Game- Changing #400 years

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Game- Changing #400 years

Debashish Goswami | May 11, 2019 16:16 hrs


In a shifting technical landscape, ICT and digitization has brought about tremendous changes in the entire government processes and systems. In May 2006, the government of India had put forward the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) as an initiative to make all government services available to the citizens of India via electronic media. This then, was the heralding of the technology age for the government and culminated into the multifarious model of Digital India which has been strongly pursued over the last decade resulting in a paradigm shift in the very working of the government as it was. 


By 2018, within 12 years, the success of this initiative is visible across India in the way we perceive and transact our daily lives as citizens of India. What is perhaps not really understood is the importance of the last decade from a historical perspective. What is important to consider is the manner in which the last decade has overcome a 400-year-old system of administration. 


Government or administration, in essence is the management of revenue – or so said Kautilya, the crooked one, in 320 CE. A state is only as strong as its treasury and the essence of governance is truly the management of the state. About 1,800 years later, a similar genius understood the significance of creating an empire resting strongly on the foundation of an effective system of revenue and so Raja Todar Mal, the finance minister of the Mughal Court, was one of the navaratna’s of Akbar’s court.

 
Todar Mal served under Sher Shah Suri and moved onto the Mughals with the turning events of his times and succeeded Khwaja Malik I'timad Khan in 1560. Raja Todar Mal introduced standard weights and measures, a land survey and settlement system, revenue districts and officers. This system of maintenance by Patwari and revenue generation/calculation by agricultural yield was duly adopted by and improved upon by the British Raj and finally inherited by the government of India. In a country which was majorly agrarian by nature, this was a system which worked and hence was never discarded, only improved upon and the super-structure of the administration was grown around it. 


With the growth of the services sector, the agri-economy started taking a back foot and by the process-outsourcing age of the 1990’s, the service sector as well as the industrial advent was slowly making the revenue generation calculation by agrarian yield unfeasible. The advent of the digital revolution contributed the final nail on the coffin with the National e-Governance Plan in 2006. Processes which relied on revenue systems originally constructed around a 400-year-old ideation and foundation are a hard sell. Re-engineering systems and processes to create a completely different paradigm of calculation and management takes time and agency. 


Therefore, after more than a decade of #digitalIndia, the actual impact for the people on the ground has been varied, considering the heterogenous nature of the nation and the country. Adoption and usage has been patchy and irregular depending upon the region and the local agencies on the ground. In the past decade, a large number of initiatives have been undertaken by various state governments and central ministries to usher in an era of e-government. Sustained efforts have been made at multiple levels to improve the delivery of public services and simplify the process of accessing them, but much remains to be done, especially for remote zones and areas like the northeast of India. 


The digital story is still unfolding…


(The author was a senior advisor to the government of India and served under various ministries on diverse digital initiatives in the past 15 years)

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