application forms of all services and schemes need to be standardised with metadata, so that they all accept a standard set of demographic and socio-economic details of the citizen in the same manner rather than each form having its own nomenclature.
  • Use of Aadhaar for eKYC: Aadhaar eKYC through biometrics or OTP can be leveraged to confirm the identity of the citizen as well as some other key demographic information such as the date of birth, address, etc.
  • Digital signatures/eSign: Certificates and documents signed digitally or through eSign can be delivered to the citizen through email or through a link via SMS, and she may download or print the same at her own convenience. The authenticity of such documents can also be easily verified digitally.
  • Leverage existing databases: If an Income Certificate is needed to apply for a welfare scheme, the data from the Income Certificate database can be used to verify the citizen’s self-reported claim instead of asking her to submit a copy of the Income Certificate. Similarly, other databases of birth/death, marriage, etc, may be leveraged to verify age, marital status and other details, in compliance with Data Privacy laws and guidelines.
  • Minimise documentary needs: By leveraging information through other databases, the number of documents needed to be submitted with each application can be minimised and redundant documents can be done away with.

The Government of Haryana has already kickstarted the process of mapping out the technology or administrative solution required to enable paperless and faceless service delivery in the most commonly used schemes and services. With the Antyodaya Saral platform, Haryana has already been a case study for other states in transforming scheme and service delivery for the citizens and may continue to remain so with the transition to a paperless and faceless service delivery.