Internet kiosks have been popular in the assisted delivery of services. But in the future, we will see more mobiles because they have greater penetration among the rural poor, and have almost as much functionality as desktops.

Mobiles can be used for disbursing and receiving payments—taxes, fines, utility bills. But kiosks and mobiles will complement each other, because you can’t do everything on cellphones; you can’t print a birth certificate, for example.

It’s already happening.

In Chhattisgarh, like elsewhere, there was huge leakage in the PDS (public distribution system), with truckloads of grain being diverted on their way to fair-price shops. To counter it, after dispatching supplies, the civil supplies department sends an SMS to registered citizens that a truck with XYZ plate is expected to deliver grain at a certain fair-price shop at around 5pm on a given day. This alerts the community to act as a watchdog.

There are also examples where mobiles have replaced computers. For payments to pensioners, widows and handicapped people in Andhra Pradesh, the social service department tied up with banks and an NGO (non-governmental organization) called Zero Mass Foundation (ZMF). ZMF acts as a business correspondent for banks and has opened electronic bank branches in 6,000 villages in the state. It provides a special mobile phone, biometric reader, strip printer and cash box, all of it costing a total of 20,000, to members of self-help groups (SHGs) in 6,000 villages. These members open accounts of pensioners and make payments between the first and fifth of every month. They take a picture with the mobile phone, collect fingerprints and data for opening an account, and use GPRS to transfer data to the bank.

(But) there are many half-successes. Think of the chips we put on driver’s licences in many states. I haven’t, in the 10 years since the smart cards were introduced, understood their benefit to the RTO (regional transport office) or citizens. In most states, cops on duty don’t have the equipment to read the chip. In any case, they are wary of carrying expensive equipment. Secondly, bribery is so rampant in traffic offences that it is unlikely the policeman will use the equipment.

As long as underlying processes and steps involved in delivering a service are not reformed, there is no point introducing technology. When driver’s licences are issued at an RTO, the only technology is a Web camera and plastic card printer that cuts down time to prepare a licence. But touts can still get a licence without a driving test.

(As told to Priyanka Pulla.)

Subhash Bhatnagar heads a team at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, that is studying the impact of e-governance programmes for the department of information technology.