Almost three years since the launch of ‘Namma Chennai’ mobile app, several users have flagged problems with it such as the way it gives out users’ contact information, and repeated calls from the officers in charge to complainants, despite all details being provided at the time of reporting. People have also demanded that the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) officials look into the matter and intervene so that users don’t stop using the app.
The Namma Chennai mobile app was launched by the GCC as part of the Chennai Smart City project in January 2018 for residents to raise civic complaints. The idea was to provide a reliable platform for Chennai’s residents to flag grievances and ensure resolution. The app allows users to register their back up their complaints with photos, geotags, landmarks and other relevant details, which are forwarded to the concerned officer for resolution along with the contact number of the complainant.
40-year-old Srini Swaminathan told TNM that while complaints about garbage clearance and disruption of roads are attended to immediately, others are usually not given as much attention. “The rest of the complaints are either closed, rejected or marked as 'resolved' when they have forwarded it to someone else. The ticket (in the app) is closed with an assurance that it will be fixed in a given time. But once a complaint is closed (by forwarding or escalating), there is no way to track its status.”
Vimala*, a 27-year-old civil engineer in Kolathur area, shared a similar experience from around a year ago when she had raised a grievance about garbage clearance in her area.
“The first time, they closed the grievance by posting a picture from another area where the garbage was cleared and not from the spot I had complained about. Then I reopened the complaint in the app itself, and the conservancy inspector called me and asked me to come to the spot (where the problem was flagged), which I could not do. They closed the complaint again,” she explained.
While registering a complaint, people are already required to give the street, area, location and landmark. Further, people like Srini have registered civic complaints from areas they are visiting, but do not stay close to, so coming to the spot may not be feasible.
“Even though I had given every single detail needed for the Corporation to find the spot, the worker called me and told me to come there. What is the point of asking for those details then?” Vimala questioned.
After the complaint was not resolved despite multiple ‘reopenings’, Vimala alleged that she was told that the Corporation called the concerned officer up to report to them only because of her constant complaints.
Apart from being told to not record the complaints on the app, some women users have also flagged the mechanism of sharing the complainant’s contact numbers with the concerned workers. In many instances, users allege it has led to badgering and repeated calls, sometimes even from third party operators in their area responsible for the particular civic issue.
Srini also described having gone through similar experience from the side of the officers and workers. “They repeatedly call me and ask me to tell them the problem again. They also demand that I come to the location. I mean, even a good samaritan who wants a problem to be fixed is harassed through repeated calls and insistence to show up at the spot will be discouraged after a point.”
Like Vimala, Srini too alleged that he was told not to lodge a complaint on the app, but call the official directly. The reason behind this seems to be that once an official complaint is registered, there is pressure on GCC to resolve it, and give evidence for the same.
Despite these issues, some users appreciated the effort to create a reliable and working system through the app. 50-year-old Divya*, a freelance writer from Mandaveli, said that the Namma Chennai app has allowed citizens to connect directly with civic officials. “Earlier when we called the Corporation to record a complaint, there were no means to follow up on it or see what action was taken. But in the app, there is a clear record of the grievances and the action taken.” But she also said that as a woman who has been at the receiving end of repeated calls from the GCC officials, she has stopped using the app altogether.
When TNM contacted the GCC for a comment, a senior officer said on the condition of anonymity that such complaints are rare and that the corporation will look into it. “We have sensitised the field staff about this and we will reiterate it again now that it has been brought to our attention. Badgering with repeated calls is definitely unacceptable. Residents have the right to lodge the complaints through the app.”
Some users also pointed out that they may be receiving repeated calls from officials as there may be a language barrier in terms of the workers understanding what needs to be done. To this, the GCC official said, “Since we know what is happening on the ground, I don’t think language is a problem. But we will look into this as well.”