Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela
Software can only deliver, if the hardware is also capable and efficient
Of late, lot of efforts are being made by the government, under the Prime Minister Mr. Modi, for achieving Digital India and to enable the vast population to access and share information, which is key to empowerment, development and growth. The notable initiatives to bring in transparency and be accessible to the public at large, the MyGov portal and the recently introduced APP for accessing the PMO, are indeed good initiatives, to be able to know the pulse of the people and give a feeling (to the people) that the Prime Minister is after all accessible to everyone. These efforts are indeed welcome.*******************
This exercise of creating confidence among the people that their concerns are indeed being taken care and that the government is doing whatever it takes for catering to their needs, will sound empty if the hardware is not in sync with the software. While the “Software” comprises of all the ‘APPs’, information sharing on the net, a net savvy governance, availability of Wi-Fi and such other connectivity till the last village, availability of gadgets like the mobile and computers, etc., the “Hardware” is the Legislative machinery, Executive machinery and the Judicial machinery.
Obviously, a very good “Software” alone cannot ensure ‘delivery’. For example, in an old chemical plant dealing with, say, a gas, for better Process Control, though one can successfully install a state of the art “Controller” with sensors, capable of accurately measuring variations up to 1 mmWC (10,000 mmWC = 1 Kg/cm²), the signals from such controller will be of no use and will in no way help to achieve better Process Control, if we have only a manual valve to operate and adjust the gas flow.
If we observe with some neutrality, with computerisation and digitisation, in critical areas that matter the most, there has not been any palpable change, especially with the three machineries of governance and public order; rather, the change could be alarmingly negative. Let us first take the case of the apex judiciary. In 1999, when computerisation had not taken place in the Supreme Court, we in the Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela, had appealed against the order of the National Commission (NCDRC), in the Ispat Express case.
(Ispat Express, operated by the South Eastern Railway, was running between Howrah (WB) and Sambalpur (Odisha) and was catering to the day time passengers of Kharagpur, Tatanagar and Rourkela, and had an AC Chair Car. For reasons best known to the Indian Railways, the AC Chair Car was replaced with a so called First Class. The First Class had only seating arrangements, with the capacity being almost same as the AC Chair Car (70 or so, in contrast to the compartmentalised First Class, with wide berths, which have a capacity to accommodate only 24 passengers). While the passengers were made to sweat out during the 7 hr. day journey, between Rourkela to Howrah, they were being charged higher than the AC Chair Car fare, as they were supposed to be travelling by First Class. Since the anomalous situation was not getting resolved, and the passengers continued to pay higher charges for lesser comfort, our Council approached the National Commission. NCDRC wrongly concluded that it was a tariff issue and that it did not come under its purview. Hence, our Council appealed to the Supreme Court.)
In spite of all the arguments put forth by this author, which was even agreed by one of the members of the bench, the appeal was dismissed. Later, this author wrote to the then Chief Justice Dr. A.S.Anand, highlighting the indifference of the bench to render justice to the travelling public. Though, no official communication was received about any follow-up from any quarter, to our pleasant surprise, S.E. Railways restored the AC Chair Car in 2000, in place of the so called First Class coach, in the Ispat Express.
Now, in 2010, after all the computerisation and digitisation of the Supreme Court, in the LPG under-weighment case, the outcome was a big zero. The bench did not even delve on the subject, in its order, for which the Appeal was made. So, you have the software, computer, website and all the other convenience for writing the judgement, but the hardware, the people who have to apply their mind and write the judgement, were found lacking, in every aspect and hence the net result was appallingly pathetic and anti-law. A body established under the constitution to uphold the rule of law had itself violated the law when the software was not the culprit.
Similar is the case with the Executive. The Indian PM introduced MyGov portal, in 2014, and wanted the people to participate and share information, for better governance. With an open mind, this author highlighted the shortcomings of the judiciary, that too of the highest one, through this portal, and wanted an initiative from the government. What happened was something ridiculous. As a sad joke, the personal representation through MyGov, got referred by an enlightened(!) bureaucrat to the Consumer Coordination Council, New Delhi (an association of consumer groups like ours), of which we are also a Founding Member, and which has never done any litigation.
The details of the response and our reply can be accessed at http://www.advantageconsumer.com/InteractPM-sadjoke.html. Similar was the experience shared with this author, by another consumer activist, who happens to be from Andhra Pradesh. The said gentleman was even a member of a District Forum of Andhra Pradesh. He had also taken the MyGov initiative seriously and had pointed out certain shortcomings in the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act. He jokingly said that he received a reply thanking him for all the praise showered on the government. Is it really terrible or not? Now, the PMO APP. Is it going to serve any purpose? If only initiatives taken by a head of the government will be the barometer for measuring the popularity and winning the elections, then in India, no government will lose the elections. But more than the initiatives and the software, what matters is translation of those initiatives through a hardware into action, so that people reap the benefits.
(The author is the Chief Mentor of Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela)