While addressing the nation on the eve of New Year 2017, after 50 days of demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to provide a welfare tone to his reform agenda. Direct money transfer to pregnant women, interest support for housing schemes and promise of a stable interest rate at 8 percent for senior citizens on their fixed deposits are measures that are likely to provide some relief to the people. With this, the PM could add a welfareist focus to his overall reform and development agenda. As people supported the government’s effort in fighting corruption and black money along with building a less cash society, they received a welfare package, enhancing their overall’ feel good’ factor.
He said that his ‘Government is a friend of good people and his government aims to build an enabling environment for the dishonest to return to the path of goodness’. He added that, ‘it is also a bitter truth, that people have complaints of bad experiences at the hands of Government machinery, and some government officers’.
Whatever is said by the Prime Minister, people now expect visible results. Strict action as well as systemic reforms that disincentives those patterns of corrupt behavior are expected. People would like to see an end to corruption. Will the political leadership be able to ensure that babus don’t take bribes any longer, work hard and perform their duties diligently as servants of the people?
More transparency, efficiency and less harassment from the government offices and officials would be the indicators that people use to measure the success of 50 days struggle against corruption and black money that claimed to have happened through demonetization.
When the Prime Minister claims, ‘people wholeheartedly supported the move’ there is a substantial truth in it. That support has come forth voluntarily, but with the expectation that demonetization will be a beginning in the fight against red-tape, inefficiency and corruption. And Modiji would take further action to eradicate corruption and red-tapism and the prevalent work culture in the government that goes against its citizens.
Many economic stakeholders who are outside the mainstream and whose incomes are not getting accounted for in the GDP, would be happy to come into the mainstream and pay their taxes, if taxes are collected without hassles and harassments.
Also, it is to be mentioned here that the digital transactions and GST would bring in enhanced revenue for the government. But how much percentage of that revenue goes towards salary and related expenses? The government should consider and appropriately use this occasion to downsize the bureaucracy to a bare minimum. However, the amount spent on public health and education should be enhanced considerably.
More revenue and tax collection would happen in the new less-cash digital payment and GST context. However, when a major chunk of the resources moves towards meeting the 7th pay commitment, without a simultaneous efficiency boost and an end to rent seeking behavior of the bureaucrats, people will feel that their 50 days struggle went in vain.
In order for the broader vision of the prime minister to really materialize, the coming days will probably witness more initiatives in the direction of increasing the role of e-governance. While the country is on a fast track mode to adopt digital payment options, the most reluctant section to adapt to a digital system are the public sector, government agencies and certainly the organized work force attached to these entities. While information asymmetry is no more a barrier in brining good governance, how much time it would take to transform the attitude and mindset of the babus?
Although demonetization came up as a hasty and unplanned measure taken by the government, it strengthened the cause of a knowledge & digital society.
In this context, it’s important that appropriate measures are taken and implemented in order to streamline the functioning of the working of the government offices and to ensure that they fast adapt to the realities of a digital society. Few of the following steps are essential for a more efficient, transparent and less corrupt government in India:
CCTV cameras and monitoring centres : All the government offices in India from the lowest to the highest to be fitted with CCTV cameras to enable total visibility of the people working, visitors and various activities undertaken there. In addition to that centres that monitor and record the activities of these offices should also be set up. All CCTV visuals should be made available online to people through a dedicated website.
Microchip implanting on all government officials peons to secretaries /cabinet secretary: Every worker/officials working in the government, various departments, PSUs, local government offices should be implanted with a micro-chip, enabling tracking the work and relevant data generation for monitoring.
RFID tags to customers/visitors: All visitors should be tagged with RFID when visiting government offices and linking with their Aadhar, PAN or Passport, in order to evaluate and monitor service delivery and quality.
Ranking and Rating: Each citizen should be able to rank and rate the services received, departments as well as officials through a government portal developed for the purpose.
Time-bound delivery of service: Service delivery should be time bound and delays should be penalized.
After fifty days people feel that they have now completed a great struggle. And it was a second freedom struggle for many of them. That struggle that they involved was against corruption and black money, they believe. Some of their relatives, family members, friends who were with them suffered and some of them died too. And its history now! But the expectations are now live and will be live till it happens! Will Narendra Modi bell the cat?