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Comments on the Information Technology (Electronic Service Delivery) Rules, 2011

Posted by Bhairav Acharya at Mar 31, 2013 02:50 PM |
Bhairav Acharya on behalf of the Centre for Internet and Society prepared the following comments on the Information Technology (Electronic Services Delivery) Rules, 2011. These were submitted to the Committee on Subordinate Legislation of the 15th Lok Sabha. These were submitted to the Committee on Subordinate Legislation of the 15th Lok Sabha.

This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.


I Preliminary

1.1  This submission presents comments from the Centre for Internet and Society (“CIS”) on the Information Technology (Electronic Service Delivery) Rules, 2011 that were notified by the Central Government in the Gazette of India vide Notification GSR 316(E) on 11 April 2011 (“ESD Rules” or “Rules”).

1.2  The ESD Rules were notified only eight months before the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 was tabled in the Lok Sabha on 27 December 2011 (Bill 137 of 2011) (“EDS Bill” or “Bill”). Both the ESD Rules and the EDS Bill are concerned with enabling computer-based electronic delivery of government services to Indian citizens (“electronic service delivery”). Both the Rules and the Bill originate from the same government department: the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Since the EDS Bill seeks to enact a comprehensive legislative framework for mandating and enforcing electronic service delivery, the purpose of the ESD Rules are called into question.

II Basic Issues Regarding Electronic Service Delivery

2.1  CIS believes that there are significant conceptual issues regarding electronic service delivery that demand attention. The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology of the Fifteenth Lok Sabha (“Standing Committee”) raised a few concerns when it submitted its 37th Report on the EDS Bill on 29 August 2012. There is a clear need for a national debate on the manner of effecting exclusive electronic service delivery to the exclusion of manual service delivery. Some of these issues are briefly summarised as follows:

(a) Mandatory exclusive electronic service delivery pre-supposes the ability of all Indian citizens to easily access such mechanisms. While there are no authoritative national statistics on familiarity with computer-related technologies, it is apparent that a large majority of Indians, most of whom are likely to be already marginalised and vulnerable, are totally unfamiliar with such technologies to endanger their ability to receive basic government services;

(b)  Consequent upon mandatory exclusive electronic service delivery for basic government services, a large group of ‘middlemen’ will arise to facilitate access for that majority of Indians who cannot otherwise access these services. This group will control the interface between citizens and their government. As a result, citizens’ access to governance will deteriorate. This problem may be mitigated to a certain extent by creating a new class of public servants to solely facilitate access to electronic service delivery mechanisms;

(c) The issue of governmental incapacity at the citizen-government interface might be addressed by contracting private service providers to operate mandatory exclusive electronic service delivery mechanisms. However, it is difficult to see how commercialising access to essential government services serves the public interest, especially when public funds will be expended to meet the costs of private service providers. Permitting private service providers to charge a fee from the general public to allow access to essential government services is also ill advised;

(d)  All electronic service delivery, whether mandatory to the exclusion of other service delivery mechanisms or offered simultaneously with manual service delivery, must be accompanied by strong data protection measures to ensure the sanctity of sensitive personal information shared online with the state. At present, there are no specific laws that bind the state, or its agents, to the stringent requirements of privacy necessary to protect personal liberties. In the same vein, strong data security measures are necessary to prevent sensitive personal information from being compromised or lost;

(e) All electronic service delivery, whether mandatory to the exclusion of other service delivery mechanisms or offered simultaneously with manual service delivery, must ensure ease and equality of accessibility. For this reason, electronic service delivery mechanisms should conform to the National Policy on Open Standards, 2010 (or the proposed National Electronic Access Policy which is currently awaiting adoption), the Interoperability Framework for E-Governance in India and the Website Guidelines of the National Informatics Centre;

(f) Electronic service delivery requires infrastructure which India does not currently have but can develop. Only 1.44 per cent of India’s population has access to a broadband internet connection[1] and current daily energy demand far exceeds supply. On the other hand, the number of broadband subscribers is increasing,[2] the annual installed capacity for electricity generation is growing[3] and the literacy rate is increasing.[4]

2.2  The ESD Rules do not address any of the issues raised in the preceding paragraph. As a result, they cannot be seen to represent the result of a national consensus on the crucial question of mandating exclusive electronic service delivery and the means of enforcing such a scheme. Further, very few of the provisions of the Rules are binding; instead, the Rules appear to be drafted to serve as a minimal model for electronic service delivery. In this background, CIS believes that the Rules should be treated as an incomplete arrangement that prescribe the minimal standards necessary to bind private service providers before comprehensive and statutory electronic service delivery legislation is enacted, perhaps in the form of the EDS Bill or otherwise. Therefore, without prejudice to the issues raised in the preceding paragraph, CIS offers the following comments on the provisions of the Rules while reserving the opportunity to make substantive submissions on electronic service delivery in general to an appropriate forum at a later date.

III Improper Exercise of Subordinate Legislative Power

3.1  Rule 317 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha (Fourteenth Edition, July 2010) (“Rules of Procedure”), which empowers the Committee on Subordinate Legislation to scrutinise exercises of statutory delegation of legislative powers for impropriety, states:

There shall be a Committee on Subordinate Legislation to scrutinize and report to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, subrules, bye-laws etc., conferred by the Constitution or delegated by Parliament are being properly exercised within such delegation.

Further, the Committee on Subordinate Legislation is specifically empowered by rule 320(vii) of the Rules of Procedure to examine any provision of the ESD Rules to consider “whether it appears to make some unusual or unexpected use of the powers conferred by the Constitution or the Act pursuant to which it is made.

3.2 Accordingly, the attention of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation is called to an improper exercise of delegated power under rule 3(1) of the ESD Rules, which states:

The appropriate Government may on its own or through an agency authorised by it, deliver public services through electronically- enabled kiosks or any other electronic service delivery mechanism.

This sub-rule (1) empowers both the Central Government and State Governments to provide electronic service delivery on their own.

3.3 The ESD Rules are made in exercise of delegated powers conferred under section 87(2)(ca) read with section 6-A(2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”). Section 87(2)(ca) of the IT Act empowers the Central Government to make rules to provide for:

the manner in which the authorised service provider may collect, retain and appropriate service charges under sub-section (2) of section 6-A.

Section 6-A(2) of the IT Act states:

The appropriate Government may also authorise any service provider authorised under sub-section (1) to collect, retain and appropriate such service charges, as may be prescribed by the appropriate Government for the purpose of providing such services, from the person availing such service.

Prima facie, the delegated powers under section 87(2)(ca) read with section 6-A(2) of the IT Act, in exercise of which the ESD Rules are made, only permit delegated legislation to regulate private service providers, they do not permit the executive to exercise these powers to empower itself to conduct electronic service delivery on its own. Therefore, to the extent that the ESD Rules authorise the Central Government and State Governments to provide electronic service delivery on their own, such authorisation constitutes an improper exercise of delegated power and is ultra vires the IT Act. This may be resolved by deriving the delegated legislative competence of the ESD Rules from section 87(1) of the IT Act, instead of section 87(2)(ca) read with section 6-A(2).

IV Clause-by-Clause Comments

Rule 2 - Definitions

4.1.1    Rule 2(c) of the ESD Rules states:

"authorised agent" means an agent of the appropriate Government or service provider and includes an operator of an electronically enabled kiosk who is permitted under these rules to deliver public services to the users with the help of a computer resource or any communication device, by following the procedure specified in the rules

In accordance with the argument regarding improper exercise of delegated power contained in paragraphs 3.1 – 3.3 of this submission, the appropriate Government cannot undertake electronic service delivery under these Rules. Consequently, the appropriate Government cannot appoint an agent to provide electronic service delivery on behalf, and under the control, of the appropriate Government since, as the principal, the appropriate Government would be responsible for the acts of its agents. Instead, private service providers may provide electronic service delivery as contractees of the appropriate Government who might enter into such contracts as a sovereign contractor. Therefore, only a private service provider may appoint an authorised agent under these Rules.

4.1.2 Therefore, it is proposed that rule 2(c) is amended to read as follows:

““authorised agent” means an agent of a service provider, and includes an operator of an electronically enabled kiosk, who is permitted under these rules to deliver public services with the help of a computer resource or any communication device, by following the procedure specified in these rules”

Rule 3 - System of Electronic Service Delivery

4.2.1    Rule 3(3) of the ESD Rules states:

The appropriate Government may determine the manner of encrypting sensitive electronic records requiring confidentiality, white they are electronically signed.

This sub-rule is supposed to prescribe stringent standards to maintain the security, confidentiality and privacy of all personal information used during electronic service delivery transactions. In the absence of transactional security, electronic service delivery will invite fraud, theft and other misuse to impugn its viability as a means of delivering public services. However, the use of the term “may” leaves the prescription of security standards up to the discretion of the appropriate Government. Further, the language of the sub-rule is unclear and imprecise.

4.2.2    Therefore, it is proposed that rule 3(3) is amended to read as follows:

“The appropriate Government shall, prior to any electronic service delivery, determine the manner of encrypting electronic records and shall prescribe standards for maintaining the safety, security, confidentiality and privacy of all information collected or used in the course of electronic service delivery.”

4.3.1    Rule 3(5) of the ESD Rules states:

The appropriate Government may allow receipt of payments made by adopting the Electronic Service Delivery System to be a deemed receipt of payment effected in compliance with the financial code and treasury code of such Government.

Firstly, if these Rules enable payments to be made electronically, they must also validate the receipt of these payments. Inviting citizens to make electronic payments for government services without recognising the receipt of those payments is farcical to attract abusive and corrupt practices. Therefore, it is imperative that these Rules compulsorily recognise receipt of payments, either by deeming their receipt to be valid receipts under existing law or by specially recognising their receipt by other means including the law of evidence. Either way, electronic receipts of electronic payments must be accorded the validity in law that manual/paper receipts have; and, copies of such electronic receipts must be capable of being adduced in evidence. Secondly, the use of the phrase “financial code and treasury code” is avoidable since these terms are undefined.

4.3.2 Therefore, it is proposed that rule 3(5) be amended to read as follows:

“Any receipt of payment made by electronic service delivery shall be deemed to be a valid receipt of such payment under applicable law and shall be capable of being adduced as evidence of such payment.”

4.4.1    Rule 3(6) of the ESD Rules states:

The appropriate Government may authorise service providers or their authorised agents to collect, retain and appropriate such service charges as may be specified by the appropriate Government for the purpose of providing such services from the person availing such services:

Provided that the apportioned service charges shall be clearly indicated on the receipt to be given to the person availing the services.

This sub-rule is an almost verbatim reproduction of the provisions of section 6-A(2) of the IT Act which reads as follows:

The appropriate Government may also authorise any service provider authorised under sub-section (1) to collect, retain and appropriate such service charges, as may be prescribed by the appropriate Government for the purpose of providing such services, from the person availing such service.

Since the IT Act specifically delegates to the appropriate Governments the power to authorise service providers to levy charges, rule 3(6) of the ESD Rules that merely copies the provisions of the parent statute is meaningless. The purpose of delegated legislation is to give effect to the provisions of a statute by specifying the manner in which statutory provisions shall be implemented. Copying and pasting statutory provisions is a absurd misuse of delegated legislative powers.

4.4.2 Therefore, it is proposed that sub-rule (6) is deleted and the remaining sub-rules of rule 3 are renumbered.

4.5.1 Rule 3(7) of the ESD Rules states:

The appropriate Government shall by notification specify the scale of service charges which may be charged and collected by the service providers and their authorised agents for various kinds of services.

This is an almost verbatim reproduction of the provisions of section 6-A(4) of the IT Act which reads as follows:

The appropriate Government shall, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify the scale of service charges which may be charged and collected by the service providers under this section.

As noted in paragraph 4.3.1 of this submission, the purpose of delegated legislation is not to copy the provisions of the parent statute, but to amplify the scope of the delegated power and the manner of effecting its implementation.

4.5.2  Therefore, it is proposed that sub-rule (7) is deleted and the remaining sub-rules of rule 3 are renumbered.

4.6.1 Rule 3(8) of the ESD Rules states:

The appropriate Government may also determine the norms on service levels to be complied with by the Service Provider and the authorised agents.

There is no quarrel with the power of the government to determine norms for, or directly prescribe, service levels to regulate service providers. However, without a scheme of statutory or sub-statutory penalties for contravention of the prescribed service levels, a sub-delegated service level cannot enforce any penalties. Simply put, the state cannot enforce penalties unless authorised by law. Unfortunately, rule 3(8) contains no such authorisation. Service levels for service providers without a regime of penalties for non-compliance is meaningless, especially since service providers will be engaged in providing access to essential government services.

4.6.2  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 3(8) be amended to read as follows:

“The appropriate Government shall prescribe service levels to be complied with by all service providers and their authorised agents which shall include penalties for failure to comply with such service levels.”


[1]. Thirty-Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Information Technology (2011-12) on the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 (New Delhi: Lok Sabha Secretariat, 29 August 2012) at pp. 13, 17 and 34. See also, Telecom Sector in India: A Decadal Profile (New Delhi: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 8 June 2012).

[2]. Annual Report (2011-12) of the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India (New Delhi: Department of Telecommunications, 2012) at pp. 5 and 1-3.

[3]. Report of the Working Group on Power of the Twelfth Plan (New Delhi: Planning Commission, Government of India, January 2012).

[4]. Provisional Report of the Census of India 2011 (New Delhi: Registrar General and Census Commissioner, 2011) from p. 124.

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