Gujarat CM Narendra Modi On e-Governance Expectations, Delivery & Challenges

Speaking at the International Conference on E-governance yesterday, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi pointed out how the state has been using information technology for e-governance. The following are translated excerpts of his speech (he spoke in Hindi):

- On the change in expectations of pace of government response, and the role of technology and media: The last 30 years have seen the fastest rate of development, and the reason for it is advanced technology, and the most impactful has been information technology. That is why every thing has to respond at the same pace. Earlier, when there used to be any incident, people used to read it in the papers after 24 hours, and the government could respond in 24 hours. These days everything is live, as it happens. Before the government machinery can get into action, everything flares up. You can imagine how big a challenge it is.

We can’t blame the media – it is our responsibility, and we need to get governments ready to respond according to the change in times.

- How he changed the way the government machinery was operating: When I was a new Chief Minister in 2001-2002, I used to speak with our officers, and I used to ask them – do you have this modern bouquet on your table or not? Computers in general in government offices used to be like a bouquet. No one used to open it. It was like this for years, and there was a government notification that 2% of your expense needs to be on IT. So the computers were brought, kept on tables, and people used to focus on what cloth to put on it (rather than use it).

We made a policy that the Chief Minister would only send messages only via email. With that, people got used to it. Once they got used to it, people got involved. Once people understand how to use it…the mobile phone is a prestige issue. 15 years ago, people used to ask if you have a mobile phone or not. Now, which model do you have, what make? Even with the most expensive phone, if you ask some people, they only know how to make calls. Money is not the issue – you have to build an aptitude. Until we get people to change their minds, technology will not be adopted. That is a human tendency. But when technology becomes a part of your life, it starts driving you. The person who understands this, can bring change.

- Changes In Tax Collection: E-governance is effective governance, easy governance and economical governance. It’s is much cheaper. If you look at cinemas, we get entertainment tax. Both hotels and cinemas are the best means of tax theft. Who sees how many people walk in? We implemented an e-return system in that. The amount we spent on installing it, we made more income than that. If you look at it from a transparency perspective, I’ll give you an example. There is a check post between Maharashtra and Gujarat called Bilat, and one kilometer from there is a check post from the Maharashtra Government called Pochad. The same vehicles which stop at both, and pay the same amount of tax at both the posts. We used technology, and we monitor which cars come through, and in the last three years, our income is Rs 400 crore more than Maharashtra.

- Emergency Alerts And Response: Four years ago, there were floods four times in the year. When there is a flood, one has to inform people, and because of our disaster management authority, we had everyones mobile numbers. Not everyone was literate in English, but we sent them SMS in Gujarati in English fonts, asking them to vacate. After the floods, forget people, not one animal died.

India is seen as an third world country, an inefficient country. But Gujarat’s 108 emergency response service was rated higher than America and England on efficiency – the calls are picked up at an average 3.5 rings, and the emergency response is within 13 minutes. And this isn’t just with vehicles, but because of technology. Gujarat, because of broadband, in 2010, land records were requested by 30 million people.

- Online Grievance Redressal: I run a Swagat online system, which is a grievance redressal system, where I myself sit once a week. I myself have received over 2 lakh complaints. In 1,85,000 cases, the complaints were correct. Today, when a farmer goes to a district collector and says that if you don’t listen to me, I’ll go online.

- Improving Power Production & Efficiency Through online Monitoring: We have 19 modules, called E-Urja. We’re assessing how much coal is consumed by our power plants, its efficiency and the efficiency of distribution. I have online monitoring for it. There is a shortage of coal looming large, but we have details on how much our coal will last. In 2001-02, the plant load factor was 60% and on 13th October this year, we reached the peak of efficiency. With monitoring, we’re saving time, and coal. We inked procurement and distribution to it. Soon we will be able to find out that if the unit usage has increased in a particular transformer, then we’ll be able to figure out where there has been power theft.

- Budgeting: Our entire budgeting is e-budgeting, so we save time.

- Cross-state co-ordination challenges: The biggest challenge that we have is that everyone has their own softwares, their own modules. E-governance co-ordination across states in this country is a challenge. We’re working on a crime database, but the home ministry has different modules across states. There needs to be integration and convergence.

- E-Library For Courts: We’re planning to give an e-library to courts, and we’re doing a survey, on whether we can convert all the libraries in the state into e-library. At present a library may have 500 books. With an e-library, it can be 20 lakh books.

- Need For Innovation Network: There is a company that has a system for starting a mobile phone using a pump, people who have created their own burglar alarms. We need to create an organization that supports innovators.

- On Social Media: I use Social Media, and many politicians are afraid of it. I see it as an opportunity.

Disclosure: I’m speaking at the ICEG-2011 e-governance conference, and the cost of my travel and stay has been borne by the conference organizers.