My Digital India

intel indiaIndia in its recent years has cut out a niche for itself in the global scenario as the most rapidly advancing countries in the field of innovation and technology. We are a tech savvy nation with as many as 900million mobile subscriptions out of a 1.2billion populace (as per a Time Magazine report), a Forbes magazine stated that the high IQ of Indian Americans coupled with their superior educational attainment, academic culture has made them an economic force in the U.S, many Indian origin scientists and professors have achieved excellence elsewhere on foreign lands, Millions of our software engineers today form the backbone of many American IT giants, missions like Chandrayaan, the successful debut of our most economic interplanetary spacecraft Mangalyaan-Mars Orbit Mission all these reports stand testimony to fact that Indians are technologically very advanced and excel in innovations but in spite of a tech boom, in spite of large youth resources in spite of the many innovative minds we are still facing many third world problems like poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, lack of modern infrastructure and facilities that often is used to starkly contradict our growing economic and innovative prowess predominantly because of the huge gap between the public sector and private sector functionaries. India is a mixed economy with stakes from federal states where the economic growth is influenced by the combined performance of both public and private sectors but unfortunately these units which go on to constitute modern India have glaring differences in its composition dividing the country into two sects or societies, one that is racing with technocracy while the other is stagnated in red-tape, corruption and anti-meritocracy, the end result of which has driven away our best and brightest which is the root cause for our plummeting economy but any attempt to correct this fallacy of prioritising birth over merit will result in diluted and deviated uproar to score political miles for vote bank politics when the glaring reality is that the current abysmal performance of our public sectors have failed miserably to deliver the goods of quality health, education and services even to the poorest of poor for whom the reservation system was introduced but today even they look up to private school education and private hospitals and are harassed for bribes at the hands of Government babus for getting a ration card or to get an RTE seat or to get admitted in a government hospital hence today there is an urgent need for integration of both the public and private sectors which can be hastened through e-governance .

What is e-governance?

It is a Government of India initiative to make available all government services to the common man of India through electronic media for easy access to services by creating common service delivery (CSC) outlets in his locality and ensure transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs. The NeGP(National electronic governance plan) devised and approved a 31 mission mode projects (MMP) with 8components way back in 2006 but implementing them for our huge populace has proved almost impossible as we all know how the very ambitious UID project soar high as expected.

But why it did it flop?

Because we pitched a Boeing against a Bullock cart and expected our unskilled lower level public sectors to suddenly go digital overnight. We refused to see the gap between the public and private sectors which has grown over the years because of overt extrapolation and mixing up of social backwardness with economic backwardness for political mileage and because of non-cooperation of federal states.

A Peek Into the Ground Reality

I am sharing a few instances here so as to give you a peek into the real scenario in our country and this is no rocket science not to understand as anybody can relate to these experiences as their own:

  • When the electoral photo ID(EPIC) project was piloted I got my card with mismatched photos, wrong date of birth, spelling mistakes, different surname and wrong initials. The project was scrapped and on reapplying after some years the card now had more than one parameter matching my profile but with the date and year of birth goofed up again. In India there is no dearth for new age thinking and advancement of technology it is the implementation which is a herculean task to percolate down technology to the lowest strata of administration that is still waking up to the keyboards and mouse.
  • When I was applying for Aadhar card, the data entry operator who was assigned with entering the citizen details was actually struggling to enter basic details like name, address, age, sex etc.. literally taking 30-40minutes per person to peruse through proof documents attached, he was unable to fill up even with our assistance.
  • Thirdly during the 2014 elections as VFABI volunteers we were following up on some 600 voter cards for which all duly filled forms with attested identifying proofs were submitted to the concerned officer at the BBMP office for which no acknowledgement was ever given, we were told that it would arrive by courier but finally ended up making many rounds to the office as no courier ever arrived. Each day we dug up sets of cards in instalments that reflected in the online portal but nearly some 150 forms were lost or were not given due to shortage of holograms and we had to comb through the heaps of forms strewn around like garbage in the BBMP office, anybody whose form was lost were allowed to dig into the mound of paper. On enquiring with the clerk with a computer in front of her, she readily allowed us to look up the information for ourselves as she had no clue how to operate the system she was waiting for the sub-sub contracted 10th grade data entry guy who offloads their work.

Although implementation of e-government is seen as the key to improve government service delivery to citizens, businesses and within government agencies to aid transparency, convenience, less corruption, revenue growth and cost reduction the lack of financial resources, and low levels of skills and limited capacity of governments are some of the main obstacles faced in pursuance of e-government nationwide. And no matter how tall technology has surged there is always a human aspect to it, in all the above cases although there was a high-tech key on hand but the user is unskilled and unwilling to operate or even comprehend its importance to the nation which renders the whole effort futile.

Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas

Today our honourable PM Mr.Modi has a digital dream and proclaims ‘Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikaas’ as the mantra for good governance but how can we ever achieve the ‘sab’ when our public sectors are dissected into sub-sets of sects of caste and creed that is reeking with divisive quotas mocking at the economically backward and killing the impetus for any skill development within the government? On one hand we have the private sector racing against time where only your performance matters and on the other hand we have the laid back and lethargic public sectors full of dirty politics so how relevant is e-governance in this scenario when the PublicPrivatePartnership is so disconnected? All tall manifestos of development will go down the drains if the root of the problem is not identified.

True that social inequality has haunted our nation for a long time but does that mean we keep shooting in the foot every time we have to stand up and then brood about still being tagged as a developing third world country?

Today there is a strong need for a digital reservation quota where digital literacy should be made mandatory, digital skills and job competence should become the criteria for Government jobs irrespective of castes, this policy would whip the cream out from the all strata of society. It will not only ease the loads of paperwork but it will also create a sense of accountability and transparency thereby reducing the current corrupt practices adopted in government offices. And all such candidates with digital literacy should be selected by a panel of private players via calling for online job applications.

The Railways

The railway complaints e-tool seems promising for services but very poor on the security. How safe are the passengers and women when the RPF (Railway Police Force) themselves looted all our belongings near Rampur station on a train from Kolkatta to Bangalore? On enquiring for their ID cards the police bad mouthed us and threatened us. Will sending a SMS or Whatsapping or e-complaining get help in a moving train where the fence eats the crop? They dare this audacity because they are in nexus with their seniors and are confident of not being caught even if one attempted to get down and complain.

In the above scenario if the cop had a digital id engraved like a barcode somewhere on his uniform that my smartphone could read instantly without me having to press any button that would facilitate me to complain, then certainly the clout of technology can counter the clout of corruption and power as the fear of getting caught would discourage such activities.

A special mobile law and order patrol team much like a Hoysala(mobile patrol police in Bengaluru) can be constituted in trains to end malpractices of RPF.

RTO- Road Transport Organisation

RTO is actually Rogues-Touts-Organisation to harass the common man.

In Bangalore there is an elaborate Automated Vehicle Driving Testing Track has been built at a cost of 1.80crores that was conceptualised with the intention of curbing the intentional failing of applicants by inspectors for bribes.

One has to clear the artistic forward 8 test, parallel park test, reverse test and finally bend it like Beckham till the exit with the reverse S test on a serpent line track that is equipped with sensors to detect if the candidate has faltered or cleared. This e-governance project is equipped to test 600applicants in a day. On its launch the officials boasted that the fully computerised system with automated tracks would eliminate human interference in order to end the menace of corruption and touts at RTO’s during the process of obtaining a licence.

But alas is there any technology any app that can sniff out corrupt and dishonest people?!!

Modified Image from gettingsmart.com

Modified Image from gettingsmart.com

The narrow track driving test is a tough one and ideally it should have reduced reckless drivers and the number of people procuring licenses as clearing this test on the track is really trying for a new driver but looking at the menacing traffic of Bengaluru one can only conclude that either Bengaluru people are born with a traffic compass in their heads or the e-governance tool is choked sans proper checks and balances as today this system of automated track has become a money minting tool at the hands of driving schools who monopolise the tracks with their driving school vehicles that has all the controls of acceleration, brake, clutch levers on the left side for the instructor to control the vehicle(tout in this case) while the applicant driver only has to steer the wheel that too with driver’s assistance all for Rs.2500, the booty to which the police officer and the RTO touts are all party to, this amount is only for getting a 4wheeler license and does not include any driving classes. With driving classes the amount is Rs.3500.

So this e-governance tool is producing 400*2500(assuming that all 600 don’t pay bribe) ie.. Rs.1000000 of unaccounted revenue in one day not to the government but to private pockets.

So how to effectively e-govern?

Technology and well defined processes along with stringent implementation methods would help curb this malpractice.

First of all the driving school vehicles must be banned for giving tests as the very intent of the test is to ascertain driving skills for the safety of fellow passengers on road.

Secondly most rash driving and accidents are caused by yellow board drivers themselves hence their licenses must be subject to renewal and driving history.

Introduce E-Police Stations

Most of our Police stations don’t have CCTVs, there are many instances where FIRs are not lodged at all due to political/power interference or because the department is keen to show lower crime stats and hence don’t make an FIR.

E-FIRs will help and ease the plight of citizens to make minor complains like autorikshaw harassment, an e-complaints tool should link all police stations to end the rigidity of jurisdictional boundary lines that often pass the monkey off their backs.

Dialling 100 does not get immediate action as mostly you are directed and redirected to many other police stations and phone numbers and by the time you contact the right jurisdictional officer then it would be a lost case.

Recently a girl sought the commissioner’s intervention on twitter and the case was taken up immediately hence the need to digitally emphasise the accountability by identifying few digicops with announced twitter handles who will ensure action by the concerned police station, in fact every police station should have their own twitter handles where people of that locality can tweet day to day law and order problems, this would bring about a connection between public and private mindsets.

E-Birth and Death Certificates

The Government of India should enforce digitalization of government records like birth and death certificates by tying up with public and private hospitals. All necessary documents like marriage certificate along with photographs should be collected by the hospital before admitting the maternity patient the hospital should ensure that all records are e-mailed to the sub-registrar office and facilitate obtaining the birth certificate by fax at the hospital itself like in the western countries, also a softcopy should be mailed on requisition.

Most enthusiastic parents these days predetermine their baby names hence this step can certainly be implemented with a slight revision in the format of the birth certificate. Ideally a birth certificate should embed a code/data that highlights the parentage along with its legality to avoid unnecessary paper work in future. I say this because recently at the Karnataka Badminton Academy I was asked to submit my child’s birth certificate along with the seal of a gazette officer, when all forms were duly filled attested and submitted the application was returned as it again required affixing another affidavit notarized with our marriage certificate to authenticate that we were the parents of the child mentioned in the birth certificate. Hence e-certificates are a necessity.

Setting Up Government Call Centres

In this context the digital India vision becomes imperative with the NeGP already formulated by DEITY(department of electronics and information technology) and DARPG(department of administrative reforms and public grievances) that dreams of transparency, decentralised decision making to improve government services to public by setting up common service centres(CSC) the government could as well think of having Government Call Centres that should be integrated with private players and private skilled staff who in turn cooperate, coordinate and collaborate with public sector folks to service the common man.

Emphasis On Online Approvals

Currently millions of housing/building plans, electricity meters and water meter connections that need a sanction invariably go through many itching hands waiting to make hay, many of these projects get stalled because a bribe hasn’t been paid and vice versa the builders default on building norms flouting all rules but till date the particular government official who has approved such a thing is never penalized or arrested. Day in and day out we hear about land encroachment cases involving big builders but the onus is generalised as the BDA did it or the BBMP did it and the buck keeps passing many shoulders without any convictions but if there is a mandatory digital process that emphasises an e- approval and captures the name of the individual approving such transactions then the scope of corruption will be reduced. This can be achieved by integrating private folks who are physically deputed to function like an implementation team in public sector offices.

Scrapping Obsolete Paper Work

All municipal complaints like bad roads, transport grievances, corruption, delay in procurement of passports, procurement of housing plan sanctions, licenses, payment of housing tax, betterment charge, applying for and Issue of Khathas should be done digitally for which a digital acknowledgement should be assured within 48hours and all obsolete practices of getting notary seals, gazetted officer’s signature, stamp papers etc should be done away with.

Incentivizing Government Officials

True that our government officials are low on skills and lethargic on implementation but has there been any motivating skill development programmes for them? Does the clerk clearing the heaps of papers ever get identified for his honest performance? Do they ever get an outstanding award or a Hall of Fame award like we do in our private sectors? The Government should recognise and incentivize those officials who achieve their daily targets of clearing pending files promptly.

The name and ID particulars of officers giving approvals and sanctions should be clearly recorded in the mandatory online approval form as it would improve accountability and credibility and avoid any future discrepancies. This giant step would be a big leap in combing layers of unwanted hierarchies and speeding up decision making and improve morale of honest officers if any.

Ecomm Bills

We have been paying our Telecom and Bescom bills but if my Government were to send my Khatha(property document) in a Flipkart parcel then I wouldn’t mind paying a tiny Ecomm bill.

Image courtesy: Modified from indianexponent.com and RK Laxman common man cartoon

Image courtesy: Modified from indianexponent.com and RK Laxman common man cartoon

The government could also introduce a nominal fee for obtaining these e-documents (soft or hard copy) that would add to the government revenue for which the people would readily comply instead of getting harassed at bribe mongering hands.

Introducing Online E-Voting for NRI

Lakhs of NRI Indian citizens who contribute to the growth of our economy by sending back money home today do not get to vote because they are physically not present here but then when all these non resident Indian citizens have all the authenticated identifying documents(passports/visas) recorded by our embassies then why not leverage on the already available data and provide them a chance to vote by creating an online e-voting mechanism wherein large number of Indians whose heart beats for India’s growth are given a chance to cast their vote. To introduce online e-voting for all Indians there needs to be one database with one identity card but currently there are multiple identification documents like Ration card, PAN card, Passport, Aadhar card, Voter ID card, Driving License hence the confusion, to sort out which and arrive at one conclusive consolidated ID card for our huge population would take many more years, so as of now we could get started with e-voting for at least the NRIs where there is a common identification document ie.. the Passport validated by the Indian Consulate.

Making Smart Phones and Internet Cheaper

The #DigitalIndia project aims to offer a one stop shop for all government services by largely banking on mobile technology and broadband connections. Although the internet usage is rising and has already penetrated our youth populace not everybody owns a smart phone as they are mostly expensive and unpopular among the senior citizens and many not-so-tech savvy people. Hence Government should make existing smart phones cheaper and Make Simply-Smart phones especially for our senior citizens, that are simple to understand yet smart in performance that would cater to many non-tech savvy/rural citizens.

A My India button/icon can be introduced on all phones that would showcase all e-governing tools employed by our government together to facilitate those who are unfamiliar to the online world. The Government could also set up e-governance Kiosks as a one stop shop manned by private-government-aided employees in every locality just like our Bangalore-ones to ease the deliverance of Government services.

Many of our start-ups are today being acquired by American IT giants, our intellectuals are being hired straight from the campuses by global companies which only goes on to show that India does not have any dearth of innovation and intellectuals but if the Government pitches in in a big way to shake hands and take along these in house innovators and implement e-governance meaningfully with an iron will then the day is not far when Indians can dream of replacing Google with its own search engine that I would perhaps name as “Bhoogole”.

A scientist once said “Science is an investment that takes time to bear fruits, but when it does, it’s a big leap towards the better future of mankind”  

http://www.intel.in/

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