By Humra Laeeq
Three years into his term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration are leaving no stone unturned in a massive attempt to digitalise the country.
Under the ‘Digital India’ initiative conceived in July 2015, the impetus was given to e-Governance—an electronically empowered economy—has come under public scrutiny. The government has decided to radicalise its economy and channel its functionality into the cyber world.
Have a complaint? Post it on Twitter
Following the proposal of UP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to the Information Department, Principal Secretary Awasthi spoke during a two-day workshop on ‘effective use of social media in government works’. He addressed the efficiency of Twitter as a platform for state activities. Adityanath—whose Twitter handle is @myogiadityanath—has a follower bank of half a million. All government departments in Uttar Pradesh (UP) have been directed to open Twitter accounts within a week. This is apparently a move to facilitate ‘effective’ communication with the people. This way, the entirety of their grievances can be resolved timely and with coordination between departments. The central thrust is towards creating a ‘connect’.
The program will be carried out on Twitter’s Customer Relation Management platform, on which the concerned districts of the government receive the software complaints. With its interface, a swipe of a few screens and 140 characters will now do what once decks of papers would have done.
How does the Ministry identify relevant complaints? Complainants need to deploy keywords relating to public services provided by various departments, as well as issues directly handled by the ministry. Each time a user tweets a grievance or complaint relating to the keyword, the associated central server within the ministry reacts to the tweet. The department concerned will then initiate the process for redressal and accordingly inform the user.
Connecting across agencies
The UP state police force is regarded as one of the largest in the country. Its Twitter handle @Uppolice, has over 1.5 lac followers and has been providing help in solving grievances of the people since 2016. It also received the 2017 Social Media for Empowerment Award in the Public Relations category in April. UP is the first state in the country to use Twitter service at all its police stations to have a better ‘connect’.
Yet, UP is not to be hailed as the face of technological revolution in the administrative function of India. Rishi Jaitly, former Twitter India head, has said that before the UP Police, this service was being used by the Ministries of Railways, External Affairs and Telecom.
It was also being used by the Bengaluru police in the form of the ‘Twitter Seva’, which laid the foundation for upcoming governmental social media platforms. The Indian Railways handle addresses around 7,000 tweets on a daily basis according to Twitter India. The Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which also uses a Twitter Seva, processed 750 cases in a month using the hashtag #Mociseva. The success story has prompted the Centre to reach out in a similar way. Following Awanish Awasthi’s workshop, this demands an assessment of cyber reality vis-à-vis the current state of India and the world. How far have we really come in the shift from pen and paper reality to clicks and screens virtuality?
A misguided message?
Social media is now very much the de facto voice of democracy. With its manifold allure, it is heavily engaged in public conversation. Worldwide visibility in real time, transparency, easy access, anonymity and cross-border inclusivity are only some of the factors that increase its appeal. Given this matrix, does Adityanath’s move introduce an efficient paradigmatic shift in the administration of UP?
UP as a state of majority rural population exempts itself from many of the trends which are largely a function of the world’s more technologically powerful economies. However, in an echo of the Demonization of 2016, radicalised reforms need careful scrutiny of ground infrastructural reality—a challenge Digitalizing Economies must continually combat. As per the data shared by Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha in the Lok Sabha in 2016, the UP population approximates to 204 million. 17 million are subscribed to the internet. The Adityanath’s target citizens make up a bare minimum of the UP population. The move borders itself on the exclusionary tendencies much dear to the Modi Government as a whole.
Gram panchayats are undergoing structural changes in the provision of broadband connection. Still, more than half remain without internet access. Layered across this is the high illiteracy rate prevalent among people who often are subscribers of mobile phone services, but not active on social media. UP is not the unilateral population of congruent mobile phone users, literacy and internet access percentages Adityanath’s address assumes.
Too much of a disconnect?
Of course, Twitter complaint mechanisms have an independent appeal. Why wouldn’t the government and citizen alike substitute heavy paperwork to hours of no avail and neglect with simplistic access through social media posting? Legally sanctioning a social media platform to receive complaints can bear potential for publicly shaming state fallacies, a process going a long way into holding accountability and evoking actionable moves. What is irksome is the assumed homogeneity of the initiative. Who voices out, what he (given that male literacy in UP is higher) voices out is overlooked in the sentimental lauding of Digital India initiatives. Agriculturalists, slum dwellers,
Agriculturalists, slum-dwellers, labourers, and women and children are often marginalised to the social periphery. With the system entirely online, it displaces the conventional Grievance Redressal procedures and reduces chances of catching state attention. The ‘connect’ with the citizens remains a privilege enjoyed by the cream of the population, while the ‘disconnect’ maps the gap between the have and have nots.
Assuming the state employs representatives, low literacy rates being among these sections will only reinforce manipulations and filtering of complaints to the best suited. Persuasion and appeal to urban citizens would inevitably fail since Twitter posting is largely an individual phenomenon. With such individuation of opinion and complaint voicing, serious and threatening issues can easily slip through diffusion of responsibility.
The way forward
What is needed is not the dismissal of social media complaint system but the strengthening of external institutions accessible to non-internet users. Unfortunately, this is not implausible given that the Ministry can address one fraction of issues online. In extension, grievances redressal committees can be established, exemplifying the efforts of the Ministry of Commerce in 2016. Until we can ensure broadband services across all Gram Panchayats and a gradual erosion of material complaints, how far can we really follow the West?
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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