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The Truman Show, in Kerala

by Prasad Krishna last modified Sep 23, 2011 01:42 PM
A webcast now allows you to see the goings-on in the CMs office 24x7.The idea is to promote openness,but theres still some way to go for it to make a difference, writes Sankar Radhakrishnan in this article published in the Times of India on

Its a little past 7.30 on a Monday morning.A woman in a green sari is vigorously dusting a large glass-topped table stacked with files.She pauses for a moment to straighten the chair behind the desk,before continuing to clean the table.It is an early morning ritual that happens in offices across the country every working day.

What makes this dust-busting exercise different though is that it is happening in the office of the chief minister of Kerala and anyone in the world can view it by logging on to www.keralacm.gov.in. It was on July 1 this year that Keralas chief minister Oommen Chandy installed a webcam in his office so that everything that happens there can be seen by the public 24x7.The idea,he says,is to promote openness in government.It shows the world what goes on in my office and that I have nothing to hide, he adds.

There are actually two cameras,one that covers the chief ministers personal chamber and another that covers the office his personal staff work in.According to officials at the Centre For Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT ),which operates the cameras,over 5,50,000 visitors had logged on to the video feed till August 29.

Since the webcam operates 24x7,the images keep streaming from the CMs office irrespective of whether he is in it or not.In fact,it produces so much footage that no steps have been taken so far to record and archive the images.

Sometimes,the video feed seems slightly voyeuristic.It does,for instance,feel a little odd to see the chief minister and his guests sit around the conference table in a corner of the room,sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits.It seems equally strange to see the cleaning lady at work apparently unaware of the fact that the world is her stage.

Chandy,though,is very aware that the webcam alone will not solve all problems,including those relating to corruption.However,he insists it is a symbol of the openness his United Democratic Front government brings to Kerala.

What happens when a confidential meeting takes place Is there anything that needs to be so confidential Chandy says.One reason the webcams do not have an audio feed is to maintain confidentiality and let people speak freely,he says.CPM leader and former Kerala finance minister TM Thomas Isaac,however,dismisses the webcam as a gimmick and a cosmetic change.He says it is meaningless for the government to talk of transparency when several of its ministers have serious corruption allegations against them.I dont see much coming out of this, he declares.

Raghavan Suresh,director,Public Affairs Centre,Bangalore,says this is the first time hes heard of an Indian politician installing a webcam in his office.It is a positive step, he adds.According to Suresh,the webcam may not eliminate corruption since it can happen outside the chief ministers office as well,but it is a measure of transparency that should be appreciated.

Sunil Abraham,executive director,Centre for Internet and Society,says the decision to install a webcam in the Kerala chief ministers office,though it is a token measure,is a good move.It brings in one level of disclosure as you get to know who his visitors are and who hangs around his office, he points out.

However,Abraham is disappointed that audio feeds are not available.An arrangement that caters to the publics need to hear what is being said in the chief ministers office,while allowing confidential discussions to remain secret,should be worked out,he believes.

I also hope it doesnt stay at the top of the pyramid but is extended to key ministries and departments, he says.

Chandy himself says having a webcam has been an interesting experience.I sometimes get calls from people viewing the webcam telling me that all the lights in my office are on even though Im not in the office.At other times,I get calls saying all the lights are off and it is not possible to see if the webcam is working, he says with a laugh.For the record,lights in the office are now dimmed when the chief minister steps out.And once he leaves for the day,a single light is usually left on so people know the webcam is working,say C-DIT officials.

The response to the webcast so far has mostly been positive,the chief minister says.The most encouraging news,perhaps,is that two of his cabinet colleagues want to install similar systems in their offices.Openness in governance,it seems,is just a webcam away at least in Kerala.

Read the original article published in the Times of India here.

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