Chandra Babu Naidu had a “Virtual Dream”, a “Vision”, which he turned into “Physical Reality” in a very short period of time. It was to computerise the working of entire administration and all services in his State. In the Annual Convention of Travel Agents Association of India held in Hyderabad some years back, he was introduced by the President of Travel Agents Association not as the CM (Chief Minister) of Andhra Pradesh but as the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the State because he was running it as a multinational company rather than as a State Government. IT (Information Technology) was his favourite subject to which he accorded the top most priority. Of all places and people, Bill Gates chose to fly direct to Hyderabad to meet him. Because of Chandra Babu Naidu, Andhra Pradesh became a proponent for using IT to modernise rural communities. The aim was to use IT in trying to provide good governance for the common citizen, and to make a difference to local communities. E-governance services such as online access to government records and easy bill payment that traditionally required much time and money were set up. He had a vision of establishing a Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent Government-SMART government and saw e-governance as one of the ways of reaching those goals. Several projects were implemented within a period of six years. APSWAN network was established to connect all the 23 district headquarters through 2 Mbps Optical fibre connectivity with Hyderabad. This facility was to be further broadened to villages to allow all citizens to access the internet. A video conferencing facility was provided between 25 cities and towns to enable officials to conduct meetings on a regular basis. In fact, the Chief Minister would hold a video conference with all his district collectors every morning. The other projects included, CARD ( Computer-aided Administration of Registration Department), COMPACT ( Computer aided Administration of Commercial Taxes), TWINS ( TWINN cities Network Services, a pilot project to provide one-stop services to citizens including payment of utility bills, certificates, licences etc), MPHS ( Multi-purpose Household Survey Project for creating a data base of socio-economic data of all citizens of the State), APDMS ( Andhra Pradesh Development Monitoring System, a GIS-based system which has created base maps with data on the road network, the community infrastructure, basic demographic data, soil and geomorphologic data). They were also working on the Health Information Systems Programme. 2% of the State Plan was reserved for IT initiatives with a minimum outlay of Rs.200 crores. A large portion of the investment came from the private sector. AP marched towards a knowledge society, from Illiterates to e-literates! It was a pity that the “Virtual Reality” did not fully click with the “Ground Reality” of the farmers and Chandra Babu lost his corporate job. However, the solid base of IT which he created continues to flourish.
Some of our bureaucrats who happened to attend conferences on e-governance were inspired by these IT initiatives and proposed a comprehensive plan for the State with the blessings of the then Chief Minister who himself was computer savvy. Detailed negotiations were held with Tata Consultancy Services and a project was devised to suit the needs of the State. The development of software and other related services cost about Rs.3 crores to the State Government. Another 3 to 4 crores were spent on the equipment. The digitisation of files was completed for the major portion of official records. Training of personnel was also completed. The project was so well designed and comprehensive that it would have surpassed even Andhra Pradesh. The aim was to remove the curse of files, tons of which were proliferating in all Government Departments. Government had to spend crores to transfer these to and fro from Srinagar to Jammu during Durbar Move. The most obnoxious red tape which was the main base for all types of corruption was expected to be removed. The computerisation of all services would not only have streamlined the working of the Government but would also have made all these public utility services people friendly. The corruption at the ground level which has made the life of ordinary citizens miserable would have been eliminated to a great extent. Unfortunately the whole project received a jolt with the change of Government. The author of the project who was passionately involved in its implementation was removed simply because he was supposed to have been close to the previous ruler. More than the Politicians, some rival bureaucrats were too keen to get rid of him from the Civil Secretariat. Unfortunately, this State’s administration has been more plagued by the bureaucratic rivalries than the political differences among the successive rulers. Merit and efficiency have always taken a back seat. Sycophancy is the best credential for promotion in all the branches of the civil services. The slogan, “Boss is always right” is implemented in letter and spirit. One has to fall in line or he is out of it. The project of e-governance has changed hands from one bureaucrat to another more than three times during last three years. The project which has only to be put into practice has got stalled because of lack of interest at the top. The vision and dream of 21st century e-governance has turned into a nightmare of tortuous m(is)-governance. The amount of paper work has increased manifold. Computers have been turned into typing machines for word processing and for pleasure surfing of the internet. Accountability has been reduced to zero. Corruption has been virtually legalised and both givers and takers feel no compunction in its indulgence. The State which had been placed at the second position by the Transparency International is rushing to claim the top slot in the next survey for the “Most Corrupt State”. The famous saying of Karl Marx, “to each according to his need” has become, “to each according to his greed”. Legislators are trying to develop their own individual constituencies rather than the State as a whole. We have created a large bunch of “Union Territories” within a State. Everybody wants a piece of the “cake”. In Urdu there is a saying about the camel which asks the camel as to which of his parts is straight? The same applies to the State Administration. People do not bother or care about the basic needs of the citizens. Money and money only is the prime consideration.
The present Government seems to be quite serious in eliminating corruption. One fully welcomes the initiatives taken to strike at the corrupt. However, merely striking at the corrupt will not improve the system. It is the system itself which has to be overhauled and made “leak proof”. Corruption flourishes when a system has weaknesses and lacunas which can be exploited. The western society has to a great extent eliminated corruption at grass roots level because they have made the system efficient, transparent and to a large degree impenetrable due to in built checks and balances. There is still time to revitalise the system. However, such initiatives succeed only when the top level is interested and willing to dedicate time to monitor the same as had been the case in Andhra Pradesh. The State does not need a Chief Minister but a Chief Executive Officer. Do we have one?