A step towards digital innovation
With Assam’s first e-Budget, the State has promoted transparency. Participatory governance in its Budget-making and execution process is good news
Past two weeks have been incredibly stirring politically, and a class of political pundits have hurriedly started to give final shape to their analytics for 2019. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), an old ally of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a constituent of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), withdrew its ministers from the NDA Government at the Centre. Telangana Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao suddenly caught the fancy of many when he proposed a ‘third front’, an idea that West Bengal Chief Minister embraced gleefully. Even as the opposition space was getting pregnant with ideas and possibilities, the defeat of the BJP in critical seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, and Bihar served as icing on the cake for them. The secular and liberal analysts brigade was beginning to rejoice. The incredible stories of Tripura were gently buried.
Far away from the screaming television channels and pregnant theorising in Delhi, in Guwahati, a BJP minister was scripting a change, in his bid to push the development agenda of new India that the Prime Minister so passionately champions. Assam Finance Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma was presenting this Government's third and Assam's first e-Budget, and taking Assam to a new league of aspirational, progressive and yearning States. There is a subtext in this leap of change for Assam that should not be missed. That Narendra Modi has triggered an unprecedented competition among policymakers to do and demonstrate results — and the incredible expansion of the BJP across length and breadth of India is largely credited to this. Vikas or development is the only theme that drives politics today. The desperate attempts by Congress and other opposition parties to cling on to old narratives — dramebazi does no good to them; and older ploys — ‘third front’ sounds like snake and mongoose packed in a cage together — could temporarily excite hope, but may not sustain.
Politics has a new DNA in development today, and Sarma is a perfect mascot for it. Worthwhile to look at what makes this Assam Budget so special. “This Assam Budget marks a remarkable event in the history of budget presentation, mainly for the introduction of an e-budget. It has been a constant attempt by the Finance Department to achieve transparency, efficiency and participatory governance in its budget-making and execution process. However, never before has the Government reached out to the stakeholders directly, transcending geographical barriers of districts and physical barriers to technology,” said Sarma. He further informed that the “the giant leap towards e-Budget involving an online version of all budget information not only made the Budget easily accessible to citizens on a broader platform but also opened ways for better understanding and monitoring of the Budget”. The Assam Budget 2018-19 is available in the form of a mobile application “Assam e-Budget” at Google Play Store for Android devices, which users can download and install easily. The application, designed by IIT Guwahati, and developed by the technical team of Finance Department, gives a comprehensive picture of the Assam Budget 2018-19.
While Andhra Pradesh was probably the first State to present an e-Budget, Assam moved a step further and put it up on Google Play Store for citizens to download the same. “Further, in addition to putting out just the Budget documents for download, the Assam e-Budget application is also interactive and presents the key features of the Budget speech in a visually appealing way using infographics, visualisations etc., and provides a search feature for citizens. The pictorial and graphical appeal of the Assam Budget 2018-19 application is a visual delight, making the look and feel classy,” informs Samir Kumar Sinha, Principal Secretary of Finance Department. In fact, the dissemination of the State Budget data via a medium as concise as a tablet (preloaded with the Budget application), paved ways for digital proximity to the Budget. Around 300 preloaded tablets were distributed among the legislators and higher officials of all administrative departments.
Young IAS officer Kailash Karthik N and joint secretary of the Department highlighted another special feature of this Budget: “Earlier, 700 sets of Budget documents were printed, with each set containing over 3,000 pages, making it an estimated 25+ lakh printed pages. This year, we could do away with printed papers to a large extent and only a few sets were printed for the ease of the legislators who were used to ‘paper documents', saving at least a staggering 16+ lakh printed pages.” Not sure this would translate into the saving of how many trees! Sarma and his team have proved that what ultimately matters is delivery, innovation and citizen's delight. The current daydreaming notwithstanding, the Opposition would have to toll extraordinarily hard to undo or supersede the brilliant work that Modi and his men like Sarma do. Only vikas will matter in 2019.
(The writer is a strategic communications professional)
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