June 22, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether moving towards a digital legislature is the right way forward. We also look at Telangana’s high inflation rate, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Opting For A Digital Legislature
Very few things are considered more sacred than the relationship between a man and his dreams. And our PM seems to have one too many for the country. Unfortunately for him, reality has never really had much of a penchant for the sacred, which has affected our move towards digitisation.
Right now, the Centre is working on digitising the proceedings of all our legislatures. This includes both Houses of Parliament, the state Assemblies and the Legislative Councils. While the increased accessibility is definitely something to look forward to, the logistics of the programme have drawn quite a bit of flak.
So let’s get into it: the complicated case of India’s digital legislature.
On 9 June, a delegation of MLAs from Gujarat was sent to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly to pick up some pointers about the National eVidhan Application (NeVA). The system is expected to help legislative bodies adopt paperless proceedings and make the material more accessible for citizens and legislators.
So, what is NeVA? In November 2021, PM Modi spoke about his “One Nation, One Legislative Platform” initiative. He described it as “A digital platform, a portal that not only gives the necessary technological boost to our parliamentary system but also works to connect all the democratic units of the country.” This is what the NeVA is.
Developed as a website and an app, the platform is in line with several governments across the globe looking to digitise their workload. While Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla gave India a deadline in 2023, the US government is trying to go paperless by the end of this year. In fact, last December, the Government of Dubai became the first to cut its use of paper entirely.
In India, the pilot project of NeVA was launched in 2014, concentrated in Himachal Pradesh. All of a sudden, older MLAs had their papers replaced with tablets. Some MLAs, including the then CM Virbhadra Singh, were hesitant to change but soon gave in. Since then, 18 states have reached various stages of transformation.
In March this year, Nagaland became the first state to fully operationalise NeVA in its legislature. Yet, some believe these changes need to be taken with a grain of salt. While going paperless is definitely the future, India’s digital infrastructure is still lacking. The cost of training and equipment alone has certain state exchequers in sweats.
VIEW: Positive outcomes of paperless proceedings
The best products are those that can change a person’s mind. So when it comes to positive reviews of NeVA, we don’t need to look further than former CM Virbhadra Singh himself. In 2014, the man was well in his 80s, and learning new tech as an octogenarian is an uphill task. What’s great about this interaction with NeVA was that he fully saw its necessity. The state government’s official website also said that the digitised system helped Himachal Pradesh save around ₹15 crores in expenditure and almost 6,000 trees annually.
From a broader perspective, NeVA might strengthen our democratic roots a lot more, given its focus on the accessibility of information. A closer look at House proceedings shows that all legislative bodies work similarly. There might be slight differences in each individual House, but for the most part, we’re dealing with the same bureaucratic beast. By putting all their progress on one platform, the level of transparency and accountability significantly rises between the legislature and executive wings of government.
Obviously, one cannot overlook the increase in efficiency that NeVA is bound to bring about. One of the most time-intensive processes of law-making happens to be data collection. For decades, legislators have had to communicate through hard copies of everything, i.e. questions, answers, reports, bills, notices, orders, etc. The organisation of those copies alone slows the entire process down by a lot. This gets entirely done away with as the NeVA gets implemented across the country.
Considering that the system will be available to citizens, it is expected to create a well-informed public, which is eventually better for democracy. Even when it comes to funding the implementation of the system in each state, the Centre seems to have a proper roadmap ahead. It will be financed like a Central Sponsored Scheme. Basically, on a 60:40 basis for most states, 90:10 for Northeastern and hill states and 100% central funding for Union Territories. That seems like a pretty compelling argument, right?
COUNTERVIEW: Preposterous costs and logistical failures
The truth is that even though the Centre is willing to fund a good chunk of this transition to digital, each state has its own idea of costs and remunerations. In Karnataka, the initial proposal to adopt NeVA came six years ago. Back then, the state Assembly and the National Informatics Centre came up with an estimated budget of ₹60.84 crores. Now, the cost has been hiked up to ₹254 crores. Something the Opposition says is unnecessarily exorbitant for an open-source software the House was initially sceptical about.
But the problems here aren’t just about disagreements over expenditure; it is the additional personnel and training sessions needed to get the project off the ground. In Himachal, every MLA had to employ a computer-trained person for their assistance. This added another ₹15,000 to their monthly honorarium after ₹8 crores had already been spent on the project. All of this took place while the project was still in its initial phases. Essentially, the idea of reducing bureaucratic manpower with NeVA reached a screeching halt here.
Another point and something brought up in a 2018 report by the International Parliamentary Union is that of infrastructure. According to it, rural constituencies will struggle with this push for digitisation as access to reliable electricity, tech, and devices become a problem. Despite India’s push for embracing technology, only 20% of Indians seem to be digitally literate – this group also happens to be more influential. As per reports, this unequal exposure to digitisation simply increases the gap between the haves and have-nots in the country.
Along with this, the 2020 report from the International Parliamentary Union also brought up concerns of data breaches, security and the lack of training as impediments to the digital revolution. Of course, these issues aren’t unsolvable, but there needs to be a shift in priorities for the Centre. A digital change based on accessibility without a proper foundation indicates the adoption of progress for progress’ sake. As of now, our pace seems to be fixed at one step forward and two steps back.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The adoption of the National eVidhan Application needs to be the top priority of all states.
b) The adoption of the National eVidhan Application, at this moment, needs a relook.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Ignore The Propaganda, India’s ‘Success’ At Recent WTO Meet Is More Show Than Substance
For the Left:
India Is Understaffed. PM’s Nudge To Fill Lakhs Of Public Sector Jobs Is Affordable And Doable
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Gurugram University (Haryana) – Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar visited the construction site of Gurugram University at Kankrola-Bhangrola in Manesar. He asked officials to complete the work in two years. Construction has picked up over the past couple of weeks. Over the past couple of years, the pace of construction was relatively slow following the foundation stone being laid in June 2017. It’ll be the city’s first government university.
Why it matters: The university has been in the works for years. In 2014, Khattar announced a state-run university. A couple of years later, villagers gave their land to the government in hopes that the university would provide educational opportunities and locals wouldn’t have to travel far. Since the initial deadlines weren’t met, the university had to start operations from the Rao Tula Ram College campus in Sector 51.
High inflation rate (Telangana) – The state registered the highest inflation rate for May at 9.45%, among all states. Rural inflation at 10.32% is higher than urban inflation at 8.65%. This looks to be due to a demand-supply mismatch of goods. Also, more money is being pumped into rural areas. The high input cost of products could be another reason for high inflation. The state’s general consumer indices were also at a high for May at 187.7 points.
Why it matters: If this trend continues in the coming months, the state’s economy will be badly affected. National inflation for the same period reduced by a little to 7.04%. Behind Telangana is Maharashtra with 8.52%. It’s followed by Andhra Pradesh at 8.49%, and West Bengal at 8.27%. The high inflation cycle will affect businesses as well due to high costs.
GI export promotion (Bihar) – The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in Bihar has identified six products to be registered for a GI (Geographical Indications) tag. The state wants to promote exports of locally sourced agricultural products with the GI tag. Among the products identified are Nalanda Bawanbooti saree and fabrics and Gaya Pattharkatti stone craft. In the state, NABARD is helping in producers’ group formation and GI filing.
Why it matters: GI is a type of intellectual property (IP) that identifies goods from a specific location. According to the GI registry portal, 15 products and logos have the GI tag in the state. GI branding of products in the state has helped in brand building, local employment, tourism, and preserving traditional knowledge and practices.
Tribal bodies demand quotas (Goa) – Various tribal organisations across the state have mobilised demanding the reservation of seats for scheduled tribes in the state legislative assembly. They rallied under the Mission Political Reservation for Scheduled Tribes of Goa and asked the state government to heed their demand. The rally culminated in a public meeting attended by tribal leaders. They want 12% reservations to be in place before the 2024 elections, citing their constitutional right.
Why it matters: Successive governments in the state have failed to implement 12% reservation 19 years after tribal communities secured ST status. In 2003, the Gawda, Kunbi, and Velip communities of Goa were included in the list of scheduled tribes. They said if the reservations aren’t in place, they would boycott the 2024 elections.
Surveying the border (Assam) – The Survey of India has begun surveying the inter-state border between Assam and Meghalaya. It’s being done based on an agreement between the chief ministers of the states to resolve the border disputes. The survey is being conducted based on the constitutional boundary between the two states since the creation of Meghalaya. The six disputed spots comprise 36.79 square km of land. A report will be submitted to the governments for their opinions.
Why it matters: Both states have been disputing over 12 stretches along the inter-state boundary. In six of them, the states reached an agreement in March. If the states agree on the report’s findings, the respective state assemblies will have to pass resolutions to resolve the dispute. Then the Centre will introduce a Bill in Parliament for an amendment to the constitutional boundary.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹7.8 lakh crores – The possible portfolio capital outflows from India due to a black swan event. According to the RBI, a combination of shocks could result in potential outflows amounting to 7.7% of GDP.