Five ‘Ts’ propel Odisha’s governance. They are transparency, teamwork, technology and timeliness — leading to transformation. The Naveen Patnaik government adopted the ‘5T’ agenda to transform governance in all departments by bringing about big, transformational, institutional-level changes, and not incremental makeovers.

An effective public office is one that is transparent concerning its functions, expenditures, targets, tenders and contracts. It is also collaborative and communicative, leveraging the experience and skill of individual officers in the team. It uses technology to inform citizens, improve the delivery of services and receive their feedback. Such a governance system is, therefore, transformative for citizens. The 5T framework helps the government reduce information asymmetries existing in the society.

In sync with the 5T agenda, in October 2019, the government launched the ‘Mo Sarkar’ or ‘My Government’ initiative. Under this initiative, the phone number of every petitioner accessing a government office is made available to everyone in the system — the Chief Minister, ministers, chief secretary, secretaries and other responsible officers. The CM’s office, at times the CM himself, and other officers make 10 random calls every day to such petitioners and get feedback on the quality of government services offered to them.

This process helps those who govern (the agent) obtain data on how government services function at the tail-end of the chain, at the point of contact with the people (principal). Here, the government can ascertain if the ‘sub-agents’ or bureaucracy can deliver on promised services such as basic healthcare or safety from crime, and immediately take remedial action in case of non-compliance.

Such a real-time feedback mechanism was always absent. Feedback was being collected through the bureaucratic hierarchy whose efficiency and effectiveness was sought to be assessed. This naturally led to a conflict of interest and prevented the ‘agent’ from receiving authentic feedback from the ‘principal’. The Mo Sarkar effectively disrupts this state of affairs, allowing for power to shift away from the bureaucracy back to the people.

The Mo Sarkar is an ‘action-based’ feedback mechanism that utilises direct empirical evidence on performance at the de-centralised or operational level. This information contributes directly to improvement in the performance of the administration/bureaucracy and makes policy interventions and concomitant decision-making much more evidence-based, economical, efficient and effective. As a consequence, it also becomes more equitable and ethical.

To institutionalise it, the State has assigned weightage to performance under the ‘Mo Sarkar’ in the annual performance appraisal report of government employees. The government has already compulsorily retired sub-inspectors and suspended chief district medical officers and assistant engineers based on public feedback. In all, about 100 officers have either been compulsorily retired or terminated in the last six months under corruption charges and delinquency in delivering service to citizens.

The usefulness of the 5T framework is currently in full display in Odisha’s fight against Covid-19. The action plan is known for swift and timely decision-making and efficient implementation. Some of the measures include automated registration system for foreign-returned Odiyas, tie-up with hotels as quarantine facilities, the partial lockdown of the State, the 1,000-bed Covid-19 hospital or the relief distribution to migrants holed up inside the State.

That said, there are some hurdles. The initiative relies on technology, but Odisha’s teledensity, at 77.22 per cent, remains a significant constraint — the national average is 91.82 per cent. This should improve, particularly in the left-wing extremism affected areas where many villages have no access to mobile networks.

The ‘Mo Sarkar’ initiative has a Gandhian core. Mahatma Gandhi strongly felt that people are the real masters, and ministers, as representatives of the people, are their servants. The 5T-powered Mo Sarkar is to benefit the poorest and weakest among us, who desperately require the State and its agents to truly and effectively work for their benefit.

The writer is a BJD Rajya Sabha MP