In the last one week, I have had the opportunity to observe the use of information technology in governance. Does information technology make life simpler or more complicated for the common or garden variety user? I share two disparate stories here.
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Let me talk about the pleasanter experience first. I applied for a tatkal renewal of my passport online sitting at home. Uploading the application was easy.
Using this registration number, with some difficulty (more on this later), I got an online appointment for a visit to the passport office at Devarachikkanahalli. After my interview on the appointed date, I was able to trace the status of the application over the next three days on the passport India website.
On the third working day after my interview, I saw that my new passport had been despatched. Around 10 pm the same night, I got a SMS message as well as an e-mail from the passport office, giving details of the passport and a speed post tracking number. That was impressive.
The even more impressive part was the India Posts website where I went to track my passport the next morning. The smallest details about the despatch were available there. When it was bagged (around 3 am), when it was sent to JP Nagar post office (5.45 am), and when it was opened at JP Nagar (8:01:03 to be exact) were all there. And my passport was delivered promptly around 10 am.
Now for the second experience with property tax payment at BBMP.
In the year 2010-11, after changing the name on the khatha certificate from that of the builder to our names, I found out that BBMP had no plans to change the names on their property tax payment software till the next block year.
The option we were given to get a receipt with our names on it, was for us to physically pay at the BBMP ward office. While looking at the BBMP website in 2011, I realized that the data pertaining to our property tax of 2010-11 had been entered into the software in 2010 about 3 weeks after we were issued the paper receipt. So far so good.
But now the catch. Interestingly, this website not only continued to show the property in the name of the builder even after the khatha transfer, it also gave a receipt number and date of payment that was different from the paper receipt that was given to us. So now we have two different property tax documentations, a paper receipt that is completely at variance with the online information. To add to this, the website does not permit us to print out the online receipt since, I suppose, they have already given a paper receipt although with different information! Confusion confounded.
So why is information technology being used so variably by central government agencies like passport office and India Post and by our very own local BBMP? Is it lack of resources or is it lack of intention?
After these contrasting experiences, I thought it was appropriate to acknowledge the passport office, India posts, etc, for making their processes so much more streamlined, though of course, with a big rider.
Google tells me that internet penetration in India is a dismal 7%. While I did enjoy the ease and transparency provided by IT, I worry that the majority with no access to technology, will continue to grope in the dark. The familiar ways will be missing and they will have to look for new technology savvy intermediaries. The digital divide increases along with the other divides! How is this addressed?
Click here for Passport application for Bangalore users.
Click here for Speed Post tracking.