The nation with second highest population, but highest youth population in this world has been put under lockdown for twenty-one days to prevent the onslaught of Corona virus. Due to this shut-down, only essential services are in operation and remaining economic activities are in shutdown mode. But for a country like India with so much of geographic and cultural diversity, running and managing essential services are also a daunting challenge. On top of that, maintaining such services for a huge population adds further complexities on its management.
For example, it is quite challenging to maintain continuous supply of milk in various parts of India on a daily basis when the movement of vehicles have been restricted. The supply chain management for milk starts from farm in the form of cattle feed procurement and end at the distribution of milk to household. In between, the production, collection, procurement, pasteurization, packaging, and then transportation from milk processing plants have to maintained. All these are very challenging when each individual is scared to step outside in order to prevent the spread of Corona infection.
So the question is how India is managing this lockdown at such a large scale. The answer is the efficiency by which government machineries are collecting the data about requirements at the ground level, processing these data to formulate a plan at the centralized level, and then executing the plan in order to respond to ground situation. All this is possible because of digital infrastructure that has been one of the prime objectives of Prime Minister Modi since 2014.
In one of the reports “Wireless Data Services In India” in 2019, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) stated that the total number of wireless data subscriber reached to 578.20 million at the end of year 2018 and it was an increase of 36.36% from 2017 subscriber base. Rural areas are now well connected to high speed internet (4G) which helps in accessing the online content at the hit of the button in smartphones. That is the primary reason why PM Modi’s message reaches to every citizen directly and instantly.
Although the lockdown has been a response to the threat of highly infectious virus which can damage the Indian economy and its agents i.e. Indian citizens permanently, this lockdown also provides an opportunity to ponder over the economic and technological progress that we have completed and how India want to proceed in future so that Indians are much more prepared in future to act uninterrupted and undisrupted. This is a learning time for behavioral economist, who can later prescribe the steps for efficient management of economy.
The running of essential economic activities is one of the examples to imitate for non-essential services if it has to minimize its losses. The lockdown is only restricting the physical movement. Therefore, all the services which have adopted or co-opted for the online platform are having minimal loss in operation. For example, the IT and ITES service industry provided Work From Home (WFH) option even at the normal time and therefore, this industry has minimal disruption. E-commerce and Delivery firms are other such example. Overall, digitization of the economy helps in over-riding the economic disruptions. Increased transparency and efficiency in managing the available resources are added advantage to it.
What government has to ponder during this lockdown period: Central and State governments asked employees to work from home as the cry of social distancing reached top administration. The only way government machinery could minimize its movement is to go digital. Even though the e-governance has been war cry of PM Modi, the level of digitization in government administration has been slow. Use of video-conferencing to meet at higher frequency and reduce the travel cost were hardly visible.
Movement of files are still taking times at various tables, specially for inter-ministerial projects. Digital decision making such as approvals over emails are still a distant dream. Performance of state governments have huge variance. Technologically and financially poor states are not even willing to move into this direction willingly. The real problem starts when we move to district and panchayat administration.
This lockdown has given opportunity to India to initiate the e-governance model in district and panchayat administration. The benefits of digitization of district and panchayat is immense. Rural districts are generally spread over 1000 square km area. Digital outreach could bridge this physical distance and reduce the response time of district administration. Poor and vulnerable section will save their travelling cost to district administration. Data collection at the panchayat level will ensure that the genuine problems are collected comprehensively. Processing at the district level will ensure that the plans are formulated as per the need and then sent back to panchayat for its execution. Different economic agents can interact and act parallelly to complete the task in record time.
Good thing is that India has already created the base for introducing the e-governance in local administration by creating digital infrastructure. Its time to implement it based on learning gained from running the difficult task during the lockdown period. It will not only introduce efficiency, but also will be an engine to growth of rural economy.