The Covid lockdown over many months in the last year has a silver lining for the central government which was working from home. The decade-old e-Office project of the Centre has got an unexpected boost and government officials sensitised to transform to the ‘new normal’ of living with the virus.
Government officials worked from home and attended office on rotation for most of the past year. V. Srinivas, Additional Secretary in the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG), pointed out in a presentation before ASSOCHAM recently that “government departments not on e-Office had to attend work during lockdown”. While officials could do meetings over video-link and telephone, signing physical files still required them to attend office or ferry these files from office to home.
This, officials say, has made the importance of the e-Office project finally dawn on many. As many as 82 government ministries and departments are now on the e-Office platform, of which 67 ministries have achieved more than 80 per cent of work on e-Office and nearly 22 lakh government files are now available as e-files on the government’s internal online platform, News18 has learnt. This is a quantum jump from about 14 lakh files available on e-Office in February, 2020 before Covid struck and lockdown was imposed.
In fact, only about 12 lakh government files were on e-Office till 2019. But now, about 1,000 government files are now being digitalised daily as part of the e-Office project, officials added. “The project has been slow since being launched a decade ago as government officials generally resist change. But the pandemic has made them warm up to it in a big way,” an official said.
The project envisions a “digital decision making in Central Secretariat” in which e-files exist with access for all officials up to the level of Deputy Secretary and approvals and notings done online rather than in writing.
The New Normal
Srinivas also laid out a vision of the ‘new normal’ for the government in his presentation, like virtual offices, new protocols for web meetings, virtual private networks, home working policies and ensuring network security in home Wi-Fi. The National Informatics Centre has created secure web-rooms for government employees now through a ‘Vidyo App’ rather than depend on private platforms like Zoom or Skype. Srinivas said the idea is to have a ‘Digital Central Secretariat’ involving all ministries and departments along with attached offices, subordinate offices and autonomous bodies.
He described the model as “e-Office Gov4.0” to “redefine governance and getting to live with the Corona Virus”. This, Srinivas said, involved less contact governance, officials working wearing masks and gloves, most of them working from home (with 25-33% in office) and challenges of the same.