When an “Aam Aadmi” exposed a journalist called Mihir Sharma

On 19th February, the Government launched a site called “eBiz Portal”. The press release clearly said that this was an ‘Integration’ of Services, which were earlier available on scattered sites, onto one platform, to provide an end-to-end solution. I did not know of this until I saw the following tweets from journalist Mihir S Sharma:

Through his tweets, Mihir tried to portray that the Government was essentially “reselling” services which were existing since 2011, as a “PR” campaign. Once I checked and realised it was indeed only an “integration” and the Government never claimed to create something new, I countered him. That’s when an “Aam aadmi” came up to fight the spin by a seasoned journalist.

Enter Venkat Goli. On the face of it, an ordinary Twitter user, with less than a 100 followers. In a series of tweets, he claimed to have led the IT team involved in this project some time back, and gave some details. He said he was an employee of a software giant, which the Government had roped in to help with this project. Intrigued, I asked him to send me a mail on this topic. And that was when I knew the complete truth about this project, which I will now reproduce.

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Venkat revealed that this “eBiz” portal was one of the 27 “Mission Mode Projects” envisaged by the UPA Government in 2006. The project finally started in around 2009, when Venkat’s company got the contract. He said, “eBiz was envisioned as a project that would help improve the ease of doing business in India. In fact, the successful roll-out and adoption of eBiz would improve India’s rankings in the World Bank’s annual “Ease of Doing Business” Report”.

eBiz was aimed at providing aggregated services across multiple departments shifting from a department based to an investor-centric perspective. It would serve as a one-stop shop for all the needs of a businessman. Using a set of questions and an intelligent wizard, the portal would determine the set of regulatory procedures required and forward these applications online to various departments. The investor could then track the request on the portal and receive the permits, licenses and clearances in a digitally signed online format.

But sadly, the eBiz project never took off and struggled due to inter-department turf wars. This project needed integrating various departments like Corporate Affairs, Labour, Income Tax, Environment Ministry etc and for this, it needed co-operation from all departments concerned.

1. The Corporate Affairs services that were envisaged to be made online were blocked citing various technical infeasibilities.

2. The Environment ministry at that time did not even consent to meetings to chart out a roadmap for integration.

3. Other departments such as the Controller General of Accounts (CGA, not to be confused with CAG) had reservations on the Payment Gateway envisaged.

In spite of the project being tracked by the Minister of Commerce and Industries and the Junior Minister and later being escalated to the PMO and the Cabinet Secretary no serious tangible progress was made. Finally, in January 2013 during the CII summit in Agra, the eBiz project was launched as a static website portal. There were no services online but just information and content that included a license wizard.

From all that Venkat said above, it is clear that this was an important project, to help businesses in India, and the UPA Government failed miserably at implementing it, even though it worked on it for almost 5 years. In contrast, in around 8 months, Modi’s Government has managed to at least partially achieve what this site envisaged. Many more services are yet to be integrated but a lot has been achieved:

1. The Corporate Affairs services have now been integrated

2. The Controller General of Accounts gave permission to establish a payment gateway solution

Was the Government “reselling” anything? Was this a “PR” exercise? OR is Mihir Sharma guilty of spreading false propaganda wilfully, out of his blind hatred for Modi and his Government? Sadly, these are the kind of journalists we have today, and it is upto ordinary citizens like Venkat Goli to stand up to them and set the record straight.

co-founder, OpIndia.com

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