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I heard Kiran Bedi talk recently at a fundraiser event for SEVA, a non profit organization, based in Richmond Hill, Queens, that facilitates immigration of South Asians to the US. Kiran Bedi is an Indian social activist and a retired Indian Police Service officer. During her riveting talk that included her work in Tihar jail in New Delhi and other inspiring stories, she talked about one of her newer initiatives – the Safer India initiative. The Safer India initiative is a project that has been undertaken under the umbrella of Dr Bedi’s non profit organization called ‘India Vision Foundation’ that was formed in 1994. The India Vision Foundation works in the area of Police and Prison reforms as well as women’s empowerment.
A Safer India Initiative is a web platform that allows the users to send their complaints to the respective State Police Department over the web. All the user needs to do is to sign up and then write their complaint and submit it. The complaint is sent to the concerned police department. India is well known for its bureaucratic and corrupt police and administrative departments. This initiative is a fast track solution to getting your complaint sent to the right person without going through the trappings of bribery and long lines that plague the Indian police and administrative services. That said, the system doesn’t assure that any kind of action will be taken on the complaint. There is no tracking system built into the website yet and it is upto the complainant to follow up on their complaint with visits to the police station. What it does provide is the hope that technology is a universal leveler and that your complaint will be received by the concerned department irrespective of what your social status is within the system.
Web 2.0 platforms that allow community interaction and facilitate civic and social services are picking up rapidly around the world. Gov 2.0 is Web 2.0 for the government. Gov 2.0 has picked up in the US considerably in the past 5 years. The Code for America initiative that was founded by Jennifer Pahlka and SeeClickFix by Ben Berkowitz are two popular examples of using the web 2.0 technologies to work for city governments. The website for the Orielly Gov 2.0 summit hosted in Washington DC in Sept 2010 gives a good overview of the term - Gov 2.0 Summit brings together innovators from government and the private sector to highlight technology and ideas that can be applied to the nation’s great challenges. In areas as diverse as education, health care, energy, jobs, and financial reform, there are unique opportunities to rethink how government agencies perform their mission and serve our citizens. Social media, cloud computing, web, and mobile technologies—all provide new capabilities that government agencies are beginning to harness to achieve demonstrably better results at lower cost.
Open government and datasets would be a great asset to a democracy like India to promote good governance. Emerging technologies are already being embraced in the country which handles a majority of the technological work outsourced from the west. The trick is to use these skills to bring about social and civic change within the country. The government needs to make data sets available to its citizens like the data.gov initiative by the Obama administration in the US. There are more than enough grand challenges that the technologists in India need to battle through so that basic services are easily accessible to the local people and we can hold the government responsible for shoddy infrastructure and systems. A good example of such action is ipaidabribe.com, a website where Indians upload videos of their experiences in paying a bribe, in refusing to pay a bribe, and in not having to pay a bribe. President Obama met with Janagraha, the creator of this web platform during his visit to India in Nov 2010.
President Obama attended what is likely the first ever Expo on Democracy and Open Government in Nov 2010 at St Xaviers College in Mumbai. Samantha Power, special assistant to the President for multilateral affairs and human rights blogs about the event stating in the whitehouse.gov blog – India’s dynamism in the technology sector is well known, as is Gandhi’s legacy in India of civic action and bottom-up change, but today’s expo highlighted something very fresh: Indian civil society’s harnessing of innovation and technology to strengthen India’s democracy — by fighting corruption, holding government officials accountable, and empowering citizens to be the change they seek.