Amritsar: Among citizens, a preference for in-person tax payments and among municipal employees, hint of nostalgia for the older software

The shopkeeper at Katra Jamail Singh, one of the busiest shopping streets in Amritsar, will insist that the price of the phulkari dupatta is fixed, but will promise you a 10% discount when no one is looking. 

With antique-looking lamps, tiled flooring, the swanky Partition Museum and a renovated Jallianwala Bagh – the city centre has a got a facelift, but the by lanes remain unchanged.  

Amritsar and its people embrace their contradictions like no other.

What the citizens feel

Our experience at the Amritsar Municipal Corporation (AMC) office was no different.

At the property tax window, we met a man in his 30s who said he has heard of people paying tax online but prefers making the payment at the Urban Local Body (ULB) office. “My workplace is nearby. I usually send my office boy here to do it for me”, he said.

Simarjeet Kaur, the head of the IT Wing at the Punjab Municipal and Infrastructure Development Company (PMIDC) says this preference for cash is common among businessmen. “Many businesses here deal in cash only. Making an online payment via bank is a no-go.” As for those who are not tech savvy, she feels it is alright if older people prefer coming to the ULB office. For many who have retired, going to the ULB office is a way to pass time, she said. “We shouldn’t force them to pay online”. 

Another citizen in his 60s said he prefers paying tax at the ULB office because one gets a printed receipt as proof. This preference for a hard copy of the receipt became more pronounced as we encountered more citizens who paid tax online but made a trip to the ULB office to get a printed receipt. Even though one gets the option to download receipt on the mSeva app, if an e-receipt can be generated and shared with the citizen as an image or pdf over e-mail or whatsapp, (not as a link as it currently is), these concerns can be allayed. 

Inside the municipal employees’ room, we met an owner of a real-estate business in his 60s, who admits he is not tech savvy. “At this age, I don’t understand online payment systems. I am worried I will make mistakes. I can only use that option when my children do it for me, but one cannot rely on them all the time”, he said. 

Ajay Singh (name changed), a municipal employee in charge of the property tax department at AMC tells us only 15-20% payments this year have been made online. He believes this number will remain low unless we help citizens with online payments. “Citizens who are interested must be shown how it is done. Only then will they develop the confidence to do it themselves”, he said.  

What the municipal employees feel

When you enter the room out of which the municipal employees work, you get a sense that everyone knows what they are doing. Maybe it is the ease with which they use their computers or the fact that we didn’t see any citizen wait for more than 5-7 minutes. 

In our conversations with Ajay Singh, the reason behind this comfort with technology starts to make sense. DIGIT is not his team’s first brush with technology. Amritsar has had a software for municipal payments since June 2018. DIGIT, eGov’s flagship digital platform, was introduced only in September 2020. His current staff was in fact hired on contract and trained by the earlier software company in 2018.

Ajay Singh told us they faced teething issues at the beginning of DIGIT’s adoption. DIGIT was introduced in the middle of the financial year, which led to a lot of double payments. But now things are on track. He said he has noticed a considerable change since the system was digitised. “There is less corruption now. Earlier, employees would tend to hold money or not deposit cheques but that is not the case anymore. There are fewer in person payments now. Citizens have also become more aware about how property tax is calculated. They seem to be getting used to it.”, he said. 

The use of earlier software in Amritsar began on 22 June 2018. Previous year’s property tax collection was 17 crores, it went up to 22.44 crore in 2018-19, then to 26 crores in 2019-20 and then down by 2 crores in 2020-21 because of covid. This year, Singh said, is looking better.

Singh says it took his colleagues just 10 days to understand how the mSeva portal works. But he feels that sometimes technical issues take longer to resolve. “Older software company gave us a technical team of 3 engineers in Amritsar which helped in quick resolution of any issues we faced”, he said. 

Sanjana (name changed) a municipal employee and a BTech graduate in her early 20s (picture on the left), said that having a software has meant easier access to reports in case superintendents ask for ready data on property tax collections. However, she feels the software can use some improvements, “First, the receipts can be more detailed with information on bifurcation of the self-owned and rented properties. Second, the processing of online payment could be less lengthy. Third, whenever we want to edit property owner details on DIGIT, we have to go via PMIDC and are not allowed to do it at our end.” 

She and her colleagues continue to use earlier software for collection of water and sewerage charges. As of December 2021, integration with DIGIT is yet to take place. 

Another roadblock to increasing the property tax revenue is the underreporting of property area by owners. “This is where 90% of the leakage happens. PMIDC is working on this by introducing geo-spatial mapping technology that can help verify the declarations by property owners”, Ajay Singh said. True assessment, he believed, will increase the scope for revenue collection. 

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Till date we have seen that citizen services are made online either in a single ULB or at district, or state level. This is a beginning where multiple citizen services are simplified, standardised and launched at once pan-country across all 62 Cantonment Boards and eGov Foundation, BEL, NIC, DGDE and MoD teams have played a major role in the speedy implementation of this initiative. I congratulate all of them.

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Ministry Of Defence

Till date we have seen that citizen services are made online either in a single ULB or at district, or state level. This is a beginning where multiple citizen services are simplified, standardised and launched at once pan-country across all 62 Cantonment Boards and eGov Foundation, BEL, NIC, DGDE and MoD teams have played a major role in the speedy implementation of this initiative. I congratulate all of them.

Shri Ajay Kumar, Defense Secretary, Government of India

Till date we have seen that citizen services are made online either in a single ULB or at district, or state level. This is a beginning where multiple citizen services are simplified, standardised and launched at once pan-country across all 62 Cantonment Boards and eGov Foundation, BEL, NIC, DGDE and MoD teams have played a major role in the speedy implementation of this initiative. I congratulate all of them.

Shri Ajay Kumar, Defense Secretary, Government of India

eChhawani is an effort towards offering multiple citizen services in a simple and straightforward manner to citizens across all Cantonment Boards and is the result of efforts of eGov Foundation, BEL, NIC and 62 Cantt Board Administrators supervised by DGDE and MoD. It is a new start and a digital milestone for 62 Cantonment Boards across the country.

Smt Deepa Bajwa, Director General, DGDE

eChhawani is an effort towards offering multiple citizen services in a simple and straightforward manner to citizens across all Cantonment Boards and is the result of efforts of eGov Foundation, BEL, NIC and 62 Cantt Board Administrators supervised by DGDE and MoD. It is a new start and a digital milestone for 62 Cantonment Boards across the country.

Smt Deepa Bajwa, Director General, DGDE

eChhawani is inaugurated today with 8 municipal services and I’m confident that this will continue to enhance citizen centric services for residents of our Cantonment Boards. This is a great step towards ‘good governance’ and is a shining example of India’s emergence as a leader in various sectors offering ease of doing business and ease of living for citizens. I congratulate all stakeholders involved in this initiative and I expect that officers will continue to take feedback from the citizens on whether this initiative is fulfilling the aim of citizen centric governance.

Shri Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister, Government of India

During mSeva WhatsApp Launch- Public grievance redressal in a time bound manner is of paramount importance for the Govt of Punjab. As a part of the “Digital Citizen Services First” approach, we digitized citizen-centric municipal services since 2018 and more than 8 modules can be accessed via web portal and mobile app. Extending the services , we now aim at the resolution of civic complaints with the widely used messaging platform, WhatsApp. Driving a paradigm shift from clicks to personalized seamless conversations will result in improved citizen experience and foster belongingness among citizens with speedy resolution of issues

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The success of this initiative is driven by how the citizens of the state are enabled to access the services of the Planning Authorities anytime, anywhere. These services will also have a direct impact on the Ease of Doing Business ranking for the state which has been one of our priority focus areas. We believe that DIGIT open platform will be a key enabler in the areas of online building permission system and help Planning Authorities to create a citizen-centric urban governance

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Varun Basu

VP – Growth and Partnerships

Varun has 18+ years of global experience spanning software development, product management, business development, partnerships, and strategy. He has worked in a diverse range of fields from software to spirits to food & beverages. He has significant experience working with early-stage startups and has successfully helped them grow and scale their businesses.

A techie at heart, he started as a developer, and he moved on to Product Management & Sales for a data security startup where he led business development & partnerships. He then went on to manage Diageo’s strategy for emerging markets (LMICs) including Latin America, Africa & South East Asia to focus on the growth of the mainstream spirits category. 

In his last role, he was Global Head of Sales & Product at LitmusWorld, a SaaS Customer Experience platform. Varun holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Calcutta University, a Master’s in Computer Application from Vellore Institute of Technology, and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

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The AP govt recently rolled out the prestigious Ward Secretariat Program for doorstep delivery of 24 urban services. This was rapidly enabled on the Core Municipal Platform, ensuring easy roll out and consistency of operations.”

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Nagpur Municipal Corporation

In 2008, as a part of the comprehensive eGovernance initiative that was meant to provide efficient services to citizens, administrators and corporators by implementing integrated governance solutions, NMC revamped the entire legacy system with eGov’s integrated e-governance system based on open technologies for over 60 functions of the ULB.