Thursday, June 12, 2014

Where is governance in Punjab, Mr. Chief Minister?



By Rajesh Sharma

When I discovered the online public grievance portal of the Punjab government - http://publicgrievancepb.gov.in/ - about a year ago, I thought we had definitively advanced from ‘d’ to ‘e’, from democracy to e-democracy. It was quite a leap, I believed, recalling my early struggle with the alphabet.

                I had been nursing a grievance for years. I licked it for one last time – like an old wound you have begun to cherish because it has become a part of your existence – with the hope that it would finally heal and close. I spent several hours drafting afresh the grievance in suitable fashion for the digital club and sent it off with a click. ‘At last, justice is now just a click away,’ the good citizen in me whistled.

                Now began my nervous wait for a response. I would visit the portal two or three times a day to check the status of my grievance. The tense waiting melted the lid off memories of teenage when hope was so overpowering that I would check the letter-box several times a day. My teenage had not been very dismaying; so I assumed I could reasonably be optimistic in middle age too. Finally, after a few days, a response flashed on the status window. The grievance had been forwarded, and with a remark: ‘In view of the facts stated in the complaint it is requested to get the matter inquired and take appropriate necessary action immediately.’ I read and re-read the long remark. I counted the words: twenty three. Happiness danced in the tears welling up in my eyes. Some sensitive soul out there in cyber-sarkar had cared to answer my cry so generously, firmly and commendably.

                Another period of waiting began. ‘Not all souls are equally sensitive,’ I consoled myself. ‘Give them some time.’ And I often dreamed of my e-grievance migrating from PC to PC of a hierarchy of angelic public servants, each one bending solicitously over it with a physician’s attentiveness, reading it sympathetically and augmenting it with a kind and strong forwarding remark. My grievance was growing like a happy pregnancy.

Nine months passed. The pregnancy stopped growing. There were no more forwarding remarks. The only thing that showed signs of life and still kept growing was the extraneous flesh of my reminders. These were growing harsher and bitterer by the day. As the pregnancy did not mature, nothing was delivered.

So I redrafted the grievance, added a reference to the previous one, and dispatched it – this time in hard copy through speed post as well – to the next and highest public servant in the state, the Chief Minister himself.

Within minutes of clicking, the status window flashed. Happiness was beckoning again. I read the words; I counted them. Twenty three. I read them again: not even the arrangement had changed.

The pregnancy may not have delivered anything, but I have matured. I have been cured of my enchantment with ‘e’. I now understand that there are no sensitive souls in cyber-sarkar. That both sensitivity and souls out there are synthetic and programmed. That transparency is virtual, not real. And that the ‘e’ in e-governance stands not for effective governance but for deceptive effects of governance – for simulation, not for substance.

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