While the use of the Internet to reach out to people and communicate a brand’s message to the audience effectively is starting to gain traction and become the norm in India, the effective use of the digital medium by the government, which could create transparency and empower the citizenry, is not something which has seen large scale deployment in India yet.
However, there are already some isolated examples to prove how effective this can be and BV Rao, Editor, Governance Now, said, “Integrating the government with social media can have many benefits for the common citizen. It sends a positive message that the government/ department is trying to be open, is eliminating the distance between the government and the governed. Secondly, it will actually be servicing the people better, sometimes it might help save costs. For example, the MCD and Traffic Police have used social media effectively and raised an army of unpaid inspectors who keep an eye on the city.”
Governance Now, in collaboration with the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Microsoft, is organising the Gov2.in forum on March 11 in New Delhi to discuss ways in which the government can interact with the public in the Internet age.
Like the MCD and Traffic Police departments that Rao mentioned, others like Tihar Jail, Census 2011 and the India Post are just some of the departments that are now using Facebook and Twitter to reach out to citizens. The aim of the Gov2.in conference is to explore this further by encouraging conversation between stakeholders and domain experts, such as Shankar Aggarwal, Additional Secretary, DIT; Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary & Head of the Public Diplomacy Division; Ravi Saxena, Additional Chief Secretary, Gujarat; Nirmala Sitaraman, national spokesperson, BJP; Satyendra Garg, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Delhi; Sanket Akerkar, MD, Microsoft India; and Anshu Prakash, Additional Commissioner, MCD, among others.
Rao further said, “The Delhi Traffic Police (DTP) have a Facebook page. The general public is providing visual proof (video clips on mobile) and posting the same on the DTP page. Based on this, the Delhi Traffic Police has fined many violators. Even some traffic cops have been suspended for taking bribes. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MSD) has also started a Facebook page. Here residents post pictures of dustbins that are not cleaned and the MCD is cleaning them immediately and posting pictures of the cleaned dhalaos.”
“Similarly, the Planning Commission has opened a Facebook for ideas for the 12th Five Year Plan and the Census Commission of India is addressing many problems through Facebook. The examples are legion. And they are producing terrific results,” he added.
At the same time, he accepted that there were a few issues related to using the online space, but felt that this only meant that it was all the more important for the government to take the online space seriously, since the growing pervasiveness of the Internet meant that people were going to be online, whether they were given advice on how to do so or not.
Rao noted, “There could be some legal issues arising out of the behaviour of some people and their lack of online etiquette, but that should never stop a good idea. And of course, we do not expect, for example, the Indian Army to set up a Facebook page to answer questions instantly on where our troops are deployed, but they can definitely set an account to help solve the problems of pensioners or even the status of stocks in the Army canteens.”