The true essence of democracy is Jan Bhagidari. Together we will solve all the issues that are affecting the nation. This will be done through Jan Bhagidari.” – Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This was the statement delivered by the Indian Prime Minister in one of the conferences that was held in India. After the Modi government took over the charge from the UPA government, improved digital connectivity and enhanced participation by citizens have become a clear priority. The revolution began with the initiative of Digital India, a campaign aimed at increasing the digital infrastructure of India. Several advancements and projects were then initiated under this campaign.
Policy making is an art that normally constitutes more than one discipline and its practitioners. It often involves the policymakers, political leaders, legislators, bureaucrats, think-tanks, NGOs, student groups etc. But in India, unlike in other nations, citizens are often ignored in this art of policymaking. Since the time of Independence, citizens have largely been overlooked as a part of the policymaking process, as a result of which India has witnessed some of the major policy failures in prominent sectors like public health, education, water and power. It is therefore extremely important to incorporate civic viewpoint while formulating the policy.
The crucial challenge that arises here is how to collect and represent this civic viewpoint? Innovation and technology is the answer to it. As the world is rapidly developing, the use of the internet and digital forums to connect with the government is the need of the hour. A robust IT system or framework is also an essential requirement for the same. One of the best examples of civic engagement can be traced to California, USA. In 2016 where a group of citizens created a panel and worked on a number of civic centered issues. They collected lots of feedbacks through digital mode, public hearing and written documents. As a result of which they created a document highlighting major issues of that particular constituency along with the possible recommendations to overcome such issues. It was so well drafted that political leaders were forced to change their election manifestos according to the document drafted by the panel and the panel was created into a permanent commission. Thus, it resulted in an inclusive policy formulation process.
Some examples can be seen in India too. The noticeable one is the ongoing Swachh Survekshan or the cleanliness survey. It has a specific percentage or weightage for citizen engagement in the process of cleaning and waste management. A large number of people are participating in the process by downloading mobile-based apps and interacting with government on the sidelines of Twitter and Facebook. It has resulted in an enormous amount of generation of data as well as improved communication between the citizens and government. Twitter accounts of Indian Railways and Ministry of External Affairs, where thousands of complaints are being handled on a daily basis, is another example falling under the ambit of digital connectivity and citizen engagement.
As long as citizens are being consulted on basic policy matters results will always be positive and balanced for the government and its agencies. The aim of good governance can only be achieved if a proper system for citizen engagement is created and maintained. The future of our nation depends a lot on the sustainability and scalability of current models on digital connectivity and citizen engagement.
(Author is the Lead – Public Policy and Communications. He tweets at Writer_Rishabh)