Ahmedabad: The civic centres of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) bear a deserted look these days. Not too long ago, hundreds of people used to crowd outside these centres, wanting to know about their tax payment deadlines or how to pay electricity and water bills.
But that was before the RMC implemented its mobile governance project, providing useful information to the residents of one of Gujarat’s largest cities.
“There are no more long queues,” says Sanjay Gohil, deputy electronic data processing manager at RMC and a part of the four-member team that designed the m-governance project. “The longest queue at RMC headquarters and any of our six collection centres is not longer than 10-15 people, which used to be 400-500 earlier.”
“The average time to get to the window for a person used to be more than 2 hours; which has now reduced to a little over 10 minutes,” adds Gohil.
Implemented in 2009, the RMC sends text messages to 74,000 registered citizens regarding infant vaccination schedules, updates on property, professional and water tax transactions, status of citizens’ applications of birth and death registrations, bill payment to vendors and contractors under the m-governance project.
This was not RMC’s first attempt to make life easy for citizens living in 23 wards spread across 104.86 sq. km through digital governance. Back in 2000, the civic body had launched an e-governance project; it tried to provide information through its website www.rmc.gov.in.
But the programme was not too successful, as only around 10% of taxpayers used the Internet. The rest continued to queue outside the RMC offices.
Then in 2009, RMC’s electronic data processing department, headed by Mahesh Gohel, thought of using mobile phones to reach more people.
“While computers with Internet connections are still not so popular in Rajkot, almost all adult citizens have access to cell phones,” Gohel says. “We thought of using this medium to communicate important information and designed a mobile governance application and content development in-house and tied up with Idea Cellular as our mobile service provider.”
Using the interactive feature of this project, users can also know details of their property, water and professional tax outstanding dues, property name change details, send property tax assessment requests and lodge complaints about civic problems.
Gohil says long queues also meant poor tax collection and the initiative has led to better collections. .
In 2008-09, RMC’s total tax collection for property and water was Rs98 crore, which rose to Rs140 crore in 2010-11 after the service was implemented. The body has also closed 14 of the 15 complaint centres, on which it used to spend Rs50 lakh annually.
M-governance has also brought procedural transparency. RMC has a call centre that receives all text messages on grievances. These messages are forwarded to concerned officials, who send a message back acknowledging the receipt of the complaint, another message on visiting the place of the complaint, and a final one when the complaint is resolved. Those who lodge the complaints are also sent messages at every stage. “At the end of the day, daily income, expenditure and grievance management statistics are sent as text messages to all the higher officers. This has made the process transparent and faster,” says Gohel.
The cost of running the project is Rs11 lakh, including mobile operator and call centre costs. There is no additional cost of content development and software upgrades as these are done in-house.
“The expenditure on this project is peanuts if we compare it with the benefits,” Gohel says.