Adopting latest technologies is not new to the Madurai Corporation but its record in sustaining these facilities has been poor

Few days back, Madurai Corporation embraced Facebook, a popular social network, as a tool for its grievance redressal mechanism. In the coming days, it would launch another internet-based tool, auto-DCR, a digital way to get building plan approval hassle-free.

Within a few days, the tech-savvy residents of Temple city accorded a warm welcome to the Corporation move to have an account in Facebook. Complaints on civic issues have started trickling in. Few youths have posted photographs too to substantiate their requests for clearing garbage. Though with a delay, the Corporation officials have started replying to the suggestions and complaints from the people.

“This is an initiative to keep pace with the changing times and also to meet the expectations of the people,” Mayor V.V. Rajan Chellappa, said.

Commissioner R. Nanthagopal, also promised to keep the people informed about the schedule of routine works of the local body like mass cleaning, fogging, encroachment removal and dog catching. “This will help the people keep tab on the employees and see whether the works are carried out as per the schedule,” he said.

On the face of it, it might look that the Corporation is getting hooked to technology for the first time. However, its history shows that the urban local body had started adopting the latest technologies as early as 2004. But, the sad part is that the administration, over the years, had failed to utilise them effectively. The technologies were discarded citing some or other practical difficulties or because of the unwillingness of the employees. The tax-payers money spent on these facilities have gone down the drain.

The result - the common man’s patience was tested with the ubiquitous red-tapism for many of the routine services. Be it getting a birth/death certificate or getting a building plan approved or the simple task of paying property tax, people were made to wait for days or run pillar to post to get their job done. This gave enough room for middlemen, including politicians and employees, to exploit the helplessness of residents.

The Corporation picked up the concept of e-governance in the mid 2000s with the online tax collection facility. The then Commissioner A. Karthik, said that the facility helped in easy monitoring of daily collection of taxes. The exercise also revealed that tax collected by the bill collectors from the residents were not accounted for in the Corporation exchequer. The touch screen facility was introduced for the benefit of the residents to know their dues. The Corporation’s website boasts of the city becoming the first urban local body to introduce video conferencing facility. It facilitated the Mayor and Commissioner to visually communicate with the Assistant Commissioners on important issues without having to waste time and fuel for vehicles for coming to the main office.

Among the facilities introduced was the electronic attendance system, using bio-metric device, for the Corporation employees.

However, except for the online tax collection that has been expanded manifold, many of the initiatives were dumped mid-way due to non-cooperation of the employees and the lackadaisical attitude of the administration, an official said. Video-conferencing facility among the officials in various zones remains unused, officials sources said. The closed circuit television network to monitor the employees has become defunct. The GPS equipment fitted in the water tankers were broken within days. The equipment that worked off-line was meant to ensure that the drivers do not deviate from the stipulated route. Amidst much fanfare the online system of toll collection on the Ring Road was inaugurated. The officials claimed that it would help the Commissioner monitor daily collections at any point of time. However, despite revelations of corrupt practices, no computerised tickets have been issued till date.

Few lakhs were spent on setting up “Blue Brigade,” a vehicle with advanced equipment to detect leakage of water in underground pipelines without having to dig the roads. However, precious drinking water, oozing out from roads, continues and officials fail to notice this. The sad part is that the Blue Brigade lies idling at the corporation vehicle shed with its tyres missing. The Mayor said that the administration was ready to adopt all the available technologies that makes work easier for the administration and provides hassle-free services. “If relevant today, we are ready to revive these defunct facilities one by one,” he assured.

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