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Applying For A Voter Card Online Showed Me How Unprepared We Are For Digital India

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In this day and age, digital technology enables a much more efficient and improved way of getting work done – be it in offices, or through the rising popularity of electronic services like e-books and e-papers. These are not only more accessible to the end user, but provide the much bigger picture of being environmentally friendly. It’s obvious that the average reader shifting from the early morning paper to the habit of reading accessible e-papers on their mobiles, on the go, is practically the way forward in our lives.

However, in this age of tech reaching its pinnacle of success, and becoming more accessible to users thus generating a sense of efficiency among them, are we perhaps missing out, as a country, on tapping what the tech world really has on offer? To be more precise, are those in the political scheme of things, who boast about Digital India and how it has had an impeccable rise, only saying so to tap into the positive vibe that we get when hearing of technological advancements, to mask that fact that the government got its bad name due to red-tapism and inefficiency?

The reason why I found the urge to write this piece is that I have, in my personal capacity, suffered through the extremely poor conditions of the digital system in government services. Be it applying for an election card or requesting for a duplicate PAN/filling an online form for a new PAN – the system is not only inefficient but the citizen support that you’d expect, via emails or customer services, is basically non-existent.

To quote my own example: I was quite intrigued to find out, when I turned 18, that the government had introduced a digital system which allows citizens to apply for an election card online. This eliminated the exhausting procedure of visiting the electoral office, filling the form, awaiting a BLO (Booth Level Officer) appointment, meeting the BLO and confirming documents, and then eventually getting the election card.

I filled the online form, enclosed all the requested documents, and attached my recent passport size photo. I submitted the same, and then the waiting game began. I had expected it to take roughly three to four months to get my election card. This was in the September of 2015.

Almost six months passed by and I got no updates. Then came the shocking bit. Whenever I tried to see the status of my application by tracking the election card application online, I always got the same message – ‘application is under review’. I tried contacting the election commission officer. I even got a reply from the SO in the PGRS (Public Grievance Redressal System) cell, which said, “Please contact your nearest electoral office.” Which I did – only to be told “Ji, online system ka humein nahi hota pata, aap paper fill kardo dobara (we don’t know about the online procedure, please fill the form again physically).” This, almost after a year since I filled my online application. Ever since this incident, whenever I’ve written to the SO in the PGRS cell, they haven’t even had the courtesy to reply.

However, I felt as if a miracle had taken place when in September last year I got a call from the BLO, telling me to come and visit her in the government school near my apartment and get my documents verified. Apparently, there was still hope.

I visited the BLO and filled my form, submitted to her and requested a time-frame to expect the election card. She replied, “Around 3 months, by December 2016 probably, I’ll call and let your know.” December passed and I called her in January only to be told, “Ji, aapka election card nahi aaya abhi tak (your card hasn’t arrived yet).

I was asked to wait another month. By then I had really lost my patience with the procedure and the sad usage of the digital system in providing government services to the citizens. The BLO told me on February 2, “The card hasn’t come, your form got misplaced it seems, please fill it again.

Photo: Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Almost one and a half years later, having filled the online form and having gotten it confirmed from the BLO, the progress on my election card is zero as of this day. The online website, as expected, has nothing concrete to offer on my application and the tracking status just says, ‘FIELD VERIFIED’.

It bamboozles me why our government has a digital system in place for acquiring election cards online, when the ground reality is so pathetically inefficient that an average citizen is tossed around and yet gets no concrete reply as to what exactly happened to his application. It’s almost a game of snakes and ladders where you may get hope with one step, but with the next, you’re pushed right down to where you started because the system apparently hasn’t come to terms with going digital. This is the sad state of our government and how it functions even in the digital world of the 21st century.

The purpose of writing this article is not to defame the Indian government. Neither is it to say that what the government hopes to achieve via the mechanism of Digital India is wrong. This article intends to provide a face-value analysis of the contrast between the government’s vision and idealism, and the ground realities. That being a digital system that is inept and incapable of meeting the idealistic demand of an efficient, digital, optimised government service system in India.

With the hope that this article reaches people in the positions of power that can take some actions to ensure that the situation is dealt with accordingly, here’s hoping that a citizen’s voice is democratically listened to. As the government says, it’s time to ‘stand up India, startup India’. This can only become true when we move out of the comfort zone of how our government offices currently work and move towards a simplified yet effective digital system instead.

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