Lindsay Pereira: No transparency, no accountability

Aug 04, 2018, 06:10 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Try any of the apps recommended by the civic body for lessons on how our taxes will always be used for the wrong things

Lindsay Pereira: No transparency, no accountability
What's the point of technology if it can't be used for good, after all. Representation Pic

Lindsay PereiraI spent the better part of an hour at the Google Play Store this morning, looking for signs that the money I pay the BMC regularly is being used efficiently. I knew it wouldn't be, obviously, because anyone who lives in Mumbai for more than a few hours can arrive at that conclusion without being prompted, but I wanted to be optimistic for a change.

One of the first apps I found was called Disaster Management (MCGM), "designed by MCGM for facilitation of Mumbai Citizens in any emergency [sic]." Ten-thousand people had downloaded it, apparently. To put things into perspective, that is approximately 0.04 per cent of our city's population. These brave souls had risked putting their phones at risk by installing a piece of software created by the same organisation that hasn't figured out how to build a road in decades. I downloaded it anyway, because living in Mumbai trains one for punishment.

On opening the app, I found a lot of icons, some promising to tell me about traffic diversions, others offering information on tides or the weather. I clicked a few of them and kept clicking. There was, unfortunately, 'no information available at the moment.' I tried the 'Safety Tips' instead and found videos on how to transport injured, save someone from drowning in the sea, and how to deal with waterlogging due to rain. The videos all displayed the kind of skills and intelligence most 4-year-olds do, so I assumed children were the target audience. There were also videos on how to deal with Ebola, swine flu, and the plague, but I couldn't amuse myself by watching any of these because the app soon stopped functioning.

The second app I found was called the MCGM Development Plan, downloaded, again, by 10,000 people. I was beginning to suspect these were all BMC employees, forced by supervisors to download the apps and justify the amount spent on building them. This app promised to provide me with a 'GIS Base development Plan information of SRDP 1991 and Draft DP 2034 [sic].' Naturally, your guess of what this means was as good as mine. I spent 15 minutes trying to figure it out and failed.

There were other apps supposedly available, but searches for 'BMC' and 'MCGM' didn't yield them. A new one called 'MCGM 24x7' was announced to help us all track potholes and raise other civic issues, but several media reports published last week pointed out that citizens using it were all disappointed. It didn't work for some, allocated incorrect grievance numbers to others and, in short, functioned exactly the way anything commissioned by the BMC usually tends to do.

Using apps isn't a bad thing, of course. What's the point of technology if it can't be used for good, after all. It's the BMC approach to it that's frustrating because it can do more if it starts bringing the right people on board. It's obvious that qualifications don't matter to the vendors it hires, because a few thousand tech companies in Mumbai can do a better job if asked to. It's also obvious that companies qualified to do a good job don't even bother applying for them because they know how the BMC functions. This is probably why people with dubious skills routinely walk away with contracts meant for people with specific skill sets. It's the same problem that plagues infrastructure, where contractors who are blacklisted magically find themselves in the running less than six months later, safe in the knowledge that their roads may take lives, but their bids will never be jeopardised.

It's obvious that no thought is put into why these apps exist, who the target audience is, and whether or not they are meant to serve a specific function. They exist simply because someone at the BMC assumes they need to have a few apps to justify the wastage of our money.

I suggest you do what I did and try using these apps. Download them, leave a review, and let the BMC know what you think. No one in the organisation cares, obviously, but that shouldn't stop you from screaming from the rooftops. The alternative is to not download them, not complain, and not hold these inefficient employees accountable. Do keep in mind though, that they are all built with your taxes.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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