Monthly Archives: July 2014

Using smart phones smartly

Just earlier today, my classmate Anoop Nautiyal, had tweeted about the need for the Uttarakhand government to not just build good roads, but also build long-lasting bridges, and possibly maintain those already built. This was in light of a recent bridge collapse …

I would not be surprised if the Uttarakhand government does not even have a readily accessible list of bridges on it’s highways and smaller roads, that is classified by say location, river, type of structure, year of construction, and a set of repeating data like when was it last inspected, by whom, what repairs, if any, were suggested, when, if at all, were the suggestions executed. This along with countless other technical and useful-to-the-public parameters that could assist the residents ensure that their local representatives and government officials are accountable. Even if a list exists, we can be sure that it will be treated as a top secret document, that the common man will never have access to. Transparency and accountability are not really what we get from the govt.

So, can we bypass them, and create our own database of bridges? While it may not provide for the level of detail that one would expect from the official records, this one could be created by the people for creating awareness, as well as putting effective pressure on elected representatives and government officials.

How would one go about building a public database in this age? By personally visiting all the places and recording the details? I hope not. Smart phones penetration is quite deep into all parts of India. Many of them have GPS built in too. I expect them to become even cheaper than they are now, and thereby expect a further increase in the penetration levels to the remotest corners of India. If we could create a simple application that could allow capturing GPS-based location or even basic GSM triangulation-based location, and photos, and some pre-defined and free form data, and sending this to a server, we would have solved the data collection aspect . Imagine a database that is represented on the Internet, with one page per bridge, and multiple posts that share the current condition – both through photos, and through data!  If it is a website that is administered and controlled by the local citizens, it would have good credibility too. Those who are not local, but interested, could help out in other support roles…bet it the creation/maintenance of such a database, it’s visual representation on the internet, or creating and simplifying the apps to use on a phone. The intended consequences of creating such a database is to ensure that the elected representatives and government officials are kept on their toes by the open display of the state of affairs. Newspapers and television channels could access this database too for their content. So could Gram Panchayats, or MLA’s, or MPs, if they are sincere about their constituencies. I am sure that there will be some unintended consequences that one would need to pay more attention to. Not of the security kind, but one of deliberate misinformation being fed into the system …that is exaggeration on either side of the correct picture.

Recently our PM mentioned that the problems of all our hill states are common, and that there is a need to create solutions that can be implemented across them in a uniform manner. This is a part of the good governance agenda that has been promised to the nation. I am skeptical about it’s success in the short term (next 5 years) because of the various vested interests involved – be it politicians or government officials – who do not like being held accountable. As always, will be happy, if I am proven wrong, as it is my fellow citizens who would benefit! 🙂

I hope that as a nation we can start involving more and more people in matters of governance. Empowering them to be able to give instant feedback would itself be a big step forward. Using smart phones smartly would be one of the steps in that direction.