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What is this? Rural Development?
One of my colleagues in the IAS, since resigned, and working in the USA,
and who was my boss for a while, wrote to me about the experiment in
computerization of rural development programs that I had started in
1986-88, and which i mentioned a while ago. He had visited that
"experiment" a while ago. He has also sent me another note, on
computerization in the Prime Minister's office. It amazes me no end to
partake of these irrelevant debates on 'altruism' vs. whatever when I see
only ONE uniformly chrnonic behavior everywhere: self-seeking. Maybe I was
born blind by nature. But I will consider a system STABLE and SUSTAINABLE
if and only if, i.e.,
It gives the solution of social service/ care for the people
through SELF-SERVING and SELF-SEEKING public servants.
To require public servants to be altruistic is so foolish that I can only
consider it to be what is known as primitive thinking.
I want a society where we DO NOT NEED even a single M.Teresa. I want
people to be told there is nothing like a free lunch and that they have to
PAY for what they want. I told you elsewhere that I will pay for honesty
in my bosses. By the way, while most of you simply TALK charity, I have
been always DOING it, like curing blindless in the blind through VOLUNTARY
work, and giving blood, and contributing to the Wildlife fund, setting up
IndiaPolicy, etc., because I, in my self-interest, as a citizen of India,
think it is a good thing for ME to be doing these things. "Altruism," as
commonly understood, can be the most serious form of selfishness ever. I
don't want lepers, AIDS stricken folk, and poor beggars on my streets in
India. So I get rid of the by taking care of them. Maybe by paying someone
to do that, maybe by doing that myself.
My single message is: You get what you pay for, as an individual, and as a
society. Not too difficult, I think, to understand and appreciate this.
Anyhow, I'll talk more on that later. But right now what concerns me is
the miserable system of India where nothing works the way it is intended
to, because people who designed these things (including me) used entirely
false assumptions of the way things actually work. The time has come to
sit back and think seriously about our assumptions.
And now, here is what my colleague, and ex-boss wrote:
I remember that Sanjiv had computerised data-collection, compilation,
collation, reporting and monitoring when he was the Director of the
Rural Development Department in Assam many moons ago. I visited this
office last year, and found that the computers there were used by (i)
officers returned from foreign trainings for email purposes; (ii) one
accountant who used excel as a calculator (not bad); (iii) one
researcher who did fairly sophisticated minimum-distance estimation of
structural parameters from reduced-form regressions; (iv) one Deputy
Director who had started entering the location of Gobar-Gas plants in
all the blocks of the state. And that's it.
The NIC does something, but there is little or no relation between what
they do and what the DRDA's want, if at all they want anything.
(An aside: A few weeks ago I was in Egypt, and found one of their "best"
hospitals had over 100 computers (286 machines, which they never
opened). That was not as bad as finding a number of dialysis machines
also untouched, and in their original packing.)
Would like to share the following article from India Today, August 10,
1998. Makes very interesting reading.
Information is Power
On paper, all the Prime Minister's men are weird. The
high-roofed, teak panelled rooms in the Indian Prime Minister's Office
(PMO) are provided with state of the art computers for retrieving any
information that the Prime Minister might need. In reality these
expensive machines have merely become toys. The fact dawned on the
mandarins last week when they discovered that there were over 200
types of screen savers, and none of the computers had any worthwhile
information related to governance: data on senior level vacancies in
the Government, important decisions pending in the PMO and other
ministries or economic indicators. The hi-tech had merely replaced the
typewriters. Happiest, of course, were the computer friendly civil
servants when they didn't have files to pore over, they just surfed
It was Rajiv Gandhi who set in the motion the process of
computerising the Central Government, the PMO in particular. All
officials starting from his principle secretary to those of the
director level were provided with computers for storing and analysing
sensitive data on a whole gamut of national and international issues.
The computers also helped ensure continuity in the governance by
keeping track of all impending vacancies that required to be filled.
According to the cabinet secretary, there are about 5,000 officials
whose appointments need the Prime Ministers ratification every year.
Normally, the concerned ministry initiates the process of appointment
but the PMO nevertheless keeps a close watch. But surprisingly, even
after a decade of computerisation, the PMO doesn't have a complete
list of its officials, the Nation's top scientists, economists or
Last week, the Prime Minister found to his horror that the hundreds of
computers in the PMO had no record of the key appointments that the
government had to make in the near future. In fact, it was from the
newspapers that the PMO came to know that the posts of the
chairpersons of the National Commission on Women and Press Council of
India had fallen vacant. Similarly, when the PMO wanted to check the
antecedents of the various names recommended by the chief justice of
India for the appointment of Supreme Court judges, there was no data
available. It is ironic that in a county, which boasts of being among
the leading software producers of the world, there is no meaningful
information network for the nation's chief executive. The Prime
Minister has now instructed his secretariat to feed in all relevant
information into the computer network in the PMO within the next four
weeks so that it can advise various ministries well in advance. The
Prime Minister has at last realised that information is power.
(Source: India Today, August 10, 1998)
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