Gobar Times
Open Forum

Paper Precision

Technology Vs Paper

Technology has taken over our lives. 

  • E-mail, SMS, video conferencing, tele presentations – who needs (or uses) paper for communication or office work?
  • No one writes letters anymore – if it’s not over mails, wxe connect on social networking sites.
  • No more tiny little phone dairies to save contact details – we all believe in the efficiency of a mobile.

So, are we really living in a paper-free world? Has technology replaced paper? No. Here, we identify four industries that need to undergo a change, reduce paper use and bring about a change.

1. TRAVEL
You book your flight tickets online. But you still need a printout of your e-ticket before entering the airport, remember? Then, after showing the printout at the check-in counter, you are given a boarding pass. Another piece of paper. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that using only e-tickets (and eliminating the need for a printout as well as a boarding pass) would save the equivalent of 50,000 mature trees per year, about 3 square miles of forest. Now, that’s a lot of trees! But why talk only about airlines? Indian Railways, one of the biggest industries in the world, still uses paper to print its tickets. Even if you book them online.

WHAT WE THINK COULD HELP...

  • A system that books online tickets and sends SMS, enabling a paper-free check in.
  • The boarding pass can be replaced with a card that can be swiped to enter passenger details and verify them before he or she boards the plane. The card can then be returned when the passenger disembarks at the destination.

2. BANKING
Cheques, demand drafts, bank statements – almost every bank transaction is on paper. We use paper cheques. We fill paper slips for depositing cheques or cash. Most of us still receive our printed monthly statements via post. With just one person in mind, this might not seem too big a problem. But consider this. At any time, there are thousands of customers who hold accounts in various branches of a bank. Multiple transactions take place at multiple locations on a daily basis. Now imagine the kind of paper wastage this involves.

Mind boggling, isn’t it?

Over four million Royal Bank of Canada account holders have switched from paper to electronic statements since 2006. The paper savings amount to approximately 800 metric tonnes – the equivalent of more than 22,000 trees, according to the Environmental Defense Fund’s Paper Calculator.

WHAT WE THINK COULD HELP...

  •  E-cheques and e-statements are already in use in several banks across the country. But unless customers start using them proactively, there’s very little banks can do. So if you have a bank account or someone in your family does, get them to switch to a net banking account.
  • Corporate offices can help by depositing cheques directly to the employee’s account (ECS) instead of giving a paper cheque that again needs to be deposited in the bank, along with more paperwork.

3. EDUCATION
Whether report cards at school or mark sheets in college, it is all paper, right? Let’s just crunch a few numbers. Assume you are a student in Class VIII. Say there are three sections with 40 students each. The total number of students in Class VII in your school is 120. A report card, on an average, has five A4 sized sheets of paper. So, the total number of A4 sized sheets of paper used for making report cards of Class VII of your school is equal to 600. Now, read this: 500 A4 sized sheets of paper make one ream. And 17 reams of paper make one tree. Now, can you even begin to imagine the total volume of paper used across Indian schools and colleges to just make report cards and mark sheets?

WHAT WE THINK COULD HELP
Usage of paper report cards should be stopped and instead, reports can be displayed on a web portal of the school/ college. Internet is easily accessible in most schools and colleges so implementing this won’t be too much of a task. If a hard copy is required, a print out can be taken.

4. GOVERNMENT OFFICES
Indian government offices are notorious for their pre-historic management systems, especially when it comes to paperwork. The practices are so old that any attempt at introducing technology is looked suspiciously at.  Go to any government office and you will know what we are talking about. Stacks of files piled one on top of the other on every desk, with records available only on paper, mostly. Take for instance, the Civil Aviation ministry. The ministry accepts applications from defence officers for air travel by any other airline apart from the Indian Airlines. Because defence personnel are reimbursed only when they travel by IA (because it’s a government run airline), they need to apply if they have to make an official trip but not on this airline.

These applications are to be received in paper, either by mail or via fax. Hundreds of applications are received by the ministry everyday to be signed off by the Secretary. This process alone is handled by a team of 5 designated persons. The amount of paper used, as expected, is several reams! Remember, one ream of paper is about 500 sheets. That’s paper wastage of gargantuan proportions! That’s not to say that no efforts are being made to move towards paper-less office.

The Delhi state government, in 2009, introduced a filing system called e-patravali pranali — a web based file tracking system that would not only ensure speedier processing of files and less paperwork, but also a visible audit trail (which means lesser corruption!) Currently, the state finance department as well as the Uttar Pradesh Board of Revenue are using this scheme.

No, we don’t expect all our suggestions and ideas to be put into practice immediately. This is just an attempt to urge all of us to be aware of the fact that technology hasn’t yet replaced paper. We need to look at practical ways of moving towards a paper-less environment.