Home / Opinion / A WhatsApp district collector

There are currently 688 districts in India, with the smallest (in terms of area) being Mahe (part of Puducherry) and the largest being Kutch in Gujarat. Bokaro district in Jharkhand ranks at 222, based on its size and spread. With a population of about two million, eight of its nine administrative blocks are rural and many are Naxalite-affected.

Every district is administered by an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who is either called a district collector (DC), a deputy commissioner or a district magistrate (DM).

The roles and responsibilities that go with the three designations are more or less the same.

The DC is a revenue collector as well as an administrator. DCs are usually young officers and every service meant for the masses falls under their jurisdiction.

A DC is, therefore, responsible for the efficient or inefficient delivery of entitlements.

I have seen people line up at a DC’s office with more hope than they would have of their elected legislator, parliamentarian, sarpanch or mukhia.

Serving in a district, which is more often than not remote, rural and underdeveloped, can either make power go to a person’s head or present them with an opportunity to learn to be responsible and accountable.

I have had the chance to address trainee IAS officers in Mussoorie and talk to them about various digital tools, as well as community radio, which can help them govern their districts better.

I have always believed that if there are dynamic DCs who are given adequate time in a district (at least five years) before they are transferred to another location, the entire public administration in terms of delivery of governance and citizen services could be far more effective than what we have today.

This perception comes from the belief that when one is young, and handles a powerful job which one knows can bring tremendous change, one is able to experiment with and implement innovative ideas.

Recently, I met Rai Mahimapat Ray, the DC of Bokaro. He is 30 and comfortable with digital devices and services.

He is on social media and is extremely active on both Facebook and Twitter. Every evening, after office hours, he hooks up on #Bokaro, and responds to tweets directed at him or at the administration. He has also introduced WhatsApp into the process of monitoring, managing and instructing block offices and other personnel.

“WhatsApp is a great tool for feedback. It also helps in making the work collaborative, real time, responsive, accountable and innovative," he says.

During one of our conversations, his attention is suddenly diverted and he starts to type on his smartphone. When he is done, he passes his phone to me and asks me to take a look at the messages he is responding to on WhatsApp. There are about 20 WhatsApp groups that he is a member of. They range from MGNREGA (to manage jobs under the national rural job guarantee scheme) to Bokaro Yojana Banao Abhiyan (for better planning of Bokaro), from Panchayat Election 2015 to Development Bokaro, from Chandankiyari (for managing activities in the said block) to Swachh Bokaro (to clean up the district).

Besides these, Mahimapat tells me, a number of groups are created almost everyday that concern an issue that has been plaguing the community; and once the issues is resolved, the groups also becomes inactive.

Though Mahimapat interacts with officials up to the block level, he says his block-level staff set up their own WhatsApp groups to manage issues at their levels. But, given that data connectivity beyond the block level is always not reliable and penetration of smartphones is low, Mahimapat is waiting for the Broadband For All programme (under the Digital India initiative) to start soon so that connectivity up to the last mile can make applications like WhatsApp more popular, effective and relevant. He hopes this will connect the administration with citizens and help forge a better relationship.

Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chair of Manthan and mBillionth awards. He is member, advisory board, at Alliance for Affordable Internet and has co-authored NetCh@kra–15 Years of Internet in India and Internet Economy of India. He tweets @osamamanzar.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Recommended For You

Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsWatchlistFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout