By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jan 14 (IANS): Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) - the country's biggest and richest civic body - just got smarter, too, with the launch of a WhatsApp chatbot to deliver various services to 1.80 crore people under its jurisdiction.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray unveiled the chatbot offering 80 citizen-related services, 24x7 in Marathi and English, in an easy-to-access format - the first of its kind in the country, and only the third in the world after Dubai and Singapore.
Mumbai city and suburban Guardian Ministers Aslam Shaikh and Aditya Thackeray, Mayor Kishori Pednekar, BMC Commissioner I.S. Chahal, WhatsApp India's Director Shivnath Thukral and Infobip Managing Director India Harsha Solanki were among those present at the virtual launch.
"The BMC chatbot will provide at least 80 important services like water and electricity bill payments, house rent payment, licences renewal and various other essential municipal services for the benefit of the people. The model is of a transparent and accountable corporation taking advantage of information technology," Chief Minister Thackeray said at the unveiling.
"I have always believed that 'ease of living' must be one of the top priorities of any government and this initiative brings it to the forefront. Though Covid times have pushed people to Work From Home, they are still compelled to visit BMC offices for their works," said Aditya Thackeray.
The new facility not only enables WFH but also empowers the citizens in a transparent, accountable, easy to use and time-bound quality municipal services at the click of a button, he added.
Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai in India besides Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo in South America, had earlier launched a similar WhatsApp service but these were limited to Covid-19 and Covid vaccination purposes only, a WhatsApp spokesperson told IANS.
However, the BMC has packed in a huge range of services in its Chatbot - developed by Infobip - to streamline and make citizen engagement more inclusive and accessible, akin to Singapore and Dubai, said the spokesperson.
"MyBMC Assist" chatbot is free to use and built on the WhatsApp Business platform to serve multiple use-cases that cater citizens, tourists and businesses, ensure quick and easy realtime answers to multiple queries, send alerts and reminders to enable BMC remain on its toes 24x&," said a BMC officer.
"Intuitive technologies like WhatsApp have made critical contributions in helping governments to deliver citizen-centric services in a simple, safe and secure manner. This (MyBMC Assist) chatbot is a testament to the effective and scalable, transformational power of technology put to use by the BMC," commented WhatsApp India Public Policy Director Shivnath Thukral.
Citizens can get started on the chatbot MyBMC Assist with just a aHi!a¿ on the number - +918999228999 - to get information on their wards, nearby amenities like schools/hospitals, a range of civic services, BEST services, tourist destinations, directly lodge complaints, apply for festival permissions, licences renewals, payments and a lot more, from the comfort of their homes - a 'boon' with the civic elections round the corner.
Now, the government plans to take this model and replicate it in other cities and districts of Maharashtra to promote a paperless, good form of e-governance coupled with ease-of-living, and prove a game-changer, assured Minister Aditya Thackeray.