The current government’s steady push on digitising governance follows decades of such interventions. A new Accountability India series chronicles the experiences of former senior bureaucrat TR Raghunanandan on what it has taken to implement a system-wide change, and where the gaps have been.
- In ‘Wither, e-Governance’, Raghunanandan asks the crucial question of whether innovations in e-Governance will indeed make the government more responsive and accountable to the people.
- In the second part of the series, he talks about the introduction of desktop computers in government offices and how the transition began with only some officials understanding the full potential of this new technology in increasing efficiency. In ‘Spreading Spreadsheets’, he goes on to recount the value of spreadsheets in removing red tape and easy access to data. Yet, nearly three decades later, the large majority of people in the government have not taken to such innovative tools.
- In ‘MISRA – and the era of cute acronyms’, Raghunanandan recounts his experience of reforming land records in Karnataka using MISRA, an interface he and his team created. At the time, reporting protocols of land administration had begun to fail. Less attention paid to the daily tasks of land record maintenance, coupled with staff shortages and the expansion of welfare responsibilities, was beginning to weaken the land records system. The resultant confusion and uncertainties about land ownership had the potential to derail the entire economic base for the rural economy. As a solution, Raghunandan and team established a computer-aided system that would completely replace the manual system that was in place.
- In another experience, he discusses his stint with the tobacco board and how the computer operator was key to the integrity of the system which set quotas and imposed upper limits on what a farmer could sell. It took very little time for computer operators to hack the software. Then, for a price, farmers who exceeded quotas would be able to sell their extra tobacco.
- Thus, while establishing good e-Governance infrastructure is essential, the human capital that goes in maintenance and implementation cannot be overlooked. As Raghunanandan points out in his next blog ‘’Grasp’ing the Zilla Parishad’, the champions of e-Governance move on even before the systems they develop are entrenched in government processes.
- He closes the series with a thought provoking look on the dichotomy in the government’s enthusiasm for e-Governance in ‘Attitudes that block e-governance’. He asks if the government is a lot more cautious when it comes to transparent service delivery while this is not the case when making transactions from the citizens to government (such as tax paying) easier.