Service in a jiffy!

Service in a jiffy!

Delivery of public utility services through multiple platforms including mobile phones, made quick and transparent through the ‘Sakaala’ scheme could vastly change the way Bangaloreans live.

Kunal took a fleeting glance at the leaking water line outside his house and pressed an App on his smartphone. In 10 seconds, an SMS arrived, acknowledging the receipt of his complaint. The GPS on his phone had tracked the exact location, for the Water Board, which transmitted it to the local office. Two hours later, the Board’s men and machines had plugged the leak and delivered a “job done” message to Kunal’s phone.

In a hurry to hit the road to Hubli, Rameshwar touched a KSRTC icon on his Tablet, bought a ticket through his bank’s payment gateway, as he checked the status of his ‘Sakaala’ application right there. The blinking Facebook page alerted him on the BBMP’s latest khata turnaround. Posting a comment, he awaited the zonal commissioner’s response which arrived in a minute!

Connected, quick, responsive and hugely interactive. Wedded to technology, refreshed by a government change, Bangalore’s enormously challenged public utility services could just be on the edge of a complete image makeover. Delivering services quickly and seamlessly on the ‘Sakaala’ platform, networked socially to the tech-savvy citizens, ensuring transparency in work tenders, the agencies could take that decisive step away from the cobwebs of corruption and apathy. But are they ready?

Most public utility agencies in Bangalore appear to have adopted the ‘Sakaala’ platform, a scheme that promises quick service and negates the need for consumers to approach government offices and be drawn into a murky world of bribery. The services are listed prominently on the ‘Sakaala’ website. But mere adoption will not do. The idea that they could avoid paying bribes (speed money) to get their services on time, is yet to percolate down to the consumers.

Awareness about the option is low, and implementation is still in its infancy. The Education department, for instance, could make a vast change in its public perception if the Sakaala concept is internalised. But this fact is apparently still alien to the department, which caters to lakhs of students.

The huge numbers, vast area, and multiple service delivery centres pose the biggest challenge in Bangalore City, notes Manish Moudgil, who was till recently actively involved with ‘Sakaala’ implementation. “Unlike in the villages, it is very tough to track the applications, complaints and responses in a City like Bangalore. For every service, there are more than 20 delivery centres here. The administrative system is very complex and thus difficult to monitor,” he explains.

‘Sakaala’ or the Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act, 2011, to be precise, is designed to assist citizens access government services without hassles and within a predefined time. More importantly, the Act holds the government officials accountable if the service sought is not delivered on time. Almost all State government bodies, public sector companies and non-government bodies financed by the government have been brought under it.

Each service has a Designated Officer (DO). If the DO fails to provide the service, an applicant can appeal to the Competent Officer (CO). And if even the CO does not respond, the Appellate Authority (AA), who is of the Deputy Secretary rank and above can take action. The Act specifies the time limits for different services. Delivery deadlines are set for the DO, CO and the AA.  So, if an RTO (who is the DO for driver’s licence) fails to issue the DL within 30 days, the applicant can appeal to the Deputy Commissioner of Transport, the CO. Even after 15 days, if a response is not forthcoming, the Joint Commissioner of Transport can be approached. But there is a deadline even for the AA: 30 days.

Launched on April 2, 2012, Sakaala covers hundreds of services across different State departments. That includes caste certificates, land record extracts, police FIRs and building plan approvals. The scheme has witnessed over 1.5 crore applications Statewide, although the numbers are modest in urban areas. 

In the City, the BangaloreOne model has made an impact on the citizens for its ease of use. Moudgil explains that the BOne centre is an arm of the Sakaala for service delivery. But he wants the scheme to go beyond these centres, and adopt the STD-PCO model.

“Today, anyone can open a STD-PCO, or a cyber centre. Lakhs of students access the SSLC results without hassles. Let the service delivery be liberalised. There might be some who misuse, but why punish 98 per cent for what two per cent does?”

Of the 89 BangaloreOne centres, 30 work round-the-clock, offering 43 services related to different departments. With online payment gateways becoming popular, more people are now accessing BangaloreOne portal as well. Services such as Bescom, BWSSB bill payments and BBMP property tax payments are well received by the public. But the gamechanger could be the mobile governance M-Gov initiative to be launched Statewide by the Department of e-governance by June 15.

Over 200 services will then be available live on multiple platforms, including mobile phones, tablets and desktops.

“The entire governance will be on your fingertips. You can check your Sakaala application status, generate M-forms for income certificates and more. Depending on the readiness of the departments to adopt the platform, more services can be added,” explains D S Ravindran, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for e-Governance.

Today, when technology is not a constraint at all, when smartphone and tablet prices are crashing, seamless integration of government departments and public utility services can work wonders. The time is just ripe for the new government to make services electronically deliverable. There can be no better way to minimise corruption and maximise ease of service delivery.

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