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Hyderabad uses cell phones and GPRS to improve civic services

Using easily available technology to improve governance may be the way out of the quagmire of corruption and bad governance

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) claims to be the first to use a real-time urban governance monitoring system at any level of government to attend to citizens’ complaints and increase the efficiency of civic services.

The off-site real-time (OSRT) monitoring system uses the ubiquitous cell phone as a major component. GPRS technology allows cell phones to capture real-time images of public servants at work or public sites under inspection, with the date, time and location of the picture. These images are instantly transmitted to a central server and are available in the public domain.

For example, garbage clearance that is outsourced to private contractors can be easily monitored using this system. The private contractor collects the garbage door-to-door and brings it to dumper bins from where it is taken to transfer stations. The corporation takes over from here and transfers the waste to the main dump yards.

Around 4,000 bins have to be cleared; 16,000 workers are employed for this work. But there was no way of ascertaining whether the bins were cleared regularly or whether workers reported regularly for work. With the introduction of the OSRT system, the supervisor uses his cell phone to take a picture when the workers show up for work, and uploads it on the GHMC server. The state of the bins can be similarly verified. The GHMC estimates that dumper bin lifting for transport to transfer stations has increased from 76% to 98%, and that worker attendance has gone up from 85% to 95%.

Citizens can also make complaints and get the outcome using their cell phones. The complaint is text-messaged in by the citizen. It goes to the concerned ward officer and corporator. Once the fault is rectified, the status is uploaded and the report posted online. A message is sent to the complainant and the corporator. All complaints have to be attended to within 48 hours or the concerned official is fined.  

Compliance with building permissions -- a hotbed of corruption -- can also be better monitored. Real-time images are taken every 15 days at various stages of construction to check whether the builder is sticking to the sanctioned building plan. Illegalities can thus be clearly detected, though commensurate punishment remains in fallible human hands.

The corporation has gone in for the public-private model by choosing a single vendor through a competitive bidding process, to deliver the system. Design and maintenance of the system will be done by the private party. The corporation invested Rs 48 lakh on the software package and Rs 15 lakh on cell phones; it pays Rs 2 lakh per month for GPRS connectivity. It charges a rental on the cell phones it has given to the private garbage collector and has recovered Rs 24 lakh since the system was rolled out in August 2010. It has recovered Rs 27 lakh in fines.  

Source: The Indian Express, February 23, 2011