Monday, March 30, 2015

Let's Go Digital

The new government in India has started many positive and useful campaigns like “Clean India” (स्वच्छ भारत), “Make in India”, “PM Jan Dhan Yojana”, etc. All these campaigns have a good purpose, and huge potential if implemented appropriately. One such initiative is “Digital India”.

Image Source : MapsOfIndia.com
India is still under developing country. Many parts of India are yet to be connected by strong telephone networks, lack regular power supply, proper infra-structure. Work towards Digital India will also push for improvements in these aspects.

When the era of computers started, many opposed to it fearing computers may replace human work, may take jobs away. This is true partially. Computer will replace human work which is redundant, will only take jobs of people who refuse to learn and update themselves.

If we look at the larger picture, computers have only helped mankind in achieving accuracy, efficiency, greater scientific feats. The industries that identified the benefits of automation, are now flourishing.

Take the example of banking today. A customer has many ways of accessing and transacting on his account like internet, mobile, twitter (surprising, but yes) that never existed before. A quick alert on a mobile of every transaction, a mini statement from ATM enabled him to be informed and aware of his account without having the need to go to a branch to update his passbook. Moreover he got the freedom of not having to go to a branch for almost all possible banking activities.

Earlier customer depended on the bank, and was required to go to the branch and stand in queue for everything. With technology coming in picture, the scenario has changed to be customer oriented. Due to the heavy competition by private banks, even the nationalized banks are forced to be techno savvy and customer friendly. The banking is the best example of what technology can do to empower both the customer and a service provider.

The same needs to happen to the biggest and most important sector in India, The Government. Like banking, people heavily depend on government for many things. From birth certificate to death certificate, identity documents, property documents, tax documents etc. all major aspects of our life on paper is issued and monitored by government.

We elect a government; they hire people, to do things for us, to serve us. We pay tax to help them run the nation. But unfortunately we don’t get the (well deserved) friendly feeling in any government office. We have to wait long for the smallest of things, to get answer for simple questions. Even though we comply all the rules, complete our documentation, we don’t have a certainty of getting things done in reasonable time.

That’s why we go to unofficial agents, who have contacts and promise to do our work in lesser time, and charge hefty commission for it. To save our time, we ignore that we are becoming a part of corrupt act.

Technology can change all this. E-Governance can bring in many necessary changes in the way government and related services function. It can make it more reliable and efficient. Taking government digital will automatically promote and increase digital literacy in India, and fulfill the vision of Digital India.

Here is how it should work and benefit:

Efficiency
Computers are obviously way faster than humans in certain things, and this brings efficiency in work. Things that usually take time in government are communication within departments, horizontal communication within peers, or vertical communication in hierarchy for approvals can work faster, and help getting results faster.

Framework
Software works on logic and clear decision framework. If you input 2+2, you are bound to get 4.

So, in many offices you will see government officials seating on files with various proposals, applications with no logical reason. Clear framework and guidelines enforced by system will ensure faster decisions.

When person applies for some certificate, or a contractor submits a tender, if he has satisfied all the conditions, he should get it in stipulated time, and not wait for mercy from some officer.

Reporting
Statistical reporting is one of the areas computers are best at. When a carefully detailed database of all the activities and transactions government does, is created and maintained, computers can generate all kinds of reports.

So it will be easy to generate reports of running projects, deadlines, pending projects, stuck projects etc. So is applicable for all applications pending in government offices.

Access to Information
Anna Hazare fought for and won the RTI act for public. But it is still a tedious and time consuming task. With technology, it will be easier to access and provide required information faster.

People will be able to monitor all small to big government projects. They can ask for the status of road construction in their area, its budget, name of contractor etc. If they find any irregularity they can report it.

Now there is an app for everything. Imagine an app, where you can take photo of potholes on the road, a leaking pipeline or uncollected garbage, and send it to relevant department. You will get a ticket number for your report, and sent alerts on progress.

Transparency
When a good e-governance system is implemented, it brings transparency in decision making. It is easy to derive why a certain decision was taken, why something was selected over the other. There is no place for nepotism in e-governance.

Less Corruption
With all above, it is obvious that e-governance will help reduce the corruption. Like I explained above, in current system, you have to bribe to get things done faster than usual, or for legalizing illegal things. When things will be done transparently, efficiently, and in friendly manner, people who are forced to bribe will choose to avoid it. People who love to bribe will find it difficult.

Good Implementation is essential

Image Source : Wikipedia
When a promising initiative like Aadhar (providing unique identity to citizens) struggles to be accepted by people, I feel sad. A unique identity can turn things around in this country.

It can save a lot of documentation; it can help government identify individuals and their assets. To identify people who are earning enough but not paying taxes will be easy. To identify people who (really) need help will be easy. This will help generate more revenues for government, and providing aid only for those who really need it.

Image Source : Wikipedia
Though a man like Nandan Nilekani, was involved at top level of this project, it was the staff who mishandled things at ground level, which caused the issues like corruption to get the Aadhar Card, delays and duplicate records in a database that is created with a purpose of providing unique identification to citizens.

But the scheme is gearing up now. Aadhar card is widely demanded and accepted as important documentation. With Aadhar card, and linked bank accounts, central government successfully launched the PEHEL initiative to transfer the LPG subsidy directly to eligible customer accounts.

Like the benefits I have listed above, this will reduce the subsidy leakage in the system, i.e. wrong use of subsidy. This also enabled Government to ask rich people to stop getting subsidy, and many came forward in response to this. The response saved crores of rupees for government.

So it highlights that only having good schemes or initiatives will not be enough, we need people to understand its importance. By people I mean both who implement it, and who participate in the change. So that, implementing people will be aware of the impact they will create, and do it sincerely. Also we will get less complaints from the people who are supposed to participate in and benefir from the scheme. Only then we can hope for the fulfillment of the purpose of starting an initiative.

I realize that this post is getting longer, and may seem like a campaigning material for government. But I really see the potential in technology to do good for our nation. I feel really passionate about this topic.

It is good to see companies like Intel (http://www.intel.in/) also share this passion. Intel is committed towards our government's vision of a Digital India. Through its ‘Digital Skills for India’ and ‘Innovate for India’ initiatives, Intel has been fostering technology as the enabler for creating a digitized India.

As a software engineer, I can visualize the positive change e-governance can bring to India. I want to be a part of #DigitalIndia. I expect the same from you. Let's go Digital.

This post is my entry in the #DigitalIndia contest by Intel and +IndiBlogger