Tuesday, 2 December 2014


The government has long recognized the criticality of technology to improve the systems and processes of governance. Several departments have their own IT policies, infrastructure and applications. For instance, the Indian Railways is the world’s largest e-commerce retailer and the two revenue boards, the CBDT and CBEC, have sophisticated IT systems supported by their own technical cadre. The government should contemplate the establishment of an Indian information technology service. 

Still, the culture of governance has not changed. Systems are not transparent. The time lags in the flows of information are long; there are continual turf battles between government departments; and the approval process remains cumbersome and subject to discretion. The reasons are several but seen through the lens of IT, they relate to the multiplicity of IT infrastructures and applications; the inability of government technocrats to keep pace with technological change and human resource systems that do not have the flexibility to attract relevant talent. If nothing else, this lack of progress on the modernization of governance will make it difficult to deliver on the promise of “achhe din”.

The prime minister has pronounced in various capitals his government’s intent to improve “the ease of doing business” in India. His words have had some impact. The multinationals that had shelved plans related to India are dusting them off. The finance minister has also announced his intent to bring in a slew of “second-generation reforms”. The land acquisition bill will be simplified; labour laws will be reviewed; the GST will be implemented; the insurance amendment bill will be passed and natural resources will be allocated on a transparent and fair basis. He has also assured investors of contract and fiscal stability. These statements have had a markedly positive impact on business sentiment.

They have not, however, altered ground realities. Or so point out individual businessmen. They say that the red carpet has been rolled out but the red tape has not been touched. That PMO bureaucrats are more focused on streamlining the rules related to “attracting business” than on those impacting the “operation of business”.
There are, of course, hardware limitations. India is ranked 100 out of 189 countries in terms of digital infrastructure. Eight hundred million people have mobile subscriptions but only 60 million have access to broadband.

Its time government establish an IT service staffed by graduates who have not yet embarked on their career is aimed at overcoming the obstacle of talent. Young people will be motivated to join government out of a sense of public service and the opportunity to gain valuable experience. The government would benefit from access to affordable talent and the dynamism and innovation of creative youth. The mission of e-governance must be given top priority, and specifically that there needs to be a technology czar who has the power to oversee the convergence of technology infrastructure, application and policy across all levels of government. 

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