Cracking the code

Business Line January 03, 2015
Meet the bureaucrat who is the face of the ‘digital revolution’ unfolding in the government

In 1985, there was no Microsoft or Apple in India. There was DCM-Tandy. Indigenous computer manufacturer DCM and Tandy Computers, famous for its TRS-80, were spearheading the personal computer revolution alongside companies such as Apple.

There was also Ram Sewak Sharma, then a 30-year-old bureaucrat stationed as the district magistrate of Bihar’s crime-hotbed Begusarai.

He was also a proud, and probably one of the first few owners of a DCM-Tandy.

“I have always combined my interest in computing with my work,” says Sharma, recalling his early days in the civil service, when we meet at his plush office in Electronics Niketan, one among the maze of central government offices in south-central Delhi. Now at the fag end of his career, as the Secretary of the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), he is the man in charge of the ‘digital revolution’ that the new government wants to infuse into the State apparatus.

Back in Begusarai, Sharma had — in the company of his IIT-Kanpur batchmate, the then district superintendent of police — solved nearly two dozen cases involving stolen firearms, within a month. Even the State’s Inspector General of Police was intrigued enough to travel to the remote district to see for himself “how the hell we did it”.

“I basically used an Operating System called CP/M to input all data about lost firearms across the state as well as recovered firearms,” says Sharma. “After that, it was just a matter of the algorithms matching those numbers, and the results showed up instantaneously. It was a bigger task to explain how we did it than actually solving the thefts.”

Another system Sharma helped innovate,, is now the sarkari workforce’s worst nightmare and a potentially useful tool for public accountability. It tracks, in real time, the entry and exit of nearly 50,000 staff in 150 central government organisations; in the next few months, this live attendance tracker will be deployed in every central government office in the country.
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