In brief

In 2005, the state of Bihar was suffering from poverty and corruption. As well as reforming the state’s police force, the incoming chief minister, Nitish Kumar, embarked on a series of technology-based reforms to promote efficiency, financial competence and transparency in government. He focused on developing reforms in areas such as land registration, taxation, treasury management and freedom of information.

The challenge

The state of Bihar is one of India’s poorest states. The state’s government has been facing the results of two decades of institutional decline, widespread lawlessness and a society deeply divided by caste and religion. The government had made relatively little technological process. “Mismanagement of financial resources, obsolete methods of data entry and reporting, a low-skilled workforce, insufficient transparency, and scarce accountability hindered service delivery.” [1]

The initiative

In 2005 Nitish Kumar became the chief minister of Bihar. He launched a series of ICT reforms “to streamline operations, boost revenues, and improve the government’s responsiveness to citizens’ needs”. [2] It focused on three areas: land registration, finance and freedom of information. The objective was for the government to be efficient, responsive, transparent and cost-effective. “The Bihar government had a vision of becoming one of the top five e-governed, IT-enabled, e-literate states in the country by 2012.” [3]

The ICT reforms were implemented in two phases:

  • The first phase focused on boosting revenues and targeted the state’s land registration, treasury and taxation systems.
  • The second phase focused primarily on improving communication between government and citizens.

Kumar's first actions focused on gathering information about the quality and nature of public services across the state, reviewing all the ministries and departments and recruiting competent administrators. In 2006, his team established a Department of Information Technology to oversee the IT developments.

The public impact

Bihar’s IT deliverables began to be highly regarded beyond the borders of the state. “In 2007, SCORE, the online land registration system, received the Indian Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Public Administration. The Jaankari call centre received the government of India’s gold medal in the Outstanding Citizen-centric Programmes category in 2008.” [4]

By 2012, Bihar had earned national and regional acclaim for its technology-related achievements. “The government of India recognised the turnaround through e-governance awards. Kumar’s efforts earned him the nickname Sushasan Babu, or Mr. Good Governance.” [5]

When the tax return project started in 2009, only 149 businesses in Bihar filed tax returns electronically. In February 2013, 78,000 businesses (more than 90 percent of the total) filed returns online. In 2013, Bihar’s tax revenues totalled US$3.06 billion compared with US$800 million in 2006.

The freedom of information legislation – the Right to Public Services Act 2011 – was also very successful. The government received 17 million applications in its first 10 months and imposed 733 penalties on civil servants for non-compliance.

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What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Good

There were various stakeholders for this initiative, with Nitish Kumar being the primary one. The other stakeholders were:

  • The officers who were recruited as administrators.
  • Beltron (the company responsible for procurement).
  • The team which carried out a comprehensive review of all ministries and departments.
  • The secretaries of various departments.
  • Amir Subhani, the principal secretary of administrative reforms and personnel.
  • Anup Mukherji, who joined as the principal secretary of rural development.

Significant funding was received from foreign stakeholders in 2007-08: US$225 million from the World Bank and  US$28 million from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). There was also investment from the Indian federal government.

Political Commitment Strong

The ICT reforms were initiated by Kumar, as chief minister of Bihar. “During his first five-year term in office, Kumar decided to invest heavily in the use of information and communications technology, or ICT, to improve service delivery and restore the public’s confidence in government.” [6] He was involved in the planning of those reforms and he relied on state and federal resources for funding, later seeking assistance from bilateral donors, such as the World Bank and DFID. Moreover, he recruited competent and highly skilled officers to ensure the success of the reforms.

Public Confidence Fair

Before Nitish Kumar took office in 2005, the people in Bihar had no confidence in the government as previous governments had a poor reputation for governance. The first 2005 elections, in February, had resulted in a hung assembly. Another election was held later that year in October and Kumar was elected in coalition government. He was re-elected in 2010, with a slight swing in his favour of 2.1 percent, indicating that he retained public confidence.

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objectives were clear (i.e., to improve governance and provide an efficient, responsive, transparent, and cost-effective government) and were consistent throughout. The outcome addressed relevant issues, such as the former mismanagement of financial resources, obsolete methods of data entry and reporting, a low-skilled workforce and inadequate transparency.

Evidence Good

Similar initiatives had already been implemented in various other states in India. For example, Right to Public Service Acts were enacted in the Punjab, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh in 2011, while Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu had implemented computerised land registration systems.

Certain pilot programmes were run in Bihar for its ICT initiatives, e.g., for the new SCORE system. It was piloted before Kumar took became the chief minister but, since it showed positive results, he decided to scale it up. In 2007, the principal secretary of finance, Navin Kumar, led a pilot of the Comprehensive Treasury Management Information System, which was viewed as a success and cut the budgetary planning process from three months to two weeks.

Feasibility Fair

Prior to introducing ICT reforms in the state, a comprehensive review of all the ministries and the departments was carried out by Nitish Kumar's team. Specific needs and constraints were assessed and a list of projects under implementation were listed by the secretaries.  For funding the reform, Kumar relied on the state funds as well as the federal funds.

Action

Management Good

Kumar hired experienced managers from the Indian Administrative Service, along with other competent civil servants to staff his secretariat and ensure the success of the reform. Skilled IT managers were hired to work on the ICT projects. The state used trained customer services staff rather than the existing civil servants to provide support to citizens in their Right to Information Act requests and to respond to questions and complaints from the public.

“Even though the ICT reforms improved monitoring and transparency in service delivery, petty corruption remained a problem ... From 2006 to 2010, the state vigilance department, responsible for monitoring corruption in civil service, arrested 325 civil servants including 50 high-ranking officials on bribery charges and confiscated their assets.”

Measurement Good

There were checks and monitoring mechanisms in place though not for all ICT-enabled services. Jaankari, the call centre, had automated monitoring as did the web-based commercial tax collection system and the mobile phone-based reporting system that tracked service delivery in rural areas. The Jaankari report provides clear details about the procedures and its functioning.

Alignment Fair

Not all the actors involved were well aligned with the technology reforms. Civil servants were often reluctant to be involved in ICT, although training session and workshops were held to educate and motivate them. There was also a lack of supporting infrastructure, as internet connectivity in many areas did not allow the citizens to benefit from the new services.

However, other actors involved in the reform played a vital role. There was a good level of cooperation between Beltron, the main ICT supplier, and the Bihar Department of Information Technology. Also, Kumar ensured that the principal secretaries had state-of-the-art equipment to carry out the administration’s reform agenda. From 2007, the World Bank and DFID supported the reform with financial and technical support.

Bibliography

MODERNIZING THE STATE, CONNECTING TO THE PEOPLE: BIHAR, INDIA, 2005 – 2012, Rushda Majeed and Pallavi Nuka, 2015, Innovations for Successful Societies, Princeton University,  http://successfulsocieties.princeton.edu/

Intervention Summary, Bihar Governance and Administrative Reform Programme (BGARP), The Department of International Development, UK