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Life of an average citizen in 2015…… Only if the mobile governance roadmap for India is conceptualized and implemented to enable demand drive public services!

It is early one summer morning in the year 2015. Daivik and Samriddhi, a brother and sister duo living in Delhi, are on their way to work.. On the way, Daivik stops outside the Metro Terminal of Jan Path, where Samriddhi will catch the next train to Gurgaon. She quickly checks the schedule on the dedicated Metro Rail application loaded onto her mobile’s SIM card. The next train is on time, about to arrive in 170 seconds. She hits the sequence of buttons on her mobile phone that would reserve her seat, and pays for it with a quick data link from her mobile to the payment transaction machine installed at the entry gate of the Metro station. She is filled with appreciation for the visionary officers at Metro Rail Corporation who realized the potential of mobile based applications early on to make the ticketing and travelling on Metro Rail so convenient for the passengers of the city. Almost everyone in the city has a mobile phone with pre-installed applications for public services.

An hour later, Daivik is standing in line at the Post Office’s customer service desk. He remembers with the sense of pride that three years back, the then IT minister had taken a decision to upgrade the Post offices and equip them with the latest communication tools to handle the demands of the fast growing Information Society. Daivik is in the post office to upgrade his physical post box to a digital one. The officer at the customer service desk will take half an hour to upgrade his post box after verifying his credentials based upon his National ID card details and accessing relevant information from Secure National Citizen Database that caters to the information needs of all the central and state government agencies. After the up-gradation is carried out, he will be able to have all his post, including bills, bank statements and official notices, stored electronically, and he will be able to get access to it via his Internet connections at home and the office, or using the 3G data services available on his handheld. No one now uses paper for communication. 

There are very few people left now who still don’t have access to mobile phones. Those with no electronic access at home or work have now been given electronic post box accounts and can send/receive post through the special Public Access Terminals at their nearest Common Service Centers (CSCs). These public access terminals at CSCs have specially trained staff to assist the illiterate, disabled and senior citizens. Thankfully, because of the efforts of the government agency CDAC and their PPP initiative with the Telecom players, the messages can be either received in print format or through voice/video mail in the language of choice of the citizens. The citizens also have the choice of typing letters in at the terminals in CSCs, or writing them at home and having them scanned in at the CSCs. With a few exceptions, actual deliveries have been limited to parcel drop-offs. Even Daivik’s mother living in her village Farm House is e-mailing him with updates on her medical condition. Just a few years back, she could be found complaining constantly of not being able to communicate with her son and grandchildren. Now she uses the assistance of the officer at the CSC’s Public Access Terminal as if they have always been part of her life. The guy at the kiosk has become like her family member and even visits her at home to get the messages for her son when she is not feeling comfortable enough to walk unto the CSC. Of course, she has no idea that it is all made possible by the combination of a wireless local area network known as Wi-Fi and the cellular network providers’ tall masts that connect to the state Wide Area Network (SWAN) of the government. The only thing she cares about is that it works.

Finally, Daivik reaches the window. He holds up his mobile phone that also stores his National ID in the digital format, hits the digital signature button, and his identity details are beamed across to the terminal. A moment later, it beams an encrypted access code into his mobile phone device. Daivik can now add digital mail to his array of messaging options, from e-mail and instant messaging to voicemail and video-mail to positioning and remote working. Just to make sure the new codes haven’t corrupted the data already stored on his mobile device, Daivik quickly types the key sequence for his daughter’s location. The name of the school flashes up on the screen, with duration at the location, and request for confirmation of contact. He clicks the cancel button. In the past, he has not been able to resist the temptation to confirm the request, and tell his son or daughter exactly where they are. The embarrassment it has caused for them, having “daddy check up on his babies” has made him well aware that he should use the full functionality of his mobile phone application only when it is necessary. The fact is, he reminds himself, the child locator application was provided by the State Police to ensure general safety of children, not for parents to play nanny every minute of the day, and not as a replacement for child care. If the child hits the emergency key, or the locator is forcibly removed, or the child is not in the appropriate location, that will be the time for action.

As he leaves for his home from the post office, Daivik is stopped by Delhi Police. It’s a routine check. Daivik hands his driver’s license to the police officer, who scans it into his handheld crime-check device. While the details are being verified by a database in Police Headquarter of Delhi Police as well as with the national crime database hosted at a secret location, the officer keys in the car’s registration number. Instantly the screen displays the offences history of the car and driver, and current status. Daivik is clean. The officer hands back his license and waves him on. Daivik drives into the community parking garage of his colony, and the boom automatically swings open as a remote sensor detects the e-tag in his car.

Latter in the evening, while strolling past the one-stop government services centre at the urban mall, he marvels once again at the absence of queues. Since they have allowed people to fill in applications at Common Service Centers, verify their identities through fingerprint scanners and their national ID Card , and pay a nominal fee to be advised via SMS of documents being ready, lines of people waiting to apply for or receive government services have become a quaint footnote in history.

Next day morning, at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi Office, where Daivik works, the front door slides open instantly as it scans the new arrival for an identity e-tag, and picks up and verifies the passive signal in Daivik’s mobile device. But there’s a problem: the lifts aren’t working this morning – again! Thank goodness for government hotspots along with a facility of docking stations for the mobile devices, Daivik thinks as he sits down in the reception lounge and takes out his laptop. He switches it on, and it instantly detects the Wi-Fi access point. Daivik logs on, and he is connected to the network as if he is in his own office. He smiles at a colleague who has hooked his mobile phone to the docking station and connected to the same office network.

The scenarios mentioned above are not a day dream, but can become reality sooner than 2015, only if we realized the potential of mobile applications and joined hand to make this a reality. The department of Information Technology, Government of India has already initiated national level consultations on formulation of policy framework for mobile governance in India.  Welcome to the era of demand driven public services that will change the meaning of everyday e-Government to everyday e-Government rather than supply driven public services… together we can make a difference and provide an ambient intelligent environment to our next generation of which they can be proud.!!

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Copyright © Vikas Kanungo, 2010. This publication (and any extract from it) may not be copied, paraphrased, reproduced, or distributed in any manner or form, whether by photocopying, electronically, by internet, within another document or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the authors.  Further, any quotation, citation, or attribution of this publication, or any extract from it, is strictly prohibited without the author’s prior written permission.

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