In Gujarat, the bell of justice goes hi-tech

What happens when a people-centric approach to governance connects with technology

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | February 16, 2012




If Ghevarchand Nainaji Tawar had any hopes of justice for his daughter, a gang-rape victim, those were diminishing.

A fast-track court in Gandhinagar had found the two accused guilty in 2006, two years after the crime. But they appealed in the high court which acquitted them. Tawar wanted the state government to challenge the verdict in the supreme court, but to no avail. As he pointed out in one of his countless petitions before various authorities, “we found that the accused had used their influence and political connections, had bribed (officials)”.
Discouraged after meeting one local official after another, the 46-year-old man had only one hope left: if he could present his case before the chief minister, the redoubtable Narendra Modi, justice might still be delivered to his daughter. And all credit to a new technology, he could.

This initiative, launched in April 2003, is called, State Wide Attention on Grievances through Application of Technology, aptly abbreviated as SWAGAT. In the chief minister’s office (CMO), on the fourth Thursday of every month, the chief minister along with senior bureaucrats meets people, whose genuine grievances have not been solved at lower levels. 

What happens then is that a people-centric approach to governance connects with technology: the CM listens to the citizens and simultaneously gives instructions to the concerned officials at the secretariat level in person and in all districts through video-conferencing.

As Tawar sat in a chair, along with scores of other petitioners in the CMO, he might have initially felt small, but when he saw Modi a few feet away from him, listening to one citizen after another and solving their problems in a jiffy, he felt confident.

When his turn came, Modi patiently listened to him, turned to the secretary (law and legal affairs) to file an appeal in the apex court. Then the CM instructed the director general of police (DGP) and the Gandhinagar police commissioner to provide security to Tawar.   

Among other petitions on the CM’s table on that day were matters related to property, illegal construction, delay in payments from government, harassment by family members, threat to life from mafia, kidnapping and more.

Modi had time for them all. He asked questions to the petitioners, turned to senior bureaucrats for details, looked at the video screen and gave instructions to officials at ground level. His bottom-line was result-oriented action.

Of course, he was equally alert against any misuse of the system. When a contractor complained about the sealing of his building, Modi checked the facts and told the man that he himself was at fault. He also instructed officials to ensure that action was taken against this contractor.

In the past, a common man like Tawar would not have even dreamt of being able to speak to the CM. Thanks to this mix of electronics and governance, now they can.

How it works
All citizens are welcome to the Swagat office in the CMO on the fourth Thursday of every month. First they have to submit the grievance applications from 9 am to 12 noon.

A section officer and a deputy secretary of the Swagat office scrutinize the matter and ensure that the grievance is not of personal nature, not related to a court or service matter and that the citizen has approached some lower grievance redressal mechanism (to no avail).

The back office processing unit scans the applications/documents and sends them to the concerned officials immediately. The officials concerned enter their responses online by 3 pm, when the CM starts the session. The cases are redressed on the same day or within the time specified by the CM. If the CM gives any directions to officers, these are recorded digitally. A unique ID is given to the applicant through which he can track the matter online through the website swagat.guj.nic.in.

The Swagat office, where the CM conducts the proceedings, is equally hi-tech. The CM takes a chair in the centre, against the backdrop of the Swagat logo, depicting a bell, reminiscent of the bell of justice many people-friendly kings and rulers had instituted. The petitioners sit to the right of him and the senior officers – generally the heads of departments like chief secretary, principal secretary and secretary – to the left. A video-conferencing terminal and a screen showing case details are placed on the wall opposite to the CM. A computer system is also placed on the tech-savvy CM’s desk so that he can access further details.

A battery of technicians sits behind the applicants, bringing one district team on the video-conferencing screen after another.
Citizens come with high hopes from Narenderabhai, as they call the CM. They are usually not wrong as the process has delivered results.

In 2003 a farmer was able to get a compensation of Rs 19,000 for the loss of cattle in floods in 1997, that is to say, after six years of struggle. There was also a case resolved after 36 years related to the title of a piece of land. The complainant had died in quest for justice but after the CM’s intervention the title of land was finally transferred to the relatives of the original buyer who had died. In 2010 a citizen complained to the CM that some policemen were harassing him and had forced him to pay a bribe of Rs 700. Modi ensured that a case was registered and the policemen were transferred within 24 hours. In 2008 a disabled man came to the Swagat and walked away with a cheque of Rs 39,245, given as aid to open a general store in his village.

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