Dear Prime Minister Modi,
First of all, let me congratulate you for announcing path-breaking governance and development initiatives. Every IT and telecom company I meet is in all praises about new announcements coming from you and your ministers, and the rise in positive sentiments these have led to. At the same time, they are all waiting with baited breath for action on the ground. That, they believe would be the real test.
While private sector organizations will take care of themselves, governance and government services is clearly your responsibility. And many of us believe that it is your passion too. E-Governance has been a pet subject for many years in India now, and thousands of crores of rupees have gone into automating and computerizing the old archaic and bureaucratic systems and processes. Despite that, there is a huge gap between government investments in ICT and the benefits to citizens.
Let me give you a small example. My original driving license, which is from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, was about to expire sometime back. Since I am now settled in Gurgaon, I decided to check out the Haryana Govt website to get details regarding the online renewal process. What followed was a frustrating struggle. The directions for online renewal were vague. Further, one required a deep knowledge of government terminologies to answer the questions. And finally, to my dismay I discovered that all that was being given in the name of e-Governance was an application form to download. Appointment could not be taken online, forms could not be submitted online, documents could not be uploaded, and fees could not be paid online.
Disappointed, I took the required printouts and reached the concerned office, only to discover a long queue. After a 45 minute wait when my turn came, the dealing clerk told me that these printouts were of no use, and I must purchase them for Rs 10 from another counter (which obviously meant standing in another long queue).
Well, the story doesn’t end here. The vicious circle continued—I was then told that since my previous license was from Uttar Pradesh, I must go there and get an NOC (a very popular bureaucratic term when things have to be stalled). On asking for an alternative, I was told that I could apply for a one month learner’s license in Gurgaon, and then come again for a permanent license.
Needless to say what I had to finally do to get my license renewed. After this ordeal, all my perceptions about e-Gov in India were set right.
Mr. Prime Minister, clearly, we have not even touched the surface, in terms of leveraging IT for disseminating government services. In the days to come, success of a lot of your vision and initiatives– Make in India, Digital India, Swachh Bharat, My India – depends on the quality of governance.
This will be the real test, and for that I will urge you to go back to the basics.
– Ibrahim Ahmad is Group Editor of Voice&Data and Dataquest