Can technology reduce corruption?

The Railway ticketing system is quoted as an example. While proving beneficial to the travelling public, technology eliminated middleman and reduced corruption in the ticketing system.

Most IT projects are about enhancing productivity and improving efficiency. Huge IT projects that have had an impact on governance and corruption are far and few between. IT practitioners, especially those who espouse the cause of government projects, tend to hype the benefits since a huge amount of tax-payers’ money needs to be justified.

People of Karnataka, in particular the citizens of Bangalore, are well aware of the hype in IT projects. Two of the most high-profile government projects in the state has seen no tangible benefits to people. ‘Bhoomi’, for online management of land records, and Spatial Data Management (GIS Software), a Bruhat Bengalaru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) project for improving property tax collection in Bangalore, have been an utter disaster from the common man’s perspective.

Unbridled corruption

Despite computerisation of land records and property tax records, citizens have witnessed unbridled corruption and poor governance. Government servants have facilitated various illegalities in land records. Property tax collection by the BBMP has been dismal and illegal construction is flourishing.

‘Bhoomi’ was developed in the 1990s by the revenue department with assistance from National Informatics Centre. It computerised more than 20 million records of land ownership and used a biometric login process, authenticated through a thumbprint. The project was touted as a pioneer in both maintenance of land records as well as in e-governance.

The stated benefits were to deny the discretion that was available to civil servants, proper maintenance of land records, increase transparency in selling and buying of land along with better enforcement of the Land Ceiling Act. World Bank proclaimed that this project would be a trendsetter for all e-governance projects in India. The project was a finalist for the Stockholm Challenge award.

Today, none of the intended benefits of the project is visible to the common man.

According to statistics, land disputes in the state preoccupy 70 per cent of all cases in various courts. Buying and selling of land in the state has been non-transparent. Land records released by various political parties over the last few months show unprecedented land grabbing as a result of the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists. Even with digitisation, land records have been easily forged and sold by all involved.

The experience with BBMP’s Spatial Data Management project is no different. It was allocated Rs 40 lakh in 2003-04 with the intention of computerising all property tax records. Seven years later and crores of rupees of additional taxpayers’ expenditure, property tax collection remains a major problem and a challenge with no visible benefits from the project.

The palike budget in 2003-04 suggested that implementing GIS software would bring over 40,000 properties into the tax net. The City today has over five lakh properties which are yet to come under the tax net. The nexus between corrupt bureaucrats and builders has exposed the limitation of the computerised property tax system.

Non-technological solutions have by far been the best tool for the fight against corruption and improving governance. The Right to Information Act (RTI) has empowered citizens like never before. Chhattisgarh adopted a simple solution like painting the vans carrying goods meant for public distribution in a different colour that has considerably reduced corruption and strengthened the PDS system. Evolution of good governance in Bihar is not attributed to any technological miracle.

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