Before I start talking about technology and intrusive growth, we need to understand that the challenge is very clear. We need to address the need for aspiration as we are a high aspiration society and we must address the challenge of migration for social welfare.
It’s critical to understand why technology is so strategic in solving the problem! I would like to cite five key trends in technology that will pave the path for improved public governance.
1. Ubiquitous spread of communication – millions of people with mobile phones
2. Communication revolution will get newer and faster technologies like broadband, 3G, national fiber network
3. Everybody in some sense will be connected
4. More apps on the cloud
If we look at the paradigm of social group applications or search applications on the cloud today,we have millions of users connected to the network. We have all those apps on the cloud, which can allow one to buy a book or talk to friends.
The evolution of the Internet in the last couple of years has now given us scalability to build huge e-government applications. We have seen a dramatic change in use of mobile devices and we have access to a wide variety of them, at much affordable cost with better battery life.
Let us think of governance application differently. It’s not about what technology, why technology but it is about what it can do.The project that I am leading, ‘Adhar’- our online identification program; is aimed at providing unique identification to individuals across the country. Our goal is to give 1.2 billion people unique identification numbers.Unique identification is about having an online identity. Some may question that why do we need an online identity, when we have driving licenses or passports?
We need to first analyze, that only a fraction of people have an identity in India, there are millions of those residents who don’t have any type of identification whatsoever and therefore are denied public services.It’s time to move from the world of no identity to online identity and that’s how we are leap frogging into the next level of electronic transformation and transparency.Let us first understand how an online identity will benefit an individual. It can be used to verify an identity of a person online anywhere in the country on the network.Using cloud, connectivity and devices, you can authenticate or verify the identity of the person. You can build applications on the cloud and leverage technology for multiple purposes, from withdrawing an amount from the system, to identifying the authenticity of a person.
One of the very big challenges that we have in India is that of extending financial inclusion and make sure that every resident of India has a bank account.Howdo we reach those people who are living in villages and in small towns? Traditional methods are no go; you can’t open up banks in every city.Only 6% of the bank branches of 80,000 bank branches are in rural India today.
To address this issue, RBI has launched the concept of banking correspondents. These are agents of banks who provide banking services anywhere in the country.We need to empower these banking correspondents with technology and provide them with mobile banking systems such as micro systems using which they can go across to individuals and help them make a transaction.
The finance ministry has notified that the Adhar number is sufficient to open up a bank account. Therefore people, who don’t have a bank account, can make use of Adhar to join the banking system in the country and get a no frills account.What’s more with micro ATMs and business correspondents, all a person needs to do is walk to the business correspondent with micro ATM, authenticate himself with the online id and withdraw an amount.Online transactions allow forwithdrawal, making a cash deposit, get a balance enquiry and increases overall accessibility to banking. Adhar can be used as an address to put money to an account. All one needs to do is give a list of numbers and the amount to be transferred to the bank. The details are automatically bridged into the Adhar system, therefore leading to automatic electronic transfers.We now have the capability to build national retail electronic payment infrastructure, where payments system to individuals can go directly and they can withdraw from any business correspondents in the country.
We are looking to redesign the way we deliver governance in public services. We can build huge apps on the cloud to transact electronically, leveraging ubiquitous connectivity of cell phones and tablets.Today the country’s annual expenditure is 300,000 crore. Half of that are payments to NREs, pension, scholarships and from Government to individuals.300,000 crore a year is the government’s expenditure or benefits that go to individuals. Currently the system is not the most modern. Building more capable electronicsystem is important. It reduces cost and gives scale.
The benefits of a system like Adhar can be leveraged to the grass root level. People who are supposed to get monthly quota of ration, visit individual shopkeepers. Today, the shopkeeper has an upper ground and can keep his shop shut or can say that he does not have adequate supplies.Using the online system, anyone can now authenticate his or her identity at every shop. This way, the shopkeeper is bound to give the person his supplies that he is entitled after online verification. This makes way to decouple the person from the shop and give consumers multiple choices. Technology can change the balance of negotiating power between the shopkeeper and the individual and empower the individual.
The advantage of a technology-based solution is that one can scale up and does not need to wait for years.
Good governance leveraging the power of technology is the future and it’s not that far away.
Nandan Nilekani is Chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India. This is an excerpt from his key note address at AIMA’s ‘Managing India Awards’ 2011.