The tweeting civic agency

Last Updated 28 June 2014, 21:02 IST

Peak hour traffic had virtually gridlocked the Silk Board junction on Hosur Road. Driving down to that point in blissful ignorance two kilometers away, Shwetha heard a beep on her cellphone.

A quick read, and she had taken an alternative route, totally avoiding the chaos.

Networked socially on multiple platforms, the Bangalore Traffic Police (BTP) had just saved another road-user time and tons of trouble.

Delivered at 6.55 pm on June 26, the message on BTP’s Facebook and Twitter profiles had been loud and clear: “Peak hour traffic seen at Silk Board junction from BTM Layout and also from HSR Layout on Outer Ring Road.”

Relayed through laptops, mobile phones and tablets, the message had reached several thousand Bangaloreans hooked onto the BTP accounts in real time.

It couldn’t be otherwise, since in three years the department had strived to put in place a hugely interactive mechanism. That had helped its Facebook page gain 1.71 lakh likes and its Twitter account (@blrcitytraffic) followers in droves.

Dedicated traffic team

Enthused by the huge response, BTP now has a dedicated team in place to monitor public posts, quickly respond and take appropriate action wherever required.

Explains B Dayananda, the City’s Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic: “Two to three sub-inspectors and a few constables are in charge of managing the content. Serious complaints are immediately attended to.”

Taking down field reports from the officers at the complaint spot, the team updates the FB page on the action taken. In cases where the local police are to be involved, such reports are passed on to the jurisdictional station.

“We welcome all kinds of suggestions from the public. The participation from road-users has been very high, keeping the page dynamic and interactive,” says Dayananda.

BTP’s Twitter presence is relatively new, but the real-time tweets about traffic on roads across the City have found several followers.

“Our team regularly tweets on slow-moving traffic, stoppages and jams. The 140-character tweets allow road-users to reroute their journey.”

Having experienced the power of the social media first hand, BTP has now expanded to other platforms such as the mobile chat application, WhatsApp and video site YouTube.

BTP’s WhatsApp group allows traffic police officers to relay photographs to everyone in the group, a process that was once cumbersome and time-consuming.

YouTube channel

The department’s YouTube channel has videos to educate the public on traffic rules and potential accidents. One visual showing a duty-conscious constable braving heavy rains to manage the traffic had gone viral.

That video had over 10,000 likes within a few days. Responses such as these, says the BTP topbrass, has boosted the department’s efficiency.

“The instant recognition has acted as a huge morale booster for the force,” says Dayananda.

Matching the BTP’s social media connect with road-users, the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) had an active engagement with its consumers. But unlike the traffic police, the interface was the profile page of its former managing director, P Manivannan.

He had got his entire team on Facebook, making them accessible directly to the consumers. The big idea was to redress grievances in the minimum time possible.

In one instance, Manivannan had tagged his team members to follow up on a complaint related to frequent line faults posted by a consumer. Going beyond the official’s contention that the area concerned was water-logged and inaccessible during night, he had ensured that help reached on time.

The person in charge had even called the online complainant to confirm that the issue was sorted out.

Manivannan’s profile page also had news related to powercuts and general information on power distribution.

Most posts had triggered likes and debates among the consumers. However, with his departure from Bescom, such posts have ceased. The official page of the department now informs the public about power disruptions, albeit with much reduced interactivity.’

Vanished ‘Kartavya’

The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had opened a Facebook page in September, 2012 to elicit public feedback on its solid waste management process.

It was titled “Kartavya: Our Waste, Our Responsibility” and promised to eventually become an engaging platform betweeen the public and BBMP officials.

Today, the page has disappeared and the Palike’s FB presence is limited to a largely inactive official page with less than 1,500 likes. Another page titled “BBMP Speak on Solid Waste Management” has 1,733 likes, with hardly any interactivity.

This poor social network activity has even led to an online petition on the portal www.change.org.

The petitioner, Pavan M. contends, “With a large netizen population from Bangalore on Facebook, it opens an opportunity for civic bodies like BBMP to create their official Facebook pages to enable effective citizen-government interactions.

It can help BBMP in receiving and solving complaints on civic issues, citizens would be able to bring their problems to BBMP's notice and theconcernedcorporators/representatives can take necessary action thereafter.”

For the Palike, the saving grace is the active presence of the mayor, B S Satyanarana on Facebook. Katte Satya, his profile page, is updated almost daily with news and photographs on BBMP activities.

He often responds to complaints. His FB followers, who number 2,263, could post their problems online.
Inactive FB pages

But apart from the Palike, social media activity is either nascent or totally absent among other civic agencies such as Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB).

BDA’s official FB page has only 561 likes, while BWSSB is even less active with only 274 Bangaloreans having ever visited the page to like it.

Unlike its traffic counterpart, the law and order police cannot issue regular updates on its FB page. As Additional Commissioner of Police, Crime, Pronab Mohanty explains, updating the status of investigations would be sub-judice.

However, the department uses its page (www.facebook.com/blrcitypolice) and websites to post messages on public safety and security, general guidelines on ATM security, the need for alertness in isolated locations and other safety precautions for women and children.

Although the police discourage formal complaints through social networking sites and prefer First Information Reports (FIR), the public could still post the initial complaints and images of wrong-doing to hasten the investigation process.

“They could post or tweet those pictures to us from their mobile devices,” informs Mohanty. The department has been active on FB for the last two years, responding to queries wherever possible.

(Published 28 June 2014, 21:02 IST)

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