Tuesday, August 05, 2014

10 Digital Solutions to Make India the Best-Governed Nation

A 10-point digital roadmap for Mr Narendra Modi, that protects our assets, ensures that the right projects are undertaken, and delivers justice, equality, and liberty for all

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inherited an India with major challenges: an economy that fails to distribute the needs but pushes the wants; an environment that is being irreversibly stripped off; a hassle-filled life where red tape, fraud, corruption and indifference are ever increasing; failed land-use management is destroying India’s forests, mountains, rivers, streams, and farms, and at the same time flooding its courts with disputes. Over and above all this, it is almost impossible to make the right projects happen in the right place at the right time wasting thousands of crores of tax-payers’ money
To remove all these ills, Mr Modi has to redesign the way governance works. What should he do to redesign governance quickly? Here is a roadmap that focuses on the need to protect the assets of the country, and to ensure that the right projects are being undertaken, where no one is denied benefits, where justice, equality, and liberty are within reach, the future scenarios are shared, and democracy is not a distant dream.
1. Change the way money is spent
Every budget item on the central, state and local government is for some project, activity or event, at a specified location. By introducing the requirement to geotag, or display the location on the map, each item, in addition to its purpose, details, status and citizen comments, could be uploaded on a single website,, a process that will change the way money gets spent.
Such a budget map would not only display where every rupee is going or has gone, but also show if the transfers from one agency to another, or from the central to state to local governments actually got spent on purposes for which it was intended. Such budget maps would ensure that the projects are not over budget, and run under different heads, or by different agencies. It would show how evenly funds are distributed for the governance of different regions and also identify purposes or budgets that are not equitable and fair.
All the PM needs to do is to implement a policy whereby no budget items will be included, nor disbursals be made without the location of the budget head being uploaded on
2. Protect the country from land mafia
Today, the Survey of India protects the maps of the country, not its land. There is no public directory or map of all the survey numbers of the 32.87 lakh square km across the 595 districts in the country. There is no account of the changes happening in land use across the country. Land records and property records are not standardised across the country.
Requiring that all survey maps be geo-tagged, or their exact location on the district map be shown based on latitude and longitude, and display the survey land-use, ownership details, and any legal issues on a single website will change the way land use happens across the country. Requiring that the North East point of every property have an official GPS device on it will alert a land use information system of any movement of this point.
Such a change will also allow Development Plans to be monitored and implemented. It will make land acquisition easier as well as partitioning property without violating land use. It can help find land for the landless, provide benefits to single property owners and prevent the speculation of land at the cost of the country’s land-use requirement.
Such a system could possibly allow authenticated account holders to search and view land-use, proposed use as per DP, encroachments, ownership, tenancy, and other claims by logging in to their account. The information they seek on individual properties will leave a trail for purposes of security.
All that the PM needs to do to initiate this is to require geotagging of every survey number by the Survey of India before any new land use activity is permitted on it.
3. Protect assets of the country
While our national anthem boasts of our rivers, forests, and mountains, they are fast being lost to encroachment, mining and indiscriminate changes in land use. The indiscriminate felling of trees to make way for roads, real-estate or to use them as timber is wiping out India’s carbon absorption capacity, monsoon attracting potential, soil retention ability and even the flood buffering and ground-water recharge potential.
Requiring that every stream, river, lake, mountain and forest area boundaries are geotagged with physical markers at their boundaries will ensure a public alert on any alteration. Requiring each tree with a width bigger than 2 inches to be tagged with a RFID (Radio frequency ID, or a small chip that stores information that can be read from a distance by a RFID reader and can be used to do a periodic tree census) along with its geolocation will protect the trees and ensure the country’s valuable assets are not stolen or destroyed. This will also ensure that the forests, rivers, wetlands, fields and wastelands are better conserved as also the built-up environment across India.
A policy requiring all government assets be geotagged will enable identification of all the offices, land, equipment, and vehicles owned by various government agencies and the process of auditing them will be much simpler.
In this regard, PM needs to direct the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Survey of India to work together to tag all the natural heritage of the country within a fixed time. He needs to ensure that the Finance Ministry does not release any budget for capital expenditure to any government agency that has not geotagged their movable and immovable assets.
4. Hassle free rights
An ID cannot be the enabler of an entitlement or a right; it can be a basis to audit the delivery. To ensure that no one is denied any service, entitlement or right for want of ID the government may require that each agency delivering any entitlement or right will capture the ID of the person benefiting from their service, entitlement or right. Such a record should be maintained to identify the beneficiary for future transactions for the delivery of rights without any hassles while permitting any audit of the delivery of entitlements and rights. All those having taken benefits would be listed on for public audit.
Although the government has information on every citizen it has no mechanism to identify beneficiaries proactively without requiring a single form from those who wish to benefit from a scheme. This is both a waste of resources as also a way to exclude those who may really qualify.
The government would overcome this by internally connecting the birth, marriage, address registration and death records without requiring any form, id numbers or id from citizens to create a National Population Register. This would then be used to proactively identify the benefits each person is entitled to. This would also ensure that no citizen would need to submit to government any document issued by the government itself. While automatic entitlements and benefits could be provided to beneficiaries identified by the NPR, manual benefits should continue to those not automatically included in NPR.
To enable this the PM ought to create a separate beneficiaries department within the Registrar General of India’s office to proactively create and display the beneficiaries lists on maps.
5. User managed shared ID
The UID is not a proof of identity. It is not even a proof of address. Nor is it is even a proof of existence: it does not prove that the person with a UID is a real person.
The UID is merely a random number assigned to unverified and unaudited data submitted by third parties paid per record. It provides no way to verify if the 12-digit number is one issued by the UIDAI, or even who submitted the biometric and demographic data. Worse, there is no way to tell if this number belongs to a real individual, or to the individual who submits the number, or is even a number generated through a diligent process, or by an authentic enroller, registrar, or the UIDAI. What is unbelievable is the identity solution cannot authenticate its own genuineness, the genuineness of its enrollers, registrars or of the UIDAI itself.
The use of such unauditable, unverifiable and 'unauthenticate-able' number to authenticate identity, to serve as the basis for governance, to be used to deliver benefits, rights and entitlements, to be used to open bank accounts and transfer money, and to create citizen registers or electoral rolls will seriously compromise governance, national security and the rule of law.
Just as the UK PM, David Cameroon’s, government kept their election promise and scrapped their National ID project PM Modi should ensure the UID and its database are completely purged in the interest of the governance, national security, the rule of law and justice.
In place of the UID a the government can enable a Shared ID at as was designed in Pune to allow citizens to create, own and share their own ID with complete control on who can see or use the ID and logs of access by third parties to their information. The citizens can access information on incentives, schemes, and programs they automatically qualified for or availed based on their profile. They can also access information on demography, energy use, water use, land use, mobility and other details in their neighbourhood after logging in to their account on
The PM will need to declare the scrapping of the UID. He will need to create with the Registrar General of India a department to allow anyone to create and maintain their own Shared ID.
6. Audit of digital assets
Although the government creates, maintains and uses many digital assets there is no audit of the digital records or the processes that create the digital record. To ensure the authenticity of the digital assets the government would need to establish an audit cell with Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) to audit all digital records, processes to create the digital records and undertake annual audits of delivery of service, entitlement or right and seek the creation of a register of the excluded to ensure no one will be excluded from rights.
The PM would need to ask the CAG to create a special cell to audit the digital assets. The audit reports and a list of those excluded from rights would be displayed at
7. Monitor the impact of governance
The projects and budgets allocated as a result of the policies and legislation result in impacting the lives and environment of people in each of the 595 districts. Providing information that enables monitoring and correction of the budget expended and projects executed in each district at would ensure that departments and ministries work to accomplish missions, not procedures. Various missions to ensure resource conservation, access, inclusion, peace, harmony, health, sufficiency, public interest, justice, liberty, equality, dignity would be monitored on this website.
The website would also project the need for workers in different occupations like agriculture, manufacturing and various services within each district and the required school capacity in the district to deliver bridge the gap. It would track energy demand and the current energy mix of coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, nuclear, solar, wind and other renewables to deliver to the district and beyond. It would track the agricultural produce and the districts deficit or surplus, the water demand and the sources to deliver the water. It would track the public transportation corridors and mobility within and between neighbouring districts. It would monitor the land-use and implementation of development plans. It would monitor the spread of habitats.
The PM would need to ensure that each project has to have a clear mission and a way to provide real-time impact to further resource conservation, access, inclusion, peace, harmony, health, sufficiency, public interest, justice, liberty, equality, dignity to accomplish the mission before being approved.
8. Anytime, anywhere voting
Ensuring democracy is an expensive, unverifiable and unauditable process. There is no way to ensure that your vote was cast for the candidate of your choice or if it continues to be till it is counted. There is no way to audit the votes counted against a candidate and certify that all the votes polled by the candidate are from real and legitimate voters and not from illegitimate rigging of EVMs. The voting process currently imposes elaborate barriers to being able to cast votes.
By enabling an indigenous mobile and internet-based anytime-anywhere voting system that is publicly auditable without compromising the privacy of the voter the government will take democracy closer to being real. It will enable freer, easier and auditable elections across the country at a fraction of the current cost.
9. Exploring impact scenarios of policy and legislation
While the planning Commission of India has been making five year plans to match resource allocations to projected demands, there is no way to explore the impact of different policies or legislation on different sectors and over the long-term span of 50-100 years. This is particularly important as much of the critical nation building works over 20-30 year periods. For example it takes 20 years for a cohort born now to come into the working population. It takes about 20-30 years to build and commission power plants. It, therefore, stands to reason that the future scenarios over 50-100 years need to be studied.
By building and displaying such a long term projection computer model of India that allows to explore the consequences of various policies on the demography, economy, environment and resource challenges accessible to all on the government will create less policy resistance and greater alignment to shared goals.
Such a website would also allow the sharing of scenarios resulting from the implementation of various policies and acts that are in force and allow the stakeholders to comment and make suggestions for revisions of policies and legislation.
The PM will have to commission the development of such a model along the lines built by late Prof. Malcolm Slesser of Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities for various countries across the world, the World III model built by Prof. Donella and Dennis Meadows then of MIT, or the National Model being built by Prof. Jay Forrester of MIT. Such a computer model of India will allow us to explore the consequences of various policies on the demography, economy, environment, and resource challenges. The model will be accessible to all and provide standard scenarios of various policies and acts that are in force to allow stakeholders to comment and make suggestions for revisions of policy or acts.
10. Bringing justice to all
With over 3,000 plus central acts India is over-legislated. Even for those in the legal profession finding or knowing the applicable laws is non-trivial. By allowing search and discovery of applicable laws for a set of keywords on the government will do great service in bringing access to the legal framework to all.
While the court system may continue to battle its challenges to provide justice in time the government could well provide a repository of elders in each district who will support alternative dispute resolution. This can reduce the delay in seeking justice and restore the confidence in the rule of law and delivery of justice.
Much of the justice process is today beyond the access of the common man. By enabling for submission of cases of public interest violations as well as violations of justice, liberty, dignity and equality of which the courts take suo-moto cognisance. By enabling the issues submitted on this website and not taken up by the courts to be taken up by the elders of the district involved in alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, the government will ensure and entrench public interest, respect for justice, liberty, dignity and equality.
The PM needs to ensure that the Law Ministry takes up these projects on priority.
Henry David Thoreau believed “that government is best which governs least;” and “That government is best which governs not at all”. By implementing the roadmap, PM Modi can truly transform the government into the best government yet, not just in India but across the world.

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