The Outliers 15: R S Sharma, the bureaucrat who codes

Pankaj Mishra May 5, 2017 2 min

Ram Sewak Sharma has been a digital warrior since the mid-eighties, much before the term digital became mainstream. In 1986, Sharma wrote a software application in dBase programming language to keep a record of all stolen firearms in Begusarai, a district in Bihar with high crime rates.

Over the next three decades, Sharma has led teams across different government organisations and Indian states, building applications automating everything from land records keeping to biometric based attendance system and so on.

In the year 2000, Sharma picked up a challenging assignment, and went to do his masters in computer science from the University of California.

“I struggled, failed but did not give up,” said Sharma, now the chairman the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Being part of the government, Sharma fights many battles from inside, and has played an important role in ensuring the Internet is open and free in India. Last year, during the net neutrality developments he was at the centre of the battle for open internetin India. Also, during his stint as the director general of UIDAI (India’s massive biometric identity system) during 2009 till 2013, Sharma not only fought the early perception and technology battles in building the world’s biggest digital identity database, but also applied his coding skills.

Aadhaar, which is facing a backlash from a group of activists and others in the country because of privacy concerns, is not new to controversies. “I do feel the pain when people try to question the motives and my own conscience, because I know it’s clean and clear,” he says.

“But then, when you’re in the government you face such questions all the time. Earlier it used to be for instance, why a certain road is being built on a particular stretch, whether to favour someone and so on.”

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