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January 2002

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Computerised Governance

- The Power of a Million Computers

 

By J. V. Ravichandran

India has been hitting the news, in the past few years, as an emerging infotech superpower, with a sizable percentage of workers in US organisations like the NASA, Microsoft etc., being Indians.

The awesome exposure that an organisation gets by putting up its website on the net is unimaginable. Not only do products become known, thus cutting down on expenditure, but the  services and communication manners and nodes of the company, too, becomes accessible to the general public. Where, US universities and colleges were the first to tap the net's infinite marketing power (March/April, 1986 dates the first ever domain name booking by a US college) by letting foreign students into hitherto inaccessible first-hand, reliable admission information.

The year 2K1 saw the collapse of many dot coms, in the US particularly, and e-commerce was widely believed to be coming to an end. But, if not commerce via the internet, communication and information exchange are still widely popular on the net and simple statistics like a million emails a day, vouches this observation. Information gathered via the net has far better depth due to the many facets provided by different domains and hence, is more popular.

Another popular area of browsing is job seeking on the net. Employers find it easier to find a wider range of candidates through internet job postings than through advertisements in national dailies, as do jobseekers who find more job opportunities than the few offered in newspaper classifieds. The internet multiplies percentages by nearly ten-fold, such is the power of this wonderful medium, which had promised a paperless business world.

India has been hitting the news, in the past few years, as an emerging infotech superpower, with a sizable percentage of workers in US organisations like the NASA, Microsoft etc., being Indians. With such statistics, the world would be right in surmising that the average Indian and the Indian administration machinery must be quite adept with computers and the internet. Not so. Although, the young, especially, the under 10 years kids, in Indian metros, are quite at home with the computer; the working class and even businessmen, are not !

Though, of course, it can be argued that India could still emerge as one of the world's IT superpower, without being 100% computer literate but, illiteracy, in whatever form, has always been the bane of India's progress and computer illiteracy cannot be ignored by India, even if it seems quite needless at present.

Concepts like administrative, trouble-shooting and NGO websites are yet to gain popularity or success in India. Websites like that of the Delhi Government and the PM of India's websites (http://delhigovt.nic.in and http://pmindia.nic.in), can become cornerstones in modern day net-based, administrative, strategy tools. But, alas, these two highly important websites are "sorrows" of the net.

Where the opportunity to address public grievances directly through these websites, should have been used to smooth out many hurdles in the Indian bureaucracy and the public's pain, it has been found that complaints and suggestions addressed through these websites, are never heeded because nobody knows (in the PMO or in the Chief Minister's Office) who handles this section of the website and it is not as if it is some kind of a secret that cannot be let out. It is quite simply a matter of the usual Indian-bungling-bureaucracy at work !

E-commerce, with its flop show in the west, may not, by reputation, gain favour in India, but the power of the internet will go waste if the Indian government does not wake up to the potential of net based services. Although, each Member of Parliament is given a laptop, which has sparked an article in the Times of India that where the Delhi Police constable is paid Rs. 6,000.00 per month, the MP is paid Rs.12,000.00 plus Rs.24,000.00 as expenditure allowance - the writer has somehow found comparability in status of a MP with that of the Police constable !!

If the Indian administrative forces decide to utilise the net properly, then India will truly become a force to reckon with in the IT world but, given the Indian bureaucracy and many other factors like piracy and its economics (which includes tonnes of Rupees for NASSCOM executives and Delhi Police staff), it does not seem likely.

Except for the CM of Andhra Pradesh, Mr.Chandra Babu Naidu, who keeps tabs on his cabinet, school teachers in his state, peons and even livestock through a database that he opens every morning at 9.00 A.M., no other head of the other Indian states seem interested in computerised governance.

Maybe, this is the reason why two Hyderabidis have been caught by the FBI in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks - possible drawback of being well-connected, pace-to-pace, with the world's most advanced generation - the computerised generation !