Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Launch of EI in Hyderabad

It was a full house at the launch of the Empowering India website at the conference hall of CESS. Over 100 people participated including about 25 persons from the print and electronic media, students, academics, senior government officials, former civil servants, young persons interested in joining politics, and members of various non-government organizations (NGOs).

Mr Barun Mitra briefly explained why Liberty Institute had launched www.EmpoweringIndia.org and invited Mr. Lyngdoh to formally release the website in Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, Mr Mitra gave a detailed demonstration of the site and emphasized on its main features namely,

  • Comprehensive compilation of candidate and election results information;
  • Comparability of information across time;
  • Latest features including a set of election analysis tools;
  • A powerful new feature called “Build Query” where the user can design a query as per his/her own requirements;
  • Future plans of compiling constituency information and performance indicators for MPs and MLAs and expansion of the website to include information from the municipal council and panchayat elections;
  • Need for local partnerships to compile and disseminate the information.

Mr. Lyngdoh commented that he was very impressed with the flexibility of website and suggested that over a period of time, we could also compile information about each candidate’s election expenditure coupled with remarks from the Election Commission’s expenditure monitoring teams. Later in the afternoon, Mr. Lyngdoh interacted personally with the audience members and explained the political dynamics involved in the state assembly and national level elections. He also responded to many queries concerning a uniform voter identity card and deletion of obsolete names from voter lists. Mr. Lyngdoh promised to stay in touch after the event was over.

Dr IV Subba Rao, the Chief Electoral Officer for the state of Andhra Pradesh also lauded the initiative and explained some of the features he had recently introduced for voters in Andhra Pradesh. This includes an online facility for verifying whether the individual’s name is on the voter list, easy availability of voter registration forms, and the facility of drop boxes in shopping malls and at petrol filling stations to submit the completed voter identification card application forms. Dr Rao also mentioned that they are working towards making post offices the nodal agencies for voter registration. The need for simplifying voter registration system was underscored by Mr Lyngdoh, who confessed that after his retirement from the post of CEC, it took him over three years to get himself registered as a voter in Andhra Pradesh. With regards to www.EmpoweringIndia.org, Dr Rao said that it is important to make information accessible for the public if true transparency is to be achieved. In this light, www.EmpoweringIndia.org had achieved something remarkable. He promised to cooperate in providing any information that we may need in future.

Dr N Jayprakash Narayan, a former civil servant, and now head of the Loksatta Party spoke subsequently on the issue of analyzing the disclosed information within a larger context instead of sensationalizing the revealed information. He was a key player in the public campaign ten years ago that had led the Election Commission to introduce a system of disclosure of personal information by candidates to political office, which was subsequently endorsed by the Supreme Court. Dr Narayan also called on the people to be more active in bringing that information into the public domain which elected representatives try to conceal.

Dr N Tulasi Reddy, former MP and spokesperson for the Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh, spoke about how the disclosure policies instituted by the Supreme Court of India had in fact made a difference to the quality of the candidates who are now contesting the elections. He noted that the in the past five years, there has been a slight decline in the percentage of legislators with criminal background in Karnataka, for instance. He expressed optimism about the manner in which the Indian democracy has been maturing in recent times. His comments revealed that political parties are aware of and adapting to the new mechanisms which are being introduced to make parties and candidates more transparent and accountable to the public.

Prof CV Raghavulu, former Vice Chancellor of Acharya Nagarjuna University, summarized the main points that were raised by the panelists, and he urged the people to be vigilant and to participate in holding their elected representatives accountable.

Later the group discussed how the participants present would like to be involved with www.EmpoweringIndia.org and to explore the possibilities of disseminating the information uploaded on the site. One of the main suggestions that came up during this session was to host the site in regional languages so that more people could access this information. It was also suggested that some of the audience members could establish personal rapport with the district returning officers in order to obtain affidavit information as soon as it is filed. Some of the audience members also spoke of holding the politicians accountable for the promises they have made. Two-three organizations immediately committed to assisting with information compilation and dissemination. Their commitment implies that we may be able to digitise about half of the 42 parliamentary constituencies in Andhra Pradesh in the coming general elections.

In the last session, Mr C Arjun Rao, a retired civil servant and special Chief Secretary to the government of Andhra Pradesh, spoke about the need to elect good candidates. He impressed on the people to be part of the efforts that www.EmpoweringIndia.org was undertaking, and particularly to disseminate the information on the site to the poorer voters.

Empowering India will plan a follow-up strategy to continue communication with the persons who had attended this launch. We also hope to organize meetings in a few of the districts in Andhra Pradesh in order to involve more people to be part of the information compilation and dissemination during the national and the state assembly elections in 2009.

We were greatly encouraged by the response of the participants and the local media. Reports of the event have been published in a wide range of publications, including national newspapers like The Hindu and the Indian Express, news agency like the Press Trust of India (PTI) and in local Telugu newspapers. The event was also relayed on national and regional television channels.

4 comments:

  1. Madhuri Sankella14:47

    “Congratulations to you on the launch of EmpoweringIndia.org. The fact that it has been launched by none other Mr. JM Lyngdoh, makes the website a reliable source. I congratulate and hope that you keep up the good work and enable voters like me make a prudent decision and vote responsibly.”
    Madhuri Sankella

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bala Murugan14:50

    “I wish to commend the people behind this website. It is a brilliant idea and one more step towards a more informed and educated India. I wish you all the goodwill and support behind this endeavour and hope you will keep on expanding and adding more information to this website.”
    P.S: Eagerly awaiting the completion of facets of the website still not completed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sanjeev Kasliwal14:51

    “I have gone through ur website and found it to be very informative. Secondly i congratulate you for taking initiative through ur organisation to make our democracy more meaningful”

    ReplyDelete
  4. prahdhir p (studing in USA)14:52

    “I really appreciate your initiative & the information you have provided is excellent.
    I have been looking for this very information from many days. Thank you so much for the useful information. Keep going...”

    ReplyDelete