Examining Punjab’s e-Governance claims

Examining Punjab’s e-Governance claims

The e-governance has shaken the bygone rudimentary modus operandi of governance and administration; where it has made it more accessible for the commoners to reach out to the people on the helm of affairs, that too with just a few button clicks. The service delivery ought to get better in terms of efficiency and expediency. Even though the e-governance seems to have been implemented in the most populated province of the country, Punjab, through the e-Khidmat centers that purportedly aim to change the culture of waiting in hour-long queues, the optics are farfetched from actuality.

Giving the semblance of improvement in service delivery won’t work only with the development of digital platforms. Smart phone applications, Chief Minister’s complaint cells and other similar web portals won’t suffice if the redressing infrastructure is weak. Without a shadow of doubt, mainstreaming the use of ICT in the field of governance is a hallmark of the 21st century, bringing about genuine across-the-board democratisation in terms of accessibility to the public institutions. Yet, the intent behind the overhaul holds promise if the potentates desire to empower the citizens down to the household level.

Undoubtedly, the role of marketing, advertising and media management in altering perceptions of the masses can hardly be discounted. Political parties, abreast with the significance of perceptions, have started utilising the media to the best of their advantage. Instead they have gone even further; governments have purchased the airtime between 9pm to 11pm: the primetime slot that allures the most eyeballs, and hence can be considered most impactful. Yet, this alone cannot ensure prime service delivery and grievance redressing. Instead, this can feign false hopes.

The fantasy world crafted from the persistent tactful marketing design ought to burst, sooner or later, as did mine when I did not receive a follow up from the much hyped chief minister complaint cell, an online complaint cell developed by the Punjab government which ostensibly is under strict check of the chief minister himself, as they claim. The automated response that originates instantaneously shows a lot of promise and raises false hopes to say the least.

I drafted a comprehensive complaint entailing all the subtleties and the particulars in the hope of getting a prompt response. Not only was the automated email response instantaneous, but a follow up letter was dispatched at my address of correspondence, confirming the receipt of the complaint filed at the online complaint cell. I was top to bottom overwhelmed, to say the least, especially in the face of the negative connotations associated with the public institutions in this land of pure that bars the aggrieved from reaching out to the set designated places -- public offices -- meant to resolve the issues confronting the community. Not a single subsequent fruitful follow up arrived in the aftermath.

Moreover, a month later, I left a note on the ‘contact us’ page on the Punjab government’s official web page that houses the much touted chief minister’s online complaint cell, soliciting a response or the update on the matter, if any. This time, there was not even an automated response, precisely.

The much publicised “Khidmat mein Ibadaat”, which can be translated as ‘serving the public is akin to worshipping God’, an aphorism that chief minister of Punjab associates himself with, was downright wrecked. What is the point of raising preliminary hopes high when there is not even an allusion of accountability thereafter? Was the chief minister aware when my grievance was filed? Whether the chief minister took to account if the issue was addressed or not? Whether redressal, that was supposed to occur, materialised within the time frame? Whether the complainant was content with the pace of the resolution (since it utilises hard earned tax payer resources to sustain the infrastructure and workforce for the chief minister secretariat’s emoluments)? One can be skeptical to elicit such a picture from just once incidence while this can be an intentional slip of the sorts. A year later I happened to try my luck, again, for another matter; unfortunately, not much have changed: the order of events just repeated the prior incident of sorts.

‘Khidmat main Ibadaat’ should be forte of all the public servants, not only in words, but in spirit and practice. Let not the system of e-governance be an outrageous eyewash to woo the voters.

The real reform and the best use of e-governance would be when the chief minister himself keeps a consistent check on the complaint portals. What most ICT could do is to present a meticulous depiction of the aptly available information and data at one’s disposable round the clock. Paying heed to it is the domain of the administration but this requires serious sense of responsibility to serve the public which is the need of the hour today.   

Next marketing campaign from the office of Chief Minister Punjab should be on the drop in issue redressal time of the complaints addressed at the Chief Minister Complaint cell. They, too, should paint a nonpartisan picture of the number of complaints received, addressed, pending, soon to be addressed in a given time span.

Public trust, instead of eyewash, will serve the political representatives in the long run. The nation’s forage for public servants whose actions are manifestations of their namesake still has not seen light of the day.