Monday, July 08, 2013

Tech it up

Recently, I had to apply for a new PAN card. It was a relatively painless process, despite a few weeks' delay on account of a misplaced cheque. But what made me feel better through the whole business of following up on the application was that there was someone I could reach. The fact that I could send and email and actually get a response, that I could call a helpline to understand the problem and an executive told me what to do – this made me feel less frustration. And when the application was processed, I was sent an update via email, telling me that the card had been dispatched and would reach me soon.

Interactions with the state have become slightly smoother because of newer technologies. You don't have to waste precious time standing in queues, watching the defensive faces of government employees who are responsible for either blocking or expediting your file. Now citizens can apply online for a few basic services and receive updates on mobile phones or via email.

This is a major relief, of course. Many communication problems can be resolved if the technologies push deeper into the countryside, and are made available in more languages. But the first step is for the government to decide to use technology to make life better, simpler, more fair for citizens.

Even with existing knowledge, much can be done to improve the average citizen's relationship with the state. CCTV cameras are constantly being used to check crime. Video-calling and conferencing is connecting families across the globe. There is no reason these should not be used to monitor village schools and hospitals, so teachers and doctors cannot absent themselves so easily.

In fact, the failure to enable things like tracking files online through government departments is making us more vulnerable to corruption. We should be able to see why municipal clearances for various projects are granted or denied. We should be able to report violations of the illegal use of public space to the concerned state department.

Citizens should be able to reach the administration without wasting time and money travelling to block offices. Even if they're illiterate, or don't have personal laptops or uninterrupted power supply, it is possible to enable a video-call using a combination of solar energy, a public media centre and the internet. They should be able to make a phone call to complain if their pension are delayed.

Last week, I'd mentioned a protest in Delhi, where activists demanded solar energy. They wanted to emphasize that many alternatives are available to the human race to generate electricity, and reports said that they had connected their bicycles to a sign that was lit up as the activists pedaled.

Indeed, there are a dozen possibilities. In Tambaram municipality, methane gas was drawn from sewage and used as cooking gas for local residents. A bio-methanation plant has reportedly been set up to treat sewage generated from public toilets, which serves the dual purpose of ensuring sanitation and reducing the use of kerosene or LPG in kitchens. The state of Chhattisgarh is reportedly trying to use satellite imagery to curb illegal mining and transport of minerals.

In other nations, gyms have used exercise equipment to generate electricity. Magazine reports have mentioned music festivals that experimented with bicycle-powered concerts, and bars that make customers pedal up the energy needed to create their cocktails.

If we'd snap out of our overwhelming dependence on huge grids powered by coal or hydro-power, every district would have a shot at energy independence, we'd use natural resources better, and we'd all be one step closer to de-centralized democracy.

First published here

2 comments:

Kalpana Misra said...

New technologies are making things smoother. I love the idea of powering thing from the power generated by exercise equipment. Have often hoped someone would invent something like this as I pedalled away furiously at the gym!

Karan Chopra said...

The idea is good but the way new tech making the world shaking on its toe - the same way its making its own slave and we all are on the way to be the one.

Karan Chopra, Editor – I2Mag/JustWP.org

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