This Punjab town is solving the adoption problem on its ownWhen you take the Grand Trunk Road from Chandigarh to Amritsar, you probably will not notice this town. In fact, I do not recall seeing a signboard alerting commuters of its existence. But in the world of Punjab’s mSeva, a government portal for online delivery of municipal services, this town is number one on the list for adoption.
Situated off National Highway 1, roughly 30 kilometers from Jalandhar, Kartarpur has a population of about 26,000. It is believed to have been founded by Sri Guru Arjan Dev ji, fifth on the list of 10 Gurus in Sikhism.
Offline channels for online payments
The reason behind the high adoption levels is a concept many think is a thing of past: internet cafes. The municipal corporation of Kartarpur has empowered over three to four local internet cafés in the town to facilitate collection of property tax. As of December 22, 2021, 65% (1180 out of 1800) of property tax payments in the town had been made outside of the Urban Local Body (ULB) office. We went to one such café where these payments were made.
we can help their overburdened staff by collecting property tax.” Manjit and other cafe operators were happy to do it for a small fee.
They charge the customer ten to twenty rupees and help them pay tax through mSeva. Customers do not mind paying the charges and it helps Manjit cover his cost of internet and tax receipt print outs.
As evident, the motivation behind this innovative solution was not to increase adoption or to ensure every citizen can pay tax with convenience. It was the shortage of tech savvy personnel. This is a key learning as we market our adoption plans to state and ULBs. Our narrative must stress the benefits of adoption strategies that make the life of government employees easier rather than focusing on the story of ensuring access for citizens. Manjit said he finds mSeva user-friendly. If at all there are any technical issues, he gets in touch with Jagan (name changed), the computer operator for property tax at the Kartarpur Municipal Office. Jagan helps Manjit with technical issues the same way the Punjab Municipal and Infrastructure Company (PMIDC) officials in Chandigarh help Jagan – through Anydesk, a remote desktop application.
At the Municipal Office
While we waited for Jagan to return from lunch, a man walked in to pay his property tax but was redirected to an internet café. Such nudges at the ULB office seem to have diverted a lot of traffic for property tax payments to these cafes. Jagan is a contractual employee and the only one in the municipal office who is comfortable using mSeva. He tells us that they encourage only those with commercial properties who owe tax in lakhs and thousands come to the ULB office.
He, however, feels the manual mode was faster and easier. “mSeva is available only in English.
Not many people here understand the language therefore, it is more work. That is why we outsourced it to cafes.” His senior Rajkumar agreed. “There are other issues too. The receipts on mSeva do not give citizens a breakup of the property tax amount. Also, the computer cannot tell me who’s money we have received”, Rajkumar (name changed) added
On the Public Grievance Redressal (PGR) front, Jagan said very few complaints are made online. Pointing to the counsellor who was present in the same room he said, “In fact, he is here to get a complaint resolved. He is very active. People call him directly if they face any issues.
There is little need for an online PGR system with him around.” Given the small size of the town and accessibility of the counsellor, an uptake in online PGR in Kartarpur seems distant.
All of Punjab seems to have an efficient system to resolve technical difficulties any ULB computer operator might be facing. For property tax, PMIDC Chandigarh has created a whatsapp group called ‘Live ULBs PT’. Operators simply type in their issues onto the group chat, and they mostly get resolved the same day, sometimes even in minutes.
During our visit, Jagan was facing an issue filing a miscellaneous receipt. He called Simarjeet Kaur, the manager of the IT Wing at PMIDC in Chandigarh and she resolved the issue on the spot with the help of anydesk.
Vijay Singh– “The great Sardaar”
“This man should be given an award on 26th January”, exclaimed Jagan.
Such was the grandness of his act – the act of paying his property tax using WhatsApp.
Jagan tells us that Vijay Singh is probably the only man in all of Kartarpur who does this. That is when it hit us – with out app-centric solution, are we solving for one man in a town of 26,000?
A 62-year-old businessman and a graduate, Vijay Singh did not mean to pay his property tax online but 2 years ago, when he arrived at the municipal office, the mSeva server was down. “I had mobile data on my phone and saw a poster with a QR code. Jagan said a payment via mobile phone was not possible. He thought that the links would work only a laptop or a desktop. But Jagan was shocked to see me to pay tax on a mobile phone.”, he said.
Since then, Vijay Singh has been paying his property tax online. He also pays his electricity, mobile and cable TV bills online. “I end up saving 200-250 rupees a year by making these payments myself and not going to an internet café”, he said proudly.
Why are others not making online payments like you, I asked. His answer was direct – low digital literacy and confusion around navigating apps. “If the property tax payment system was as convenient as paying an electricity bill online, more people would do it. Currently, the process is not very comfortable. This is an issue with most government systems,” he complained. “Once I paid tax, and it did not reflect in the system. It was a small amount, so I repaid but such server issues reduce one’s faith in digital systems,” he added.
Before we disconnected, he said he wanted to share a suggestion – “Try and provide a property tax option on the new mobile payment systems like Paytm, google pay etc. Also, send people alerts via sms and email, reminding them that their property tax is due”.