Also a quick look at the recent PMC scheme about including citizen suggested projects in the city budget for 2007-08.
The PMC recently invited development project proposals from the public. These projects were to be considered for inclusion in the PMC budget for the year 07-08. I checked the PMC website egovpmc.com for the necessary form, but the site was a disappointment. I later attended a meet on the topic organized by the Grahak Panchayat. The team of enthusiastic oldies volunteering work for the Panchayat provided more information and the requisite form.
I filled up and submitted the form at the ward office and was told that somebody from the office will get in touch with me. I also later sent a copy for information to the corporator of my area. I have since read news reports claiming that the budget has included several suggestions sent by the public. However neither have I heard from the ward office nor have I been able to get a copy of the new budget on the web. I wasn’t really expecting the ward office to contact me, but I sure was expecting the budget to be made available online immediately.
Inviting citizen’s suggestions is a good idea. However it’s important that the process stays transparent, by making the budget easily available and by highlighting the citizen’s proposals that have been included. Especially as not just well meaning citizens but even people with vested commercial interests would be able to get their projects approved by making it seem that the citizens are asking for a certain project. So unless the proposer has explicitly asked to be anonymous, all the proposals along with details of the proposer should be made publicly available.
egovpmc.com can do wonders in this regard and for e-governance in general. It can act as the medium through which the PMC can talk to thousands of citizens who would not even know where the ward office is, let alone visit it. Unfortunately the website has been ignored and wasted. Over the past couple of years I have lodged several complaints on egovpmc about various civic issues but I don’t think anybody has even bothered to read them.
Most educated Indians these days look at the Internet as their primary source of information. For example on union budget day, the websites of many TV channels either cowed down or crawled, due to the hammering they got from thousands of Indians trying to access the sites simultaneously.
Another example of people flocking to the internet to gain info was during the recent PMC elections. I used to write quite regularly at HarshadOak.com about the Pune elections in general and in particular about the candidates contesting in my area. HarshadOak.com resultantly got over 3500 visitors on just the election results day, most visitors coming through Google search and looking for live results. I am certain many times more Internet users would have tried to get information and results from egovpmc.com. Unfortunately, on election results day egovpmc.com was displaying a list of candidates and no results. To add to that, you required special software skills for the page to be displayed properly and for the Devanagari text to be readable. Earlier on the voting day, the website pmcelection.com was supposed to provide voter search, but the site was dead. I called up the company that was running that website, to find out about the status of repair, but neither were they aware of the failure nor did they do anything to fix the problem.
It’s unfortunate that the only way through which the PMC can directly talk to the educated youth of the city is being wasted. The administration has to take the trouble of communicating in a medium that the citizens are comfortable with, rather than just use traditional mediums and hope that they work. If the administration continues to not involve and inform citizens, interests will only drop further and polling percentages will keep crashing to record lows.
I checked the web to see how developed cities fare as regards e-governance and city information websites. New York, Paris, Melbourne, Toronto and many others have official city websites that are distinct from the website of the government of the place. I could not find any Indian city that had an official website for the city. Most cities only had fairly crude websites about the city corporation.
So while egovpmc.com needs to be made useful, it’s also important to have a distinct official website for Pune city. The official website of Pune city could provide information about the city, how to get there, history of the city, news and events along with information such as which road will be closed for flyover work, diversions, etc. Such a site I am sure would be visited regularly by most web-savvy Puneites. The site could also be the one point reference for anyone visiting the city. And it would definitely be useful when Pune hosts the Common Wealth Youth Games. Of course, I have never heard of these games before and find it difficult to understand why we need a separate youth games event when all games are anyway played by the youth. I tried to find who the organizers mean by the ‘youth’ who would be participating in these Games, but strangely none of the sites or press articles mention the age requirement or any criteria at all. Anyway, the promotions do make one believe that 1000s of people will come to Pune from not just across India but the globe. So how are these people supposed to plan their stay if they can find hardly anything worthwhile about the city online?
There are some pune specific private websites, some of which promised a lot during the dotcom boom. Unfortunately most never recovered from the dotcom bust. So the city administration needs to look at creating an official city website. Creating the city website might be fairly simple but maintaining it will be anything but that. It will not only require competent IT skills but also active involvement of the city administration. A public-private partnership might be the way to go for creation of the website. One hopes that considering the long international stint of our new commissioner, he is well aware of new age mediums and takes definite steps to reach out to citizens through the web.
(Continued… Click here “Searching For A City In CyberSpace” for the entire article). Published as part of my fortnightly column for the Maharashtra Herald)