e-Governance – times with a collective for progress

ImageThe inherence of pay-it-back in the human heart has always been a reassuring factor. Tap into the conscience of any bloke you happen to talk to and you’ll learn that he would like to do something for the society in any way possible. We are discounting chronic ingrates and the utterly spiteful and factoring in the inhabitants of your regular republican societies. However most of us are inert in altruism as it happens and ever ready to ascribe the said state of being to lack of opportunities or worse, financial stringency.  There will be a good number of exceptions of course but I’m certainly not one of them. It was however my first brush with eGovernance that actually got me thinking about India’s potential to be a truly inclusive and techno-enabled system that delivers, and gave me an opportunity to redeem myself.

So, did I get to tour the country’s hinterland, set up communication towers and demonstrate to suspicious villagers how cool it is to use computers to pay their utility bills or update land records? No sir. Did I build some software that saves the Government thousands of man-hours and a lot of cash? Wish I did. So what has got me all gung ho about e-Governance?  My role per se is very miniscule. My employer in his renowned prescience and foresight, realized more than a decade ago that information and communications technology (ICT) was no greater a reality than e-Governance would be in the years to come. With such conviction to back, he decided to sponsor a very high profile awards program initiated by the Computer Society of India (CSI). Into its twelfth year, the CSI Nihilent eGov Awards (CNEA) is now regarded as the gold standard for evaluating Government or quasi-Government projects that leverage ICT. Back to my role, I am tasked with ensuring some people tell a lot more people that the awards were given away to certain projects, and more importantly, arranging for the winners to carry home a testament to their victory.

It is the whole process running up to the awards ceremony that left me humbled. Right from getting introduced to the convener, who parted with his family and financial consulting outfit at Singapore for a greater part of the year, to the final distribution of the certificates and plaques, to receive which the winners had traveled from the farthest corners of the country at their own expense, the entire exercise could have only been seen through by the singular dint of passion.  To put things in perspective, there were more than two hundred entries from across the country, all of which had to be evaluated against several parameters. The evaluation included field visits to all the centers where the projects were implemented, several of them not so well connected to the base. I was fortunate to be part of one such visit, but I’ll come to that in a bit. The team that evaluated the projects comprised distinguished individuals from the Government as well as private corporations, with several decades of experience in IT implementation of public projects. At the same time, there were scores of people who did a lot more physically daunting work to make things move in clockwork precision. It was heartening to work with Sekhar, an individual who has remained with the CNEA cause for the last 10 years, even if it means doing PR and other outreach activities, while his education and prior experience are aligned to software design. He has incidentally co-authored the annual compendium of selected case studies this year. Also meet Rao, a short, bespectacled, soft-spoken gentleman in his mid-fifties, coordinating logistics, typically emerging out of nowhere whenever needed. But does he do this because he has to? He says it’s because he wants to, because he believes in eGovernance, even without understanding a single strain of technology associated with it. It is with such people working at the grassroots level that the story of concerted efforts for promoting better governance strikes a chord.

The winners of the awards may please take a bow! If not for their conviction in their initiatives, their projects would likely have not seen the light of the day. Some of the projects mean business – no, not profit-making – but have singular straightforward objectives like integrated customer services in a portal, or process automation, while some have ostensibly loftier ones like inclusivity, as in the case of the official website for Dudu Basantgarh, a remote subdivision in J&K, or transparency and visibility, as in the case of the State Excise Department of Maharashtra.  I was invited be part of the field visit of a whisky manufactory on the outskirts of Pune followed by a meeting with the commissioner of the state excise. Their efforts to bring effect a comprehensive transformation of the department is the first of its kind in the country. Right from procuring molasses to bottling, the excise department will now have greater visibility into all the stages of the manufacturing processes and the accounts thereof. State excise by nature is notorious for courting controversies, and a portal based system is definitely a vigilant measure to control any kind of skullduggery.  Similarly MeeSeva and Karnataka One (modeled on the super successful Bangalore One) from AP and Karnataka, Missing Child Tracking System Gujarat, Professional colleges entrance counseling metrics software by National Informatics Center (NIC)  are some of the other leading lights in the latest edition of the awards.

 

When you bear witness to a lot of such endeavors for progress in the country, you can’t help but take heart to the thought that the doomsday is still some time away. And trust me, there’s every chance that you’ll go home inspired. I take up extra curricular white papers and case studies for e-Governance consulting projects, though a larger propaganda mechanism would be in order today.

What’s your cause then? Or do you think an apocalypse is awaiting you round the corner?