While many of us are busy catching up with the latest episode of a Netflix series on the weekends, 26-year-old Jodhpur resident Pratyush Joshi utilises his time in a far better manner.
Joshi, who works at a private company, spends his free time on the Rajasthan Sampark portal, an online citizen-centric grievance redressal platform, helping fellow citizens resolve fundamental civic problems.
On this portal, any citizen can lodge his/her grievance to the respective departments and complaint will be further sent to the respective department for redressal.
This is a critical facet of Rajasthan’s Right to Hearing Act, 2012, which mandates government officials to regularly hear and address complaints by citizens.
Through the consistent use of this portal, Joshi has played an integral role in facilitating the process of fixing roads, streetlights, developing public parks, helping retired government officers get their pensions and even delivering regular water supply to parched localities.
For the engineering graduate, it all began in July 2014, when his family moved from the main Jodhpur city, where they had access to most civic amenities, to Chopasni Housing Board, a locality on the outskirts.
What he saw there left him deeply unimpressed.
“Basic civic amenities were in a critical state, but residents living in the area were going about their lives without showing too much concern. I was raised not to ignore these issues. As far as I was concerned, things did not have to be this way. On July 22, I filed a complaint on Sampark requesting authorities to clean the streets, ensure regular garbage collection and the allot specific areas for trash disposal,” he says to The Better India.
“Nearly seven hours later, I received a call from an official in the municipal corporation, who chided me for filing a complaint on the portal instead of calling him directly. He was annoyed at me for addressing a simple complaint like garbage to the District Collector. He asked me sarcastically that ‘if there is a water supply problem in your colony, would you complain to the prime minister.’ My response was ‘as a tax paying citizen; I expect officials like you to perform their duties without resorting to this tone,'” he adds.
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Within a week, the municipal corporation had addressed the problem. This made Pratyush realise that this portal is a useful tool for grievance redressal. Moreover, it inspired him to take up other civic issues affecting his locality.
In the months before Diwali (September-October), he made a list of all the streetlights in his locality that weren’t working and complained. Suffice it to say, the list of 20-odd streetlights that did require fixing were soon up and ready. He also worked on ensuring an adequate supply of clean water, among other initiatives.
Activism for the common citizen
“In the last three years, my main focus has been that every residential colony will be directly connected to a hospital. Every road leading to a hospital must be proper. Besides, there must be streetlights to go along with them. In cases of medical emergencies, the stakes are high, and we can’t afford to have roads which are of poor quality. I have achieved 70% of my objective, although certain roadworks need some patchwork,” claims Joshi.
Prior to his current job, the citizen activist worked for a micro irrigation company. His work would regularly take him to rural areas of western Rajasthan from Jodhpur, Barmer and Pali districts. Besides regular work projects, he would also post complaints on behalf of village residents.
In the Pahlodi tehsil of Jodhpur district, there was a leak in the Rajiv Gandhi Lift Canal (a critical source of water for Jodhpur city), owing to a technical fault in the pressure ring that was installed by a construction giant. Once again, government officials reprimanded him for poking his nose into a ‘private project,’ but considering its public interest nature, Joshi persisted.
Thanks to his complaint, this leak was fixed.
So far, he has filed 192 such complaints pertaining to civic issues under different government departments across Jodhpur, Pali, Barmer and Jaisalmer districts, of which 186 have been disposed of, and a further six are under processing.
Unlike walk-ins into government departments, what Sampark does is ensure that once a citizen registers a complaint on the portal, the senior-most official takes note of the problem and oversees the redressal.
“There have been many instances of senior officials calling me and saying ‘why don’t you just call us instead of filing a complaint on Sampark.’ My objective isn’t to issue a complaint against a particular government officer but address their inefficiency and negligence. I have even offered them my Sampark username and password to see for themselves. Never have I accused a government officer of corruption. It’s always been about fulfilling the basic needs and requirements for every citizen,” emphasises Pratyush.
Take the example of Dr Tarachand Sangatmani, a government doctor from Sardarpura colony, Jodhpur, who retired in 2008 after working in Jaisalmer.
For nearly a decade, he ran around the offices of the Chief Medical & Health Office (CMHO) in Jaisalmer, seeking arrears amounting to more than Rs 1 lakh following a promotion towards his last few months in service which the authorities did not credit into his account.
“I promised the doctor that without paying a single rupee of bribe, I would get what’s due no matter how long it takes. After some stonewalling by government officials, I wrote a complaint on the portal stating that if it (the complaint) was not addressed within ten days, I would go to the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Within three months by October 2018, Dr Tarachand received the amount due. Besides, the last payment certificate that was generated as a result was forwarded to the Pension department, resulting in a hike in his final pension as well,” says the citizen activist.
The process of filing complaints is entirely online. Pratyush has an account with the portal, where he selects the concerned department and lodges a complaint.
When you file a complaint, it needs to be resolved with 15 days, as per government rules. Depending on the nature of the claim, these usually get disposed within a few days to a week. If it goes beyond the 15-day limit, there are other options.
The process of filing a complaint barely takes five minutes, and once that is done, you instantly receive a message on your mobile phone. From thereon, the concerned department is held accountable for resolving the problem.
If the complaint isn’t resolved with 15 days, an auto reminder is generated for the concerned officer, and every 15 days, the complaint moves up the chain to their superiors. If you’re not satisfied with their reply, you can move the district magistrate/collector. There is even a toll-free helpline number-181.
The collector holds a public hearing every month on the second Thursday to hear the grievances of citizens concerning the status of complaints on the Sampark portal. At the public hearing venue, you are called alongside a senior official of the concerned department.
For example, if it’s a complaint about a streetlight, the municipal corporation’s chief engineer electrical will be called and asked why these issues aren’t being resolved.
At the village, it’s the block development officer who oversees these public hearings.
“When a problem is resolved a government official comes to the complainant to ask if the problem has been resolved satisfactorily and takes it in writing,” he adds.
While his friends have left for different cities for different economic opportunities, Pratyush remains determined to do something for Jodhpur first.
“I’m a citizen first before anything else. It’s my responsibility to fix problems that I can. If a few streetlights are not working at night, it is my responsibility as a citizen to bring it to notice. God forbid, something happens to someone walking on these streets. I can’t bear to hear negative stories about my city. And if the government has offered us a platform to fix these problems, we must utilise it to the fullest,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)