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Madurai collectorate uses social networking to address citizen woes

Last updated on: June 06, 2013 12:22 IST

To make it simpler for the citizen to file his complaint, the Madurai collectorate has started to use social networking in a big way, and has set up a team that scours through the various petitions filed online and take necessary action, reports A Ganesh Nadar

Manu Needhi Naal' is a well-known concept in rural Tamil Nadu. 'Manu' means petition, 'Needhi' means justice and 'Naal' means day. It is the day where you get your grievances redressed. It's usually on Monday, the first working day of the week.

On this day all bureaucrats are supposed to be in their office to meet the public and address their grievances.

In Tamil Nadu it's also very normal to go to any government office on other days and hear, 'Saar gone for camp' sans any other explanation as to where the said officer has gone, or when he will be back. It's a much-abused concept dating back to the British Raj when officers used to actually camp in villages till the work was done. 

Naturally, if you go to any collectorate on a Monday in Tamil Nadu, you will see thousands of people waiting in queue to file their petitions. There are dozens of professional writers outside the collectorate filling out petitions. All they need is a pen, the paper you buy from another entrepreneur.

Going to the collectorate on Monday will take the entire day to have your petition filed. And in case you don't succeed, you return the next Monday.

To make it simpler for the citizen to file his petition, the Madurai collectorate has started to use social networking in a big way, and has set up a team that scours through the various petitions filed online and take necessary action.

The team operates from the collector’s home, where a room with five computers has been set aside for the purpose. Interestingly, the home is called the camp office – another throwback to the Raj.

What does this team do? Spend the entire day going through Facebook, that's what. But unlike elsewhere, this is their work – they monitor the page www.facebook.com/collectormadurai.

This page is the brainchild of the collector, Anshul Mishra. It was launched on June 18, 2012, and receives 30 to 40 complaints every day. Those who complain here need not go to the collectorate on Monday. 

Once you complain here, you get an acknowledgement within 24 hours.

"We then call the concerned official and tell him about the complaint, and we email the details to him. We also give the mobile number of the officer to the complainant so that he can follow up on the phone. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome he can say so on Facebook," explains P Daniel, one of the four on the social networking team.

"The second time we call the officer, and tell him that this is the collector's personal order. If that too doesn't work, then the collector will call him personally."

The four team members are online through the day, following up on citizens’ petitions. "I have been provided with a laptop so I log on at night too," says Daniel. 

One can also call up the collectorate on 0452-2525 202 for a phone update on the complaints.

In the last 11 months the team has successfully attended to about 2400 petitions, which works out to more than 200 a month.

"In the beginning we got a lot of civic complaints, then about delays in patta (land deed). Now we get complaints regarding most departments."

He says the petitioners are innovative as in they post photos and even videos to substantiate their complaints.

"We also tell both the officer concerned and the petitioner that the problem will be solved within a certain time frame," Daniel adds.

District Collector Anshul Mishra works on an iPad in his office. "I started this system last year when I realised that many people are internet-savvy, or they know someone who is. The idea is to save the time they waste in coming here and then to the office where they have their work pending.

"The second thing is that as the complaint is on my FB wall, it is visible to everyone, and the solution is also visible to everyone.

"If anyone wants to make a complaint in private, he can always inbox the message to me," Mishra adds.

The Madurai district has another distinction, in that every officer's mobile number is given out when asked on Facebook, unlike in other offices where getting the mobile number of even a peon is next to impossible. "We give out the number of all officers, including the IAS cadre, when any citizen asks for it," says Daniel.

A Ganesh Nadar in Madurai