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Smart governance: Big data and analytics to Telangana government's rescue

Vehicle tax collection is just one of the many ways in which Telangana is using big data and analytics to improve efficiency in government processes

B Dasarath Reddy & Bibhu Ranjan Mishra 

Illustration by Binay Sinha
Illustration by Binay Sinha

In late 2017, Telangana’s transport department approached the e-governance cell with a unique problem.

The state had not been able to enforce a law which was passed over eight years ago by the then Andhra Pradesh government to levy two per cent additional life tax on the purchase of second vehicles. They found that registrations were not linked to any IDs such as Aadhaar or PAN and details buyers often provided were misleading, proving it impossible to check if a buyer of a new vehicle was already the owner of another vehicle.testing.. we are here....

Hence, the twin objectives of the legislation — to reduce congestion on the roads and bump up revenues — remained largely unmet. That is when they approached G T Venkateshwara Rao, a 1990 batch Indian Revenue Service officer who had joined the Telangana government as Commissioner, Electronic Service Delivery and Special Commissioner, e-Governance, in 2015.

As an income tax (I-T) official, Rao, who holds two postgraduate degrees — in computer science and industrial management — had worked extensively on technologies like data mining, data analytics, context based relationship discovery and master data management on large databases. After joining the Telangana government, he initiated a move to build a data lake containing citizen information that were sitting in silos in over 20 government departments.

The aim was to have a 360-degree view of every citizen using big data and entity resolution, an algorithm which helps remove duplications in the records without depending upon any ID. By the end of 2016, this big data platform was commissioned and hosted to the government’s data centre.

To solve the transport department’s problem, Rao and his team used the platform, which took just about 10 days to implement. With the ability to scan 10 million registered vehicles in just a couple of seconds, this application started generating high precision matches with drastic reduction in incorrect matches. The results were visible immediately. Between November 13, 2017, and March 31, 2018, the state saw a 48 per cent jump in detecting purchases of second vehicles and vehicle tax collection increased by 60 per cent as compared to the previous six-month period.

Vehicle tax collection is just one of the many ways in which Telangana is using big data and analytics to improve efficiency in government processes. The goal is four-fold: increasing revenue, focused subsidy delivery, smart law enforcement and document-free governance.

For example, cross verification of data using this high precision search algorithm helped the government remove 100,000 out of the 1.3 million ration cards issued in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy districts in the state as these were found to have been issued to ineligible people. (Only 15,000 of them were later restored based on the individual claims when everyone was allowed to apply.)

“We were able to save Rs 60 million per month since September 2016 and Rs 1 billion so far since then just through this one action,” says Rao, who has the distinction of being the first officer from the I-T department to receive the PM’s award for Excellence in Public Administration in April 2010, for his innovative work detecting tax evasion.

“We have adopted a platform approach to big data so that any department can hook up to the system and use the database for targeted outcomes with the help of a customised software application,” says Rao.

While Telangana has successfully used the technology in the first three areas of its stated goals, it is now taking steps to implement “document-free governance”. This will allow a citizen to just walk in with an application seeking a particular service or benefit from the government without carrying any documentary proof to establish his or her eligibility.

For example, when a person applies for a white ration card, which is issued only to a below poverty line family, the system will check their eligibility. Existing guidelines don’t allow a person who owns a four-wheeler or five acres of land or a business to apply for ration card, but there was no system which could identify ineligible persons who obtained ration cards.

To keep costs low, the IT department used generic x86 hardware and also mandated to build the solution on open source database. “Our entire spending has been recovered through a couple of months’ savings one department was able to make using the big data platform,” Rao concludes.

Rao has received the National Conference on e-Governance Award and Global ICT Excellence Award at World IT Congress in February 2018 for improving citizen service delivery in Telangana.

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First Published: Thu, May 03 2018. 07:05 IST