The recent list of top 10 priorities released by the Prime Minister’s Office goes beyond being a list of priorities.
It defines the framework and specific steps that the Narendra Modi-led government plans to take to pull the country out of the morass in which UPA left it.
On the face of it, several such as “addressing concerns about economy” or “implement policy in a time bound manner” may seem like general, apple-pie and motherhood statements.
However, in reality, this is the kind of central focus and tactical change that is most needed.
The UPA was accused for being so focused on rights-based legislation that it completely took its eye off the economy.It forgot the simple maths which requires an economy to earn money to take care of its people. Secondly it was accused of policy paralysis.
So a time bound decision making regime across Ministries would let citizens and businesses know exactly where they stand and what to do when the timeline expires.
This is not non-trivial. The more important piece amongst the 10 priorities is the specific shift towards use of technology, e-auctions and commitment to transparency.
It is regrettable that India, with a US$100 billion IT sector, uses very little of that to support national processes or moving citizens along the lines of e-governance.
While it is generally well known that use of technology and e-governance via ICTs improves effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and accountability of government, it is the specific ills that can be cured which are much needed at this time of great transformation.
Firstly, technology bears a direct relationship with promoting economic development. It enables governments to improve business environment and clarify processes and relationships with businesses by reducing multiple administrative red-tape related steps.
It addresses issues of regulatory compliance on one hand, but also allows for a much deeper level of competition due to simple processes such as eprocurement. Secondly, e-governance goes to the heart of transparency in decision making.Voluntary information by Ministries on websites is far better for citizens than struggling with RTIs. Publicly listing Parliamentary debates, meeting minutes, statements related to budgets and documents, arguments and discussions leading to key decisions, can bring in transparency and accountability in ways that nothing else can.
Simple measures like online tracking of documents, files or applications by citizens and the media can bring about a huge change in favour of transparency and accountability.
Then is the link between e-governance and the administrative piece which results in the actual “governance”.
Components of the government and public administration, such as e-files, computerised ministries, and electronically available information about officers, leads to greater efficiency in public administration.
It allows for improving expenditure, better data analysis, faster movement of civil servants and a higher level of information and intelligence with those who are responsible for ensuring that the wheels of the government churn non-stop with a focus on citizens.
While the priorities mentioned by the PM list “people oriented system to be put in place” and “stress on addressing people’s problems”, nothing would serve that cause better than technology for service delivery and grievance redressal.
It cuts down on bureaucratic procedures, and provides citizens access to information, along with expectations of a meaningful response.
Placing government services on the Web allows e-government to cut bureaucracy and improve the quality of service by way of speed, quality and access. The 10-point priorities signal a move towards ushering in an e-society.
This would mean not just addressing all existing issues facing our telecom and IT industry, but using those services, network and ICT solutions across other Ministries.
It would need capacity building amongst government employees and mostly by retooling existing skills at a massive scale. Government will need to focus on developing new academic courses and modules not just at school and college levels, but across its employees in the Centre and States.
All below 45 years in government must possess the basic skills to help usher in e-governance and e-society within the next two years.
Those above 45 should be afforded every opportunity, but if not, then given roles which don’t come in the way of Government’s plan to use technology, not just for delivering services, but for communicating with its citizens.
Finally, India’s success in the IT sector was a factor of outstanding technical skills and lower costs. That advantage is slowly shifting out to other Asian, and especially, Central European countries. Large scale deployment of technology will help substantially decrease costs of processing and providing services vis-à-vis the current manual interventions.
Additionally, faster and better quality of information will also enable a lower cost structure for government, businesses and the economy as a whole.
Given our state of fiscal deficit, a move towards low-cost and high-efficiency technology solutions within the Government can help radically change Government expenditure over the next 4-6 years.
Whether the focus is on government to- citizen, government-to-business or government-to-government, there is a need to go beyond the directional statements in the top 10 priorities to implement, using technologies, a vision for an India which is already home to 850 million mobile users and 220 million Internet users, of which over a 100 million are already on social media.
This article appeared in Mail Today on June 3, 2014.