Governance on the mobile

Govt of India Mobile  Seva services
With approx. 1 billion mobile phone subscriptions, India has reached the tipping point for delivering a host of mobile governance and citizen-centric solutions.

The Jharkhand state celebrated 15th birthday in mid November 2015. Among initiatives to mark the occasion, the state launched a slew of e-governance applications — most of them web and mobile phone-friendly — developed by the Jharkhand Space Applications Centre.

More than a dozen Android apps that went live at the website of the Jharkhand Mobile governance initiative cover a gamut of services from farmer advisories at e-Kisan, to e-garbage disposal to m-Samvad, the Chief Minister’s grievance redressal portal. Two thirds of Jharkhand’s population are mobile users, so them-governance apps can be expected to touch a significant proportion of citizens.

This is only the latest example of Indian states, leveraging the affordability of the mobile phone to provide e-governance and citizen-centered services.

Growth drivers

India has the world’s fastest growing telecom network. India is just behind China based on the size of its mobile-fuelled population.

The other growth driver that boosts e-governance is the increase in the number of Internet users in the country. India will overtake the US to become no. 2, with a net user base of 402 million. Out of this, 159 million will be mobile Internet users, according to Internet in India 2015 report published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (AIMAI) and IMRB International.

Mobile Seva

The conditions are viable for more states to start leveraging the mobile governance / Mobile Seva initiatives of the central government formulated by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) since 2013. At the core of this initiative is a collection of some 50 mobile apps which cover a range of citizen concerns from getting s duplicate birth certificate to applying for a passport. Some of the apps are specific to a state. But Mobile Seva apps can easily be customised by individual states.

The patchy record of some states in m-governance areas could potentially be a pain point. The main challenge is to achieve a uniform level of citizen services across states in a reasonable time frame.

Short SMS code for Kerala

Kerala with 15 administrative districts empowers its citizens through the cell phone. It implemented a strategy — a short code, 537252 which spells out K-E-R-A-L-A on your phone keypad — to reach all registered citizens with m-services. Some of the services include: offering birth and death certificates; collecting the birth certificate with discharge papers from hospital; etc.
Mother collects  birth certificate before leaving hospital in Kerala
Mobile One in Karnataka

Karnataka, one of the southern states in India, has launched Mobile One app that brings together some 4000 services across public and private enterprise. Payments to utilities; travel bookings by rail and bus; job search; finding professional help like lawyers; booking cabs; finding the nearest medical help; etc. are some of the m-governance services.

Mobile One’s interface and mix of private and public services make it a model for other state governments to emulate instead of creating everything from scratch. By utilizing private providers, who pay a fee for every transaction realized through Mobile One, the state government has almost recovered its annual investment of around Rs 4 crore on the m-governance initiative.

Away from the metros, such mobile services can do even more. A mobile phone can allow a farmer or a fisherman to find out the day’s prices in various markets. Small businesses can efficiently shop around for supplies. A man living in a village can advertise in the big town nearby for work, and travel only when he is informed by phone.

A public-private partnership can bring more states to invest in mobile governance. More citizens can be empowered with the power and reach of the mobile phone.

By Raj Pareek
A graduate from IIM Kolkata, Raj Pareek is a seasoned telecom professional who has held key positions in leading telecoms like Tata Teleservices and Bharti Airtel.