Bharat still has a population of 23.3 crores who do not have access to basic banking facility. Bharat has 24.5 million credit cards and 661.8 million debit cards as on March, 2016. According to the government the number of internet users in Bharat is expected to cross 500 million in 2016. Mobile banking share is very low at 0.1% of the total banking share and expected to rise to 10% in the next 7 years. NEFT and PPI (Pre Paid instruments) payments constitute less than 10% of the total banking transactions and estimated to rise to 30% in the next 7 years. Against this back drop we have suddenly started talking about digital Bharat and cash less transactions since 8th November, 2016 post demonetization of Rs. 500 and Rs.1,000 notes. While nobody can find fault with the intention of the government to aggressively push towards Digital India, total financial inclusion and cashless transactions, the issues involved in implementation cannot be ignored.
Digital India is possible when all the government organizations and private institutions are not only computerized but they are accessible round the clock, online and operate on real time basis as well as are interconnected among themselves. Therefore, the first step should be to achieve this milestone. It is also imperative that every citizen’s complete data base is stored in a secured manner.
National Informatics Centre that comes under Government of Bharat, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology should be entrusted the above task with well defined time lines and adequate resources. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which also incidentally comes under the same ministry should be entrusted the task of coordinating with office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner (Ministry of home Affairs) to ensure that all the citizens are issued Aadhar cards and all children over 1 year age are covered by Aadhar. Important citizens’ documents like PAN cards, Voter ID cards, Driving Licences, Ration Cards, Passport, Bank account etc should be linked to the Aadhar cards. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare should ensure that all the health records of the citizens are fully computerized and maintained online by issuing guidelines to government and private hospitals and pharmacies. This requires a common web portal and a separate nodal agency to manage the same.
While Customs, Banks and RBI have made some positive moves to not only automate the processes but integrate the data base among them and have an interface with the exporters and importers we are far away from a complete e-commerce scenario.
Total financial inclusion and cashless transactions
While total financial inclusion may be possible in the near future as we have only around 23% of the population as unbanked, the dream of achieving a cashless economy will be possible only when the people switchover from cash to plastic money or online payments. Therefore, banks should aggressively pursue expanding the reach of co-branded debit cards and prepaid cards across the country more particularly in remote areas. RBI should encourage new entrants under the payment banks category to achieve the total financial inclusion till the last mile. Commercial banks should have tie up with these payment banks for co-branded prepaid cards so that cash transactions in remote areas are substituted by prepaid cards. As on 30th April, 2016 Bharat has 1,034,253,328 mobile connections and ranks at second position in the world (81.35 connections for every 100 people) whereas Bharat’s mobile banking share is at an abysmally low level of 0.1% of the total banking.
According to Mr.Nandan Nilekani mobile banking can be rapidly scaled up by a secured mechanism by linking the smart phones to Aadhar under a common portal like whatsapp. This platform can be integrated with the common web portal mentioned earlier so that the citizens can conduct most of their daily transactions (both monetary and non monetary) in a seamless as well as cashless manner through smart phones. Probably the government can think of giving the smart phones to the people at an affordable cost. It is understood that Andhra Pradesh government has already mooted a similar proposal in this regard. Creating proper awareness, educating the people, particularly the uneducated and old people, and familiarizing them to the digital world that is both seamless and cashless is very crucial for the success of this mission.
Public accountability of the three organs of the Government
While digital transactions mentioned above may ensure convenience, flexibility and virtual connectivity between the citizens and various government organizations, private institutions and banks under a cashless mode, it will be over optimistic to assume that it would be corruption free. Automation of the processes and cashless dealings are the first baby steps towards a corruption free environment. Transparency, Timelines, Public accountability, fair practices by all the stake holders are other important prerequisites followed by stringent legislation, good law and order and efficient judiciary to reach the dream destination of a corruption free environment.
In order to improve the public accountability of the government (including its three organs- legislature, executive and judiciary) and introduce a fair amount of transparency in its functioning there is a need to adopt a formal mechanism of information sharing by the government in the public domain. As the government has shifted its focus from outlay to outcome oriented budgeting process almost a decade ago and the RTI Act has been in place for more than a decade, it is time that all the ministries and departments of the government adopt a standard mechanism to share the key performance indicators (both budgeted and actual) on a quarterly basis in public domain.
In this context one may refer to a listed public company which is mandated by the provisions of companies Act and SEBI guidelines to prepare and share its quarterly financial report (within 45 days from the end of the said quarter). All the Ministries/ Departments of both union and State Governments may devise a standard quarterly as well as annual reporting system and share the same in public domain in a time bound manner. The annual reports should also contain the CAG report with major comments on the functioning of the respective ministry/department as observed during the course of the audit. This will lead to improving the level of accountability of the government to the governed (i.e., people of the country).
“Except the judicial decision making, all other activities of administration and the persons included in it (judiciary) are subject to RTI Act,” said the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Law and Justice in April, 2008. However, the judiciary has taken the stand that it is a constitutional authority and therefore it does not come under the purview of the RTI Act.
THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005 No. 22 OF 2005 (As modified up to 1st Feb, 2011) Page No. 6 Para 2 & 3 says – “WHEREAS the Constitution of Bharat has established democratic Republic; AND WHEREAS democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.” Government consists of (both Union and States) Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Therefore, judiciary must come under the purview of RTI Act. There is no doubt that judiciary is a constitutional authority but that authority cannot be an absolute one. Authority always comes with a responsibility attached to it. Judiciary is an independent authority on judicial matters under the constitution and at the same time it also has an equal amount of responsibility to discharge its functions as mandated by the constitution. Needless to say that all the three organs viz., legislature, executive and judiciary may discharge their functions independently but they are interdependent and collectively accountable to the citizens of the country. The common man knows very well that corruption only grows when there is no accountability. Therefore, the basic question remains – is the government (i.e., the three organs) willing to submit itself to public accountability?
Ex Senior Banker, Management and Financial Consultant, Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. E [email protected]
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