The E-Governance Berry

Written by Malabika Sarkar | Malabika Sarkar | Updated: Mar 29 2010, 04:16am hrs
Move over corporate types. BlackBerry, the ubiquitous smartphone of choice for sending and receiving e-mails the world over, is finding traction with an unlikely subject in India, e-governance projectsanything from policing, land records to traffic management. Globally, often demonised as the CrackBerry for its addictive nature, which allegedly cracks up close relationships, the BlackBerry seems to thrive nevertheless. It has even put behind the controversy of security-related fears related to its encryption technology in India.

Consider this. Even till a year ago, zonal tax collectors at the Municipal Corporation of Chennai had to flip through dusty documents to assess and collect arrears related to property tax. That was until Bharti Airtel developed a customised solution riding on the BlackBerry for the department. Tax collectors were given a BlackBerry and a small Bluetooth printer that could be used to issue a receipt instantly. Thanks to the application, updating a transaction, which earlier took two weeks, was crunched to just three minutes!

Says Najib Khan, COO (South), Enterprise Services, Bharti Airtel, We have developed this value-added service application to offer mobile-based services for municipal corporations. The application has enabled property tax collection to go online, bringing down queues in front of payment counters, as well as enhancing revenue collection. The first phase with BlackBerry was a successful one. After the BlackBerry-led test phase, the Chennai Municipal Corporation has diversified on devices and has deployed credit-card swiping point-of-sale machines for tax collectors.

Research In Motion or RIM, the Canadian company that markets BlackBerry, has also partnered with traffic police of various states to keep a check on the traffic. In collaboration with Telebrahma, Airtel and RIM, a pilot project was launched in Bangalore in 2008. For the first time, the Bangalore police inducted smartphones and wireless printers to book cases for offences such as jumping traffic signals, drunken or rash driving and driving without licence. The success of the pilot led Bharti Airtel to complete the deployment of the Traffic Police Enforcement Automation system by providing BlackBerry smartphones to all 650-odd officers of the Bangalore traffic police.

What emerged was a large central database of operational traffic policing that enables pulling out data on more than two-million cases in less than two minutes. The solution involves vigilance through video cameras set up at different traffic signals and equipping every Bangalore traffic police officer with a BlackBerry smartphone and Bluetooth printer. This gives them access to the history of the driver and the vehicle and allows the officer to issue challans on the spot with the click of a button. This secure, login-based application assists in determining if the offender has a pending fine against his vehicle. The solution also allows officials to monitor their staff and generate periodical reports on performance.

After Bangalore, the Pune police took off with the Traff-i-Cop pilot project with 65 BlackBerry smartphones in November 2009. This was a joint effort between the Sci-Tech Park, the Pune Traffic Police, Vodafone and RIM. With the aid of this application, traffic police units in Pune have been able to track stolen vehicles and also keep real-time updated records of traffic offenders.

Says Manoj Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Pune Police Traffic Department, When we started, it was a small requirement. Earlier we had to make 3,000 to 4,000 challan receipts per day and enter the receipts in records. Many happened to be repeated entries. But now, once a person is caught violating traffic rules, we will be able to produce a record of traffic violations on the spot. The person can be fined depending upon the number of times he has violated traffic rules. We now have the power to cancel licences of repeated offenders, which were increasing at an alarming rate. The purpose is to inculcate a sense of traffic discipline among people.

Apart from Pune and Bangalore, RIM has deployed similar solutions in Kerala, where 10 BlackBerry handsets have been distributed. The deployment has been done in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram as well. On the other hand, 75 BlackBerry phones are being used by police forces in Mumbai and another 125 in Punjab (Sangrur), essentially for law enforcement and internal communication. The company has also collaborated with a number of private and public sector organisations to develop and execute enterprise solutions on BlackBerry smartphones.

Says Satchit Gayakwad, spokesperson for RIM, By just punching in the registration number of any vehicle in the application, the cop gets instant access to all information about the cars owner, address and prior offence history. The officers then attach a portable printer and hand out a challan instantly. The application, meanwhile, records the little blip on your record. We look forward to partnering with government and police forces of other states to roll out similar applications.

Globally, the BlackBerry service has over 36 million subscribers and over five lakh in India alone. Seen from this perspective, the numbers involved in these e-governance projects currently are not big. But then, as a start, winning the confidence of an ever-sceptic government, which not too long ago, was in a mind to stop its service altogether, is no small achievement either.