After the success of the SARATHI e-governance initiative and helpline, the PCMC’s touchscreen kiosks provide information about public services and allow citizens to register their grievances. This service is designed to reach out to those who do not have their own internet or phone connection

The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation’s main objective in setting up e-governance kiosks in the city was to enable citizens, particularly those who do not have access to technology like computers or even mobile phones, to be aware of the services the corporation makes available to them as well as to register their grievances, should they have any.

The System of Assisting Residents and Tourists through Helpline Information project, or SARATHI, spearheaded in January 2013 by then municipal commissioner Shrikar Pardeshi, was launched on August 15, 2013 to provide citizens information about public services and to allow them to voice their grievances to the corporation. As part of the project, the PCMC has now collaborated with HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Bank of Baroda and Axis Bank, to set up a total of eight e-governance kiosks. Six of the kiosks are located at PCMC zonal offices, one on the premises of the PCMC main office and one inside Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital.

“The PCMC has, in addition to its SARATHI website, also launched an app that is compatible with Android, Apple, Blackberry and Windows operating systems,” says system analyst SS Pawar, “But the kiosks are meant to connect the PCMC with those who don’t even have a mobile phone.”

These e-governance kiosks were launched in August 2014, according to Sudhir Borade, a developer on the project, and so far 350 complaints have been registered via all eight functioning kiosks.

The kiosks house a computer with touchscreen on which citizens can visit the PCMC website, the SARATHI website, and the PCMC grievance redressal portal. According to Borade the citizen can register for an ID number and file a complaint, followed by which her or she will be sent an SMS bearing the complaint token number beginning with an acronym that signifies the medium that has been used. “For example if a complaint is filed from one of the kiosks, the token number for the registered complaint will begin with the letter ‘K’,” he says. “Similarly complaints filed via the helpline, website and via SMS will be classified with acronyms ‘H’, ‘W’ and ‘S’ respectively.” The period required to process the complaint may depend on the department against which it is being filed, a list of which has been uploaded in the Citizen’s Charter that can be found on the PCMC website.

Of 21,147 complaints filed through the SARATHI helpline since its inauguration in 2013, only 350 have been filed using the kiosks since August 2014. It could simply be that awareness of the kiosks is still limited. But considering the objective of the kiosk is to bring the local administration closer to citizens who would not ordinarily have access to any kind of digital technology and therefore would find it difficult to navigate this kind of technology on their own, the absence of a human interface or guide to operate the kiosk may be discouraging people from utilizing it. Although the machine consists of a touchscreen computer and a phone that connects directly with the corporation’s grievance registration system, for a citizen who is illiterate or semi-literate, the absence of any indication at the kiosk of the phone’s function may also be a discouraging feature.

Seven of the kiosks are located on PCMC premises. Therefore, a citizen who has come all the way to a PCMC office in any case and is unfamiliar with digital technology, might find it more feasible and desirable to interact with a human interface to voice their grievance or ask for information, than to attempt to use technology that is alien to them.

“We have set up kiosks within PCMC premises because if we set them up out in the open, the security of the kiosk cannot be guaranteed,” says Nilkanth Poman, head of the E-Governance department, PCMC. But though PCMC offices are indeed public access points, locating the kiosk at the corporation office might be counterproductive to the e-governance portal’s anytime-anywhere accessibility. On PCMC premises, the user has the option of using the kiosk or physically asking for information or assistance, the latter being what the user is, in most cases, more comfortable with.

Fortunately the PCMC does plan on expanding the SARATHI project by setting up additional kiosks in 16 existing Citizen Facilitation Centres (CFC) and further expanding the number of CFCs with subsequent SARATHI kiosks to a total of 64, one in each electoral ward. “Within the CFCs, officers will be trained to aid citizens with the technology,” says Borade.

Though the kiosk does have an internet connection, it limits the user to the three main links, making the e-governance kiosk something like a bulletin board.

The SARATHI initiative by the PCMC reaches out to the masses and aids them in communicating with the corporation digitally. Now the challenge is to go beyond digital access. Digital inclusion and digital empowerment of citizens may also require more guidance to citizens on a) using the technology and b) acting on the information accessed through the e-governance platform.