At the Gram Samadhan Diwas held in every panchayat of Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh (UP) every week, government and police officers mandated to attend the meeting take selfies and post them on a district WhatsApp group. They’re not selfie-crazed social media buffs, but are driven to do so by an administrative requirement to mark their attendance in the meetings.
Hardoi district magistrate Shubhra Saxena proposed conducting of the Gram Samadhan Diwas in every panchayat once a week to save people from rural areas the trouble of coming to the collectorate with their grievances. Now, they can attend the weekly Gram Samadhan Diwas in their gram panchayat where village-level officers redress their grievances on the spot.
With no other reliable way to keep tabs on their attendance, Hardoi district magistrate Shubhra Saxena asked the the officers to take a selfie or get a photograph clicked after every visit and share it on the district WhatsApp group
The lekhpal (revenue department official), a police constable, a gram panchayat adhikari (rural development department) and representatives from the tehsil thana and the block concerned are required to attend these weekly meetings to resolve the villagers’ problems. With no other reliable way to keep tabs on their attendance, Saxena asked the the officers to take a selfie or get a photograph clicked after every visit and share it on the district WhatsApp group.
Saxena said that a district-level unit has been given the task of monitoring the attendance of these government representatives on the WhatsApp groups. “The facility of biometric (attendance) or computers is not available at the grassroots level, which makes it very difficult for seniors to keep tabs on every officer and subordinate working on the field,” said Saxena, explaining how WhatsApp is a handy tool in such a situation.
The Karnataka government had come up with a similar initiative years ago. It had developed a panchayat portal called Panchatantra wherein village panchayats were asked to upload photographs of gram sabha proceedings (meeting and minutes), and also photos of development works in the village to enable senior officers to remotely monitor the progress.
“Earlier, people alleged that we don’t attend the jan sunwaayi, but selfie attendance has taken care of this problem as officials upload selfies to the district administration group” — Rajeev Tiwari, panchayat adhikari of Peng village in Hardoi
Rajeev Tiwari, the panchayat adhikari of Peng village in Hardoi, told FactorDaily that selfie attendance system was proving to be helpful. He said that the selfie attendance system through WhatsApp has helped ensure speedy disposal of cases and also in ensuring regular jan sunwaayi (public hearings) are held in gram panchayats. “Earlier, people alleged that we don’t attend the jan sunwaayi, but selfie attendance has taken care of this problem as officials upload selfies to the district administration group,” he said.
Taking justice to the grassroots
Meanwhile, Saxena’s Gram Samadhan Diwas, where the focus is on samadhan (solution) of people’s problems, is slowly but surely finding takers among the villagers. Sukhpal Singh, 74, a resident of Durga Khera village in Sandila tehsil of Hardoi, told FactorDaily that the gram pradhan of his village had beaten him up and evicted from his own house a few months ago. He said he knocked on many doors for justice, but to no avail, until he took up the matter at a Gram Samadhan Diwas.
“The jan sunwayis were of no use as would listen to our complaints. But, I have seen the change since the Gram Samadhan Diwas started on June 22. My complaint is being addressed at the local police station level and I feel relieved. I am hopeful I will get justice soon,” he said.
Saxena said the government representatives attending the meetings have been given the mandate of addressing every complaint within 7-10 days. Issues that are outside their purview or are crime-related are duly passed on to the senior officer concerned or to the police.
Vijay Kiran Anand, director, Panchayati Raj, told FactorDaily it’s good to see senior bureaucrats coming up with innovative ideas to address public grievances. He commended Saxena for the WhatsApp selfie attendance idea since it’s effective and costs nothing. He said Saxena’s initiative can be replicated on a larger scale if it proves to be successful in the long run.
“I have seen the change since the Gram Samadhan Diwas started on June 22. My complaint is being addressed at the local police station level and I feel relieved. I am hopeful I will get justice soon” — Sukhpal Singh, a resident of Durga Khera village in Hardoi
As smartphones and mobile data become cheaper, almost every second person in Uttar Pradesh’s hinterland has a phone with internet. And with WhatsApp crossing 20 crore active users in India this February, its uses and application in administration continue to increase.
Saxena, who was the all-India UPSC topper in 2009 and is an alumna of IIT Roorkee, worked in the IT industry for four years before becoming an IAS officer. Her tech-oriented approach to problem-solving has also seen her devising a summons management system, which seeks to help the judiciary in disposal of cases by ensuring court summons reach the intended recipient without fail.
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With inputs from Sanjeev Anand, an Uttar Pradesh-based journalist.
Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira
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The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.