All Indian cities are plagued by massive infrastructure and public service delivery bottlenecks. There are hardly any parts of our cities that we can look and feel proud as being on par with other major Asian cities. Even if the state and central governments have the intent to fix certain problems, they invariably run into one common nightmare – making the local Municipality work. Politicians should understand governments can be made or collapsed by inefficiencies of these municipal corporations – considering the large impact they have on Indian urban middleclass.
Digitization of Municipalities – especially their citizen facing services – is a key to improve the situation on ground. Take an example of Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP). It is almost impossible to know why the road in front of your home is getting dug up every other month; it is impossible to know why the underground water pipelines keep breaking and when they will be fixed; it is impossible to know why none of the major roads have decent footpaths, no road lanes, no zebra cross, no pedestrian flyovers. The list is huge. Digitization of all such municipalities across country could be a gateway to make things transparent and bring about changes to our lives – but that does not seem to be happening at all.
Digitization related challenges faced by Municipalities
- Lack of execution skills – they do not have the required manpower, skillsets and time to setup a digital backbone to server their citizens
- Financial constraints – most of the municipalities spend a bulk of their budget in employee salaries. Whatever is left goes to poor maintenance of existing roads, water lines, healthcare etc
- Ignorance – people in key positions are not eve aware of the power of digitization. Efforts are made in siloes
- Corruption – even when the above 3 gaps are addressed, implementation gets severely impacted due to corruption at all levels
How central government can help
Central government can help by creating Software As A Service (SaaS) ecosystem – National eGovernance Platform – Municipalities (NEP-M). Think of it as what State Bank of India operates. SBI and all its affiliates (SBH, State Bank of Mysore etc) all share a single SaaS ecosystem where each small bank customizes the user interface and features to suit its operations and customers – but the overall capital and operational expenditures are kept minimum by build-once-share-everytime approach.
In case of municipalities also, central government should finance and create such an ecosystem where the municipal corporations will be given a virtual digital footprint that they can customize, deliver citizen services and achieve operational efficiencies.
What are the benefits of NEP-M
- Entire digitization cost, effort and implementation will be borne by Central government. Hence there will be less resistance from local state and municipal players
- Consistency will be achieved across different municipalities due to following of proper standards, established SLAs with citizens, suppliers and other stakeholders
- Central government can incentivize municipalities to pick up certain game changing features from NEP-M
There will be multiple layers to the platform which helps in segregating infrastructure, application software and end user customizations. Below is an illustration of these layers and at what level Municipalities can customize, subscribe and delivery citizen/operational efficiencies.
Municipalities will have the option to subscribe to features that are best suited to them. Central government, which owns the platform, can periodically add new features and let the Municipalities decide when they want to subscribe to those.