Old-fashioned complaints box falling out of favour with public

The conventional public complaints box is giving way to the digital version. Today, the public prefers to lodge complaints on the Facebook page opened by the Collector. As a result, complaints boxes are lying empty at Government offices and banks. These boxes are fast turning into relics of the past.

With Government departments, the district administration, Corporation, banks and other institutions inviting complaints through Facebook, the public appears to be falling in line with the current trend. G.Thiruvasagam, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras and Bharathiar University, was a strong votary of the complaints box.

As Principal of Yadava College, he introduced the ‘Green Box’ in 2004-05 for the benefit of students. “Our students must be able to reach out to college or university authorities. In fact, I received genuine complaints and valid suggestions through the green box. We were taking action immediately,” he told The Hindu.

The next-Gen trend could become highly popular in Madurai thanks to the proactive role of District Collector Anshul Mishra who receives complaints on Facebook. Complaints, suggestions and grievances coming through that mode are immediately forwarded to the respective departments.

The Madurai Corporation too is not lagging behind. The civic body has five Facebook pages to cater to 100 wards in four zones. “Our Corporation website leads the public to our Facebook page and they can proceed from there. There are also specific e-mail IDs for each zone to address civic issues,” says A.Mathuram, City Engineer in-charge, Madurai Corporation.

That the complaints box has become outdated is evident from the reaction of senior officials at the Government Rajaji Hospital here. Nearly six months back, the GRH authorities put up 11 boxes at vantage points in the hospital but the letters received did not look like complaints.

“It is surprising to see people dropping their bio-data in the complaints box seeking jobs. Some have asked for increments. The complaints forwarded to us through the Collector’s Facebook are of high quality while the ones dropped in boxes looked flimsy,” a GRH official said.

Yet, hospital Dean N.Mohan has deputed a person specially to collect the complaint letters from 11 boxes once in two days, sift and forward them to the departments concerned for action.

“Facebook is faster than the complaints box because we are bound to act within 24 hours of receiving information from the Collector. We have found that the public like to use Facebook and mix English and Tamil, thereby making it ‘Tanglish’. The mail received through the Chief Minister’s Cell too is getting quicker action,” a GRH senior official said.

A similar view was expressed at the Central Bank of India’s Tallakulam Branch in the city where the complaints box has been empty for a long time. P. Ponnuchamy, Senior Manager, observed that the box was kept there because it was mandatory as per banking rules to receive customer complaints.

R.Murali, Principal of Madura College, says that it is time to go with the trend rather than sticking to old practices. The college has given an e-mail ID to its students to communicate their complaints.

“These are the days of digital space. The complaints box does not inspire confidence.”But Dr.Thiruvasagam argues that the complaints box had its relevance once and he recalls an incident when a letter dropped by a history student saved a life.

According to him, colleges and universities should continue to have boxes and encourage students to write suggestions or complaints with or without revealing their identity. He cites an anecdote relating to the time when he was the principal.

A student wrote an anonymous letter asking how the college could force students to write examinations in English when the professors were teaching in Tamil. “That student wanted me to counsel the commerce teacher and I did that,” Dr.Thiruvasagam said. But today the pressure is to think out of the box. The conventional complaints box appears to be a casualty of this trend.

Facing the public

“On an average, I receive 40 complaints per day on my Facebook,” says Collector Anshul Mishra. The Facebook page, which was launched on June 18, 2012 to enable the public to complain or register their grievances, has received an overwhelming response, with people beyond Madurai making use of the platform.

Mr. Mishra told The Hindu that 82 per cent of the complaints had been handled successfully by the four-member core team functioning at the Collector’s camp office. The complaints commonly relate to patta transfer, delay in getting new ration cards, mistakes to be rectified on the photo identity cards issued on behalf of the Election Commission of India, inaction by revenue officials at the block level in the district on petitions submitted to the Collector, bad roads and land grab.

The Collector said many complainants alerted him to the sale of consumer products above the MRP (maximum retail price). These complaints were forwarded to labour department officials, who conducted searches, seized the goods and also registered cases.

Similarly, many students frequently sought guidance on the subjects or fields they wish to take after school, Mr. Mishra said while many others complained of the delay securing education loans. S. Sampath, of Transport Nagar in Madurai, said that the photo ID card issued in his daughter’s name had factual errors. Repeated visits to the offices concerned produced no result. “I narrated my woes to the Collector through the Facebook route.

Within two working days, I received a call from the Collectorate. The caller identified himself as a deputy tahsildar and asked me to come on a specified day. When I went as instructed, my daughter’s corrected ID card was ready and waiting. I thanked the Collector on Facebook,” he said.

Ramasamy of Iyer Bungalow, who shifted base from Tirunelveli to Madurai, said that after writing to the Collector on Facebook, the officials in the district supply office promptly effected his change of address in the records.

With the success rate touching 82 per cent, Facebook appears to be bringing the district administration and the tax paying citizens closer.

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