In September 2014, the Editor’s Guild of India made a highly unusual statement over the aggressive use of mediums of one-way interactions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It would not have become an issue then, had it not been at the cost of traditional media. It said “a top-down, one-way interaction in a country with limited Internet connectivity and technological awareness cannot be the only answer for large masses of readers, viewers, surfers and listeners. Debate, dialogue and discussion are the essential ingredients of a democratic discourse.”
Within two years of this hard hitting observation, it seems as if no matter how much the government responds on Twitter, the problems of the people of our country are here to stay unless they are not addressed beyond the social media.
Earlier in the month of December, Pankaj Jain, who was travelling on the Yesvantpur-Bikaner train with his father, requested for a wheelchair by tweeting to the railway ministry and the ministry responded back in no time, asking for the train number, its PNR and coach number in order to make suitable arrangements.
As soon as Pankaj reached the station, the station master, porters and railway staff with a wheelchair were waiting at the platform. “I was not particularly inclined to seek help through Twitter, but a friend urged me to do so. But, I was pleasantly surprised when the ministry promptly responded to my query and arranged the chair. When I reached the road, there was a cop, a railway staff, station master and someone to help us with the luggage,” Pankaj said.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s intention and commitment have set a standard that really needs to be appreciated. However, it’s time to consider some hard facts that will reveal a brute reality of the bureaucratic apathy in our archaic systems, not particularly in railways but almost in all other government departments.
Would it be possible for a person to see railway officials, including the station master along with a cop waiting for them, had this tweet not come directly from the railway ministry? Why is this top-down approach being celebrated so passionately? And why such a news is getting space on social media and other forms of traditional media? These questions are just to remind the ministers that we are not anywhere close to solving many serious problems that millions of daily commuters are grappling with.
A reminder to our dear ministers: don’t get too happy by the responses you get on Twitter or other social media platforms as you are catering to a very small section of society. As per recent available data, over 30 million passengers travel in the Indian railways on any given day, whereas the total number of active Twitter account users in India is projected to be just 23 million in 2016. Hope you get the jist.
Considering a fact about wheelchairs show how deep the crisis in customer servicing is, even for a physically challenged person in our country. Can’t we expect our railways to make one wheelchair room with at least two chairs in reserve to cater to differently abled persons at all semi-large stations? Why do people have to resort to Twitter to get such services? Will the ministry be able to monitor or even address problems if such passengers start tweeting about every single issue that they have in course of their journey?
Devendra Rai from Pratapgarh, who is not willing to tweet but ask the minister: “How much time does the government think should it take for railway officials to remove a person from the track if that person is in unconscious state due to train accident and that too when the accident has happened not more than 200 metres away from the main station?” He goes on to say that it took well over half an hour for Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP) to cover less than 200 metres to help the person who eventually lost his life due to excessive bleeding.
“This story may sound an ordinary one as in India such accidents are now unsual. However, if you dig deeper you will come to know the sorry state of communication and coordination amongst the railway officials and the railway police, who are meant to protect the railway passengers”, Rai explained.
He further added that majority of passengers, who use smart phones, need not necessarily be on Twitter. In such a situation, what is the mechanism of reaching out to the ministry or the department concerned on time? Since the Ministry of Railways is already doing a good job, maybe it’s time that they also focus on the non tech-savvy population of this country.
Imagine a situation where a group of four people beat and hang up a boy upside down out of the window in a fast moving train for nearly four hours, without anyone noticing. Can the ministry find a remedy to such a situation via Twitter?
“It is a matter of concern that despite deployment of RPF to monitor security of the passengers in the moving trains and the GRP at every station, no security personnel noticed the plight of the victim and no action was taken to save him. Therefore, the contents of the news report, if true, are evident of insensitivity and careless attitude of these forces and raise a serious issue of violation of human right to life and dignity of the youth,” observed by the NHRC while issuing the notices and calling for detailed reports in four weeks time.
“Security in the Indian Railways is one of the biggest concerns and this challenge looks increasingly grim when GRP and RPF personnel are unable to sense unusual behaviour that goes on for hours. Do we need a tweet from the ministry to handle such situations or do we need responsible people at the spot to avoid such mishaps,” a concerned senior National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) official said.
Ever since the Modi-led NDA government came to power, it has been focusing more on social media and E-governance for reaching out to masses and youths of this country. “However, this country is in dire need of some big structural and administrative changes. The nature of changes is such that they cannot be brought only by looking at the number of tweets and the anecdotes of few. We have to make officials accountable for their misdeeds and responsible for their inaction in order to fix the problem then and there at the ground,” said a senior NHRC official.
Consider a situation which gives you a glimpse of our policy and archaic system in an era of
virtual governance in the country. Over 60,000 hapless people from Hindu Minority community, who left Pakistan to escape discrimination and religious persecution several years ago, are living in Rajasthan.
They made several requests to the government to get some basic rights like opening of bank accounts, jobs and formal education for their children. However, none of these demands are met even after two years of the Modi government at the Centre. Forget about the citizenship, people are not even allowed to cross beyond a certain boundary. Their movement is restricted within their place of stay.
Earlier in 2015, the Union home ministry constituted a task force to monitor and expedite the processing of citizenship and long term visa applications for Pakistani hindus wanting to stay back in India. They invited the suggestions from the people and organisations by April 18.
“Initially, the task force was constituted for three months and within this period it was supposed to prepare its roadmap for people living in around 400 refugee settlements in cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Kutch, Bhopal, Indore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Delhi and Lucknow. “Two years have gone by, we have not seen a single action on this apart since the proposed notification,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, President, Seemant Lok Sangathan.
The Task Force is working on the applications of citizenship and long-term visa, which can only be granted to those who have been living in India for the past seven years. “This leaves a question about those thousands of people who are coming to India every year in search of safety and dignity?” Hindu Singh added: “Merely giving migrants the right to stay in India isn’t enough. Social and economic assistance is also vital for their survival”.
“In 2005, the government had granted citizenship to more than 11,000 people in Rajasthan and 7,000 people in Gujarat in just two months. It was all done at the magistrate level. So, why are we sitting on something for years which can easily be done by the magistrates at the district level? The government must delegate the power to District Magistrates to deal with it,” Sodha said.
“Reacting to the government’s recent announcement about people belonging to minority communities of Pakistan, staying in India on a long-term visa, will soon be allowed to buy property, open bank accounts, get PAN and Aadhaar cards,” Sodha said, adding that these are just proposed notifications.
What we see on Twitter or Facebook isn’t reality. The trend of tweeting to ministers is a fascination which may have worked out for a few. However, if we are looking for change in our country on a larger level, then there is an urgent need of a system that works at the very first place. The irony is that these issues will never be talked about on Twitter or Facebook, which are used only to make positive announcements.