The Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) is spread across an area of 35.34 square km and is divided into 34 wards. Shimla’s population stands at 0.08 million (census 2011), up from 0.01 million (census 2001). It witnesses a large influx of domestic and foreign tourists. Over the years, the existing urban infrastructure facilities have been stretched to their limit and providing civic services has become a challenging task. To improve access to civic services, the corporation has adopted various information and communication technology-based e-governance solutions. These include mobile apps for customer grievances, online bill payment and online parking facility. These initiatives are expected to improve the experience of local residents, and assist in the administration and provision of different civic amenities. Shimla has also been included under the Smart Cities Mission.
Smart Utilities takes a look at the key IT initiatives taken by SMC…
SMC mobile app
In September 2016, SMC launched an Android mobile app for faster grievance redressal. This bilingual app offers offline content as well as other interactive features when accessed through the internet. The basic information available on the app can be accessed without registration. In order to access all the services, users have to register through their mobile number, after which they can select their respective wards to avail of the services provided by SMC.
The app creates a common interface for tourists, residents of Shimla, SMC officials and the elected representatives of the municipal corporation. It offers various facilities to different groups of users. For instance, residents can even upload photographs with regard to water leakage, drainage issues, etc. when registering a complaint. The status of the complaint can be tracked on a real-time basis. The app also provides a “My Ward” feature, which has a list of information about various wards and departments of SMC. In addition, one can check water bills, property tax, notifications and alerts, and important contact numbers of SMC officials on the app.
Tourists can use the app to find out about tourist attractions and other locations using the global positioning system. It also provides information on nearby hotels, taxi routes and buses run by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation. The app can be used to locate the nearest available parking spot along with its rates.
For the officials and elected representatives of SMC, the mobile app provides the facility of monitoring grievances through a dashboard, which has a summary of all the complaints. It also displays newsletters and push alerts for proposed water bills and property tax bills. In addition, the officials can view the consumer complaint summary ward-wise and accordingly sends alerts to various departments to resolve these issues.
The app can be downloaded from the official website of the Himachal Pradesh government, the National Informatics Centre’s App Store, the Google Play Store or from SMC’s website.
Online parking app
SMC launched another mobile app for providing online parking facility in June 2016. It provides information on the availability of parking lots on a real-time basis and aims to address parking-related problems faced by tourists and residents. The app has integrated all the parking spots run by private as well as government agencies, which helps tourists and local residents to locate a parking spot by sending a message or through a call. The owner of the available parking area would inform about the availability and the applicable parking charges based on the time duration for which the vehicle will be parked.
For effective e-governance, SMC launched a 24×7 consumer grievance tracking and redressal system called e-Samadhan. This is an online portal that can be downloaded on Android-based phones. It allows residents to submit applications for their complaints and store it offline for future reference. The app has a complaint tracking system to monitor the status of the application using an identification number. In addition, it provides the contact details of various offices, grievance redressal departments, etc.
Utility billing portal
In order to improve its revenue collection, SMC has launched a utility billing portal. The website facilitates the payment of water bills and property tax through credit or debit cards, thereby promoting cashless transactions. There is a charge of Rs 5 per transaction as compared to Rs 4 per transaction levied at the Lok Mitra Kendras, the common service centres. The portal also helps generate a duplicate receipt of the payment made.
In order to provide centralised services and save consumers’ time, SMC has set up a Nagar Nigam Suvidha Kendra or E-Suvidha Kendra. Through this service, the residents can get birth and death certificates, below poverty line certificates, marriage certificates, as well as water and sewerage connections, building plan permissions, etc. under one roof.
The way forward
SMC has been adopting IT solutions for implementing various services. However, complaints regarding high water bills and the demand-supply gap continue. To this end, SMC is planning to replace the conventional faulty meters with automated meter reading systems. Initially, a pilot project will be implemented for 21,000 domestic and around 8,000 commercial consumers. These smart meters will help measure the quantity of water consumed by the residents. This will ensure transparency and accuracy by eliminating flawed measurements leading to high bills. There are other instances of inefficiencies in the water distribution system like leakages, etc. in Shimla. To overcome these problems, smart IT solutions such as the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system can be deployed at the water treatment plants and the pipeline network. These solutions will help SMC in the real-time monitoring of the quantity of raw water drawn, water flow, quantity supplied and duration of supply. The information collected from computer-generated bills and SCADA will help SMC undertake water and energy audit of the water supply system. This will enable the civic agency to identify discrepancies and address them.
Going forward, e-governance initiatives such as e-procurement, e-revenue and integrated financial management systems will be put in place for better civic services management. These solutions are crucial for SMC to improve its revenue collection mechanism and enhance its service delivery.