Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eternal Vigilance ... or else Rape ... is the price of Liberty

We right-liberals believe in a limited Government, to perform few services in public interest, specifically requested by Parliament and mandated by the Constitution. A list of such legitimate services include maintaining law and order, external security, foreign affairs, regulating land use.

As right liberals, we should not only oppose government excesses (like UIDAI, cash transfer, MNREGA etc), but should also vocally demand that governments perform the services like those listed above.

Ofcourse its the job of the parliament and legislators to keep this watch. And when our representative doesn't do this watch keeping, we have to go out and replace him/her in the next election. But such indirect participation has proved insufficient. Especially so in India. We need to increase our vigilance.

We have seen people make great use of RTI applications and PILs to make the government work. I have seen for myself, the effectiveness of Social Audits in welfare services delivery. Groups like NCPRI and others have been demanding more people participation in the enactment of laws. Pls see my talk here. We need to find more such ways to monitor government services.

bcity.in in Bangalore is a great tool developed by Mapunity to make some public information easily available. Praja.in is also a good repository of information related to goverment services. RTI mandated pages on government websites are surprisingly informative.

I have been thinking (like scores of others, i'm sure) to work on couple of websites where citizen's can collaborate to share information about goverment services so that people are not abused by corrupt officials and middlemen. I know, its easy to think! I'm putting these in the public domain so that I'll get motivated to work on these ideas.

Collaborative website idea 1:

A website, probably using wikimedia software and/or stackexchange codebase, where people share information on receiving public services. Like getting a voter's id, passport, filing an RTI application, registering a FIR etc. This website could be organized at the ward level of a city, and go down to police stations, public hospitals, schools and voter roll of a booth in a ward.

This website will be useful, if it can answer questions like:

1. What documents should I carry to apply for passport in Bangalore? Where should I go?
2. Police officers in Madiwala police station refused to register my FIR? What should I do? See here.
3. A BMTC bus (a public monopoly) didn't stop at KH road bus stop. I noted down the license plate. I want to verify that the particular bus had to stop at this point. If so, how can I complain about this?
4. I want to know the attendance percentage of teachers in the Okkalipuram govt public school (run with our tax contribution). How can I access that information?
5. I called up an ambulance (102) for a road accident victim. Which nearby police station should I call so that they can come and pick up the victim's vehicle?
6. How many bird-flu vaccines are available in the Wilson Garden government hospital (paid for by our tax contribution).
7. How many FIRs were registered in HSR police station? How many of those were investigated and charges pressed? How many were taken up by public prosecutors in a court of law? And how many lead to convictions? See Karnataka stats here.

Collaborative website idea 2:

Its understandable that Police officers are refusing to register FIRs. It'll show up as a crime stat in their circle and they will have the obligation to investigate. Many of us are also not aware of what is a cognizable offense. Even if we manage to get an FIR registered, what is the SLA on investigating the case?

While government programs like Sakala are working towards this, a citizen run website to keep track of FIRs can be helpful. Can we use RTI initially and crowd-sourcing later on to keep track of all FIRs and hence all crime in a city like Bangalore? Or to begin with, can we atleast keep track of FIRs of Rape incidents, considering how vulnerable the victims are to further abuse by police?