Technology can be the cure

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Informative Websites, payment of bills over the Internet and token systems in banks and at airports are now commonplace. But a progressive society should continually look for more ways to modernise age-old systems to respect people’s time and convenience

Last Saturday I returned home impressed. My driving licence had been renewed in 15 minutes flat — capturing my biometric identity, photograph and fingerprint; all generated in less time than one spends on a friendly chitchat.

A closed circuit camera displayed every nook and cranny of the Vasant Vihar transport office including cars lining up on the road outside, people filling different forms and the time taken at each counter. Touts that habitually orbit public dealing offices were invisible, banished by the prospect of being seen on camera.

In no time I was the proud owner of a smartcard displaying my address, phone number and blood group giving me a new sense of belonging in a city that had been my home for a lifetime.

CCTV is by no means a new technology. Nowadays even tiny shops have installed these gadgets to keep an eye on salesmen, waiters, customers and signs of trouble. Temples display ongoing pujas at vantage points for devotees who cannot enter in time. One wonders why this simple technology cannot be used to bring efficiency into so many other areas where a citizen’s time is at stake.

Take the Passport Office. For three years I have watched a snake-like queue outside the Regional Passport Office at Bhikaji Cama Place. Sweating in the sun, inching forward at a snail’s pace, passport-seekers stand glued to each other for fear of losing place in the queue. The oppressive heat and the absence of sun-shelters, and public conveniences make the wait agonising, more so for the elderly and small children. The RPO badly needs to acquire a closed-circuit camera which displays the chain of applicants as they meander on the footpaths behind Hyatt Regency hotel, diesel fumes aggravating the heat and dust. Fixed time appointments and number tokens do not need much imagination and need to be introduced at least now (Outside the gate.)

The lower courts are another place where people congregate in thousands. Although judicial independence is zealously guarded, the entire legal system primarily exists for dispensing justice to the public, a fact that should surmount all other considerations. I was dismayed to see that despite summons having been issued to the Tees Hazari court witnesses to appear at 10 AM many a Presiding Officer was absent even 30 minutes later. Undeniably with very good reasons, but it is exasperating to find the accused, the complainants and witnesses all having to just hang around. Numerous lawyers also waste their time awaiting the judicial officer’s ascension on to the dais, when court work actually commences.

It would be a good idea to install CCTVs to display the progress of cases so that lawyers and their clients can plan their movements and are not required to hurtle from floor to floor or join the melee outside the court rooms in the nick of time. If CCTVs could be programmed to display which case is in progress and the next cases on the list, it would reduce the mental agony of thousands of people.

A computerised display will have another advantage. It would eliminate the archaic and undignified practice of hollering names down the corridor — a practice which has been in vogue for 100 years. Even a rudimentary ticker can perform the job perfectly well and can eliminate the demeaning practice of bellowing names.

Technology can also usher in a new sense of ownership to accept civic challenges. In Vijayawada, the municipal commissioner computerised the arrival, departure and the weight of garbage collected every day, by every truck. Displayed on a website in real time, it resulted in greater public participation in monitoring garbage collection — a good thing for the city and its neighbourhoods. At one point of time the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was very enthusiastic about the idea which now seems to have petered off. It should be revived and citizens should be encouraged to become watchdogs for their colony, just by viewing the website.

Perpetual traffic bottlenecks are another source of public fury. This daily torture is further compounded by a single downpour that automatically shuts off traffic lights and with it all movement on the roads. It generally takes up to 15 minutes for a traffic constable to show up, by which time all hell has let loose. An AVRS system which reports on the functioning of all major traffic lights should be set up. The nearest PCR vans — (whether the khaki-clad inmates belong to the traffic police department or not) — should be able to view the problem areas on a laptop and immediately intervene to better manage the traffic. If homeguard personnel and school children can manage road traffic, there is no reason why the PCR van staff cannot show up in minutes to handle this critical responsibility.

Informative websites, downloadable forms, payment of bills over the internet, token systems in banks and at airports are now commonplace. But really progressive organisations should continually look for more ways to modernise age-old systems

The test of cost-effectiveness should simply be whether the innovation respects people’s time and convenience and stops opportunities for pick-and-choose. ‘Worthwhileness’ should be gauged by new standards, not just money.


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