The Government of India is about to embark on an ambitious project under the stewardship of Sam Pitroda, the country's well-known "telecom czar." The Public Information Infrastructure (PII) project is a mammoth undertaking that aspires for nothing short of a governance revolution in India.
The initiative' which will cost the exchequer about Rupees 15,000 crores, aims to integrate more than 100 schemes run by the state and federal governments, spread across 75 departments and 35 states into a single information infrastructure. A wide range of information on people (health, labour, remuneration), places (cities, towns, dams, forests, rivers) and programmes (NREGS, pensions disability, scholarships) will be available on a virtual public platform.
As per the Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations' official website, "PII will be critical in creating systems and processes with adequate standards and transparency to improve governance and public service delivery."
Indeed Mr.Pitroda, in a recent interview with OneWorld, expressed his disapproval of the "naara wali sarkari" file and mentioned how defunct government processes tarnish India's image as an IT giant. After all, how hard is it to digitise a document?
Not hard at all. It is in fact the easiest task of all especially if we are interested only in cosmetic make-overs.
However, if we seek a deeper, more meaningful change then when we have to acknowledge the real malaise; the sab chalta hai attitude that pervades deep in the Indian psyche, and especially so of the bureaucracy. The "naara wali sarkari" file is but a symptom of an overall lack of will to evolve with the times, of the bureaucrat's lack of accountability, of the absence of pride in one's work, in a task well accomplished. It is great that we are taking steps towards fixing broken processes, but how does one bring about the same revolution in mindsets? Isn’t the state of the Commonwealth Games an example of the same?
While one is skeptical of the deadline of 3 years that has been set for the complete implementation of the PII project, its sheer ambition is only to be applauded. To do things differently, one has to begin by thinking differently, thinking big. Implemented in the right manner, PII has the potential to change the face of governance in the country and also position India as a world leader in e-governance. But for the project to be a true success in the long run, deep-seated behaviors and mindsets need to change.
How does one ensure that the "can-do/must-do/let's show the world" attitude of people like Sam Pitroda and Nandan Nilekani percolates to government functionaries, to service providers at all levels and to ordinary citizens? How does one address the rampant lack of will to perform or accountability and build pride in one’s work, no matter how menial its perceived worth? How does one deal with the parallel industry of agent/middlemen who thrive on the certainty of the failure of government processes?
While Mr. Pitroda is only happy to accept that these questions are not for him to answer, the truth is that unless they are addressed, any solution will only be a quick-fix solution.
(Madhu A. Singhal worked as the Editor-Online Products and Strategic Communications at OneWorld Foundation India. Prior to this, Singhal has worked in the United States, with leading think tanks focusing on nonprofit and funding reforms. Previously, Ms. Singhal has completed graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where her research examined the influence of emerging technologies on different forms of public protest. )