Using mobile phones to clean up civic mess

Using mobile phones to clean up civic mess

Hyderabad: Perhaps nothing can beat the misery caused by an overflowing, unattended garbage bin in the neighbourhood. Add the apathy typically shown by local civic officials, and things get worse.

Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has come to the rescue of the citizens of Hyderabad and its twin city, Secunderabad.

The urban planning agency, which oversees 150 wards spread across 625 in Hyderabad and the adjoining Medak and Rangareddy districts, saw promise in the ubiquitous mobile phone technology. By employing camera and GPS-equipped mobile phones, the civic body keeps track of various civic activities from a remote location.

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Its off-site real time monitoring system (OSRTS) is a step, GHMC says, towards ensuring transparency in its functioning and accountability among civic officials.

Be it monitoring the status of sanitation, street lights, parks or various town planning activities such as checking for violations, building permits and other works, OSRTS generates real time reports to officials.

Every morning, for example, GHMC field staff has to photograph each of the 3,800 garbage bins in the city. The photograph is then geo-tagged with the help of GPS in the mobile phones. The coordinates of the location—latitude and longitude data along with date and time—are then stamped on the image, which is compressed and transmitted to a central server in two seconds. Almost instantaneously, the images are available on the website

Anyone accessing the portal can view all the bins at a glance on a geographical information system (GIS)-based interface and can check their status (cleaned, not cleaned or unattended), the accompanying image for proof.

Sometimes it could be a faulty street light that refuses to glow. Or unkempt parks. Citizens can text a complaint on various civic services through SMS and the field staff concerned will attend to the problem. Once the problem has been rectified, a snapshot of the completed work will be sent to the server and posted online. An acknowledgement of the complaint status will also be sent to the complainant via SMS.

The system allows several stakeholders to actively participate in the accountability process, explains Phani Kumar Raju, managing director, Blue Frog Mobile Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a Visakhapatnam-based technology company that developed the solution.

Apart from attending to civic duties, OSRTS is also being used to monitor the attendance of 14,000 workers at multiple locations. “Monitoring an area of this size is difficult manually," says M. Rajeswara Rao, additional commissioner (IT), GHMC. “OSRTS is the right solution for us. It is a real time automatic monitoring tool."

The photographs sent by the 230 supervisors are matched against pre-fed images on a daily basis, and are also randomly verified by coordinators. And by integrating OSRTS into the payroll and accounting software systems of GHMC, the corporation can disburse wages and process payments to contractors more accurately.

“Image triggers all the reports," says Rao. “The records generated from the OSRTS can be used to determine wage payment to public health workers."

And it has yielded results, Rao says. Workforce attendance has improved from 85% to 98% since OSRTS has been put in place. The idea was conceived in April-May, and the proof of concept study commenced in June 2010 with the complete project rolling out in August.

Bins are now being well attended to, with the dumper bin lifting efficiency improving significantly from 76% to 98%. GHMC also claims to have demolished 50 unauthorised structures and filed 90 criminal cases against property owners for constructing buildings illegally.

While GHMC incurred an expenditure of 66 lakh until April 2011, it has recovered 38 lakh from contractors for various violations in the service level agreements such as irregular attendance, unattended bins and improper sweeping of roads.

“I feel at the end of the day, we will be making much more than what we have spent," says Rao. He is optimistic that GHMC will achieve the return on investment by the end of this year. In fact, he believes OSRTS is a “profitable solution." “This is a commercial proposition," he says, “If a person deploys this solution anywhere, we get 10% royalty. That is our idea."

More importantly, thanks to the transparency OSRTS brings, citizen complaints on the issues of sanitation and street lighting have also come down substantially after the system was introduced.