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Technology transforms governance and improves delivery

Illustrating the impact technology can have on the efficiency of the government set-up with the help of some practical examples.

By Anubhav Srivastava

March 02, 2009

A visit to the British Council Library in Delhi is a pleasant experience for any visitor because of its ambience, the range of books available and the professional approach of the staff. What impressed me however is the process they follow for issuing electronic membership cards. To get membership, one has to fill up a small, pamphlet sized form with details like name, occupation, contact address and the type of membership one wants. Along with the filled-up form, one is required to submit a proof of address. Once the documentation process is over and the requisite membership fee has been paid, a staff member would gently offer a seat across the desk to the person seeking membership.

With a webcam mounted on a laptop placed on the desk, he will click the photograph of the person. After this, the person seeking membership of the library is asked to sign his name on an electronic pad. The staff member, who is handling the membership allotment process, would then read out all the information that has been provided to him in the form before processing it. Once all the information has been processed, an electronic membership card carrying all the vital information is issued to the person and he can start using the library. The whole process takes less than ten minutes if the person seeking membership of the library is carrying a copy of the address proof.  

Compare this with the process adopted by the Election Commission of India for issuing voter identity cards. Usually, one has to first visit the designated centre to get the form, for second time to submit it, for third time to get the photograph clicked and once again to collect the card. And many a times, one finds glaring mistakes in the cards issued. Also, the process involves scanning of photograph and signature of the person who has applied for the voter identity card. Hence it takes about one month for the Election Commission to complete a similar process which takes just ten minutes at the British Council Library.

The above two scenarios clearly reflect the difference technology can make on the delivery mechanism of the government.Another example of how technology can make a huge difference can be seen in the automatic fare collection system of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). In this, ticket in the form of a smart card or a token is purchased from the Ticket Counter. The passenger then holds the smart card or token close to the card-reading machine at the automated gates which separate the Paid Area from the Unpaid Area. The gates open only when the token or the smart card is validated by the machine. Technology, by its very nature, is non-discriminatory. Thus even if a head of state of any country wants to enter the DMRC paid area, he or she will have to buy token or smart card and get in via the same automated gates. Even the staff members cannot get in the paid area of DMRC if they do not have tokens or smart cards with them. Hence, the technology ensures that there is no scope for corruption or unwanted persons getting in the station premises, which is a usual sight at railways and bus stations.

Indian policy makers should take cue from examples like these and start exploring the various ways in which technology can be applied to areas like infrastructure development, tax reforms, crime control and poverty alleviation. There has been an increasing demand from policy experts that funds for development works should be directly allocated to the local bodies and Panchayati Raj institutions instead of being channelised through the state government agencies. The advent of internet banking provides an excellent opportunity in this regard. Use of information technology in governance should be promoted with the aim of empowering the common man.

The fact that government agencies are taking many steps in this direction cannot be denied. Railways tickets can now be obtained online thus reducing the hassles of the passengers who had to stand in long queues earlier. States like Andhra Pradesh have evolved a system where electricity and other bills can be paid online. However much more still needs to be done. Google is an excellent example of the level of excellence that can be achieved in user experience and by use of cutting-edge technology. It caters to the needs of billions of internet users worldwide on a daily basis and yet maintains almost flawless standards of the service it provides. With proper vision and will from the policy makers, technology can similarly make the delivery system of the government sector in India extremely efficient.

The author is Editor, Policy Proposals For India.

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