Subhabrata’s Weblog

April 27, 2009

An interesting experiment in public engagement

Filed under: Current Affairs, Local Affairs, Opinion — Tags: , , , — genomewarrior @ 2:37 am

Although I have lived in Kanpur for long enough to be officially considered a “Kanpurite”, I have rarely ventured beyond the IIT Campus-Rave-Naveen Market-Assorted Restaurants-Railway Station circuit. This is primarily because of my dislike for the general condition of the city. Kanpur is without doubt one of the most polluted and chaotic cities I have ever lived in in India. So my interaction with the city and its people has generally been limited to the scenes passing by outside the car window, or those brief rides on the “Vikrams” from the IIT campus to the city which invariably left me tired, irritable and generally sick. Over the years I have maintained a “healthy” distance from Kanpur and have not allowed it to leave any lasting impressions on my psyche, preferring to hold on tenaciously to the fond memories of the OTHER Indian cities I have lived, studied and worked in.

After nearly eight years, I am now becoming convinced that my disdain for Kanpur may not have been such a good idea. After all, barring Kolkata, this is the city I have spent the most time in, the city where I made friends for life. No matter how hard I try it is impossible to NOT look back and feel that I have done some injustice to it. So now, as my time here comes to an end and I prepare to leave this place for good, I have decided to make up for lost time and try to get to know Kanpur a little better. To try and take more interest in what is going on outside the campus.

Recently, I made a discovery that managed to convince me that maybe all is not lost with this city. I came to know that the District Magistrate of Kanpur City, Mr Anil Sagar has created an official blog of the district administration of Kanpur. Like all IAS officers, Mr. Sagar is an articulate man and so his blog makes interesting reading, but more importantly, I was impressed by the idea behind the initiative and the response his blog has been getting from users. Although the DM meets the public everyday at his office, we all know that it is not always possible to simply drop by and generally talk to the man. We also know that it is difficult to voice opinions on administration policies face-to-face. The online route, although not a replacement for personal physical interaction, does provide a great platform to tap public opinion from a literate segment of society. I am also impressed by the fact that Mr. Sagar takes time to personally respond to comments by the readers of his blog.

In the long run, whether this strategy will work or not, or whether the initiative will be imitated by others remains to be seen. Its success depends on lots of factors not the least of which is the Honorable DM’s own seriousness and personal drive in pursuing the suggestions of his readers. As traffic on his blog increases, he might think about setting up a team to manage it and sift through increasing “noise”  for suggestions of real value. On my part, I congratulate the Magistrate on his innovative thinking and his obvious desire to do a good job, and wish him all the best in his efforts to reach out to more people more effectively in carrying out his duties. Hopefully, over the years people like me would find it increasingly difficult to NOT like Kanpur.

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