Govt turning to WhatsApp to deliver citizen services faster

WhatsApp, the instant messaging app, is being gradually more deployed by central and state government agencies to deliver services to citizens.
While Covid-related services for example booking vaccination slots, downloading certificates and finding other resources dominate the list, numerous other use cases have also been launched on the WhatsApp platform. These include a 24x7 helpline of the National Commission for Women for expectant mothers, West Bengal’s chatbot for citizens and farmers to access services like ration cards, lodge grievances and get information on paddy procurement, and Mumbai municipal corporation’s MyBMC Assist to provide administrative services to citizens and tourists. More than 400,000 common services centres also use the WhatsApp chatbot, which can be programmed to respond in several local languages along with Hindi and English.
The central government’s MyGov Corona Helpdesk, launched last to give vaccination-related information, including from booking a vaccination slot to download the certificate, has been one of the most popular among the WhatsApp chatbot-based services.
There are more than 70 million users on this platform and over 100 million conversations have happened, said Abhishek Singh, chief executive of MyGovIndia, the central government’s citizen engagement platform.
Even though the government’s Co-Win portal saw more than 1 billion appointments booked so far, Singh said some people find WhatsApp’s interface very convenient as they are not very comfortable going to an app or portal.
Meta-owned WhatsApp is by far the most popular messaging platform in India, with more than 530 million users in the country.
Abhijit Bose, head of WhatsApp India, said the WhatsApp business platform can deliver a variety of solutions with “impact at scale”. He said more and more state governments and city administrations are seeing the value of using WhatsApp.
In Odisha, the state government has launched a WhatsApp chatbot to help citizens search for vaccine slots, get updated information on beds and oxygen availability and keep up to date with latest information in the state. More than 2 million people have interacted with the bot so far.
"We leveraged WhatsApp to disseminate information, conduct AI-based health assessment and provide various critical services in a contact-less manner — whether the delivery of Covid test certificates, vaccination certificates, issue of passes, reaching out to stranded citizens as well as the delivery of other services which prevented crowding at service points," Manoj Kumar Mishra, the state’s secretary, electronics & IT and science & technology, told ET.
WhatsApp is also being used as a grievance management platform and for help during natural disasters like cyclones, he said.
The Delhi government has a dedicated state covid helpline on WhatsApp, while the Bihar health department started a chatbot called ‘Vaccine Mitra’ to make it easier for citizens to access information around Covid vaccination.
The Mumbai municipal corporation launched the MyBMC Assist WhatsApp chatbot on January 14. Sharad Ughade, director (IT) at the corporation, said people can just turn on their location or enter their PIN code on the application and get information on which officials can be contacted. "The other major part was grievance redressal," he said.
"The most important use cases that have emerged on WhatsApp are related to property tax payment and related queries," Greater Chennai Corporation commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi said.
"Through the pandemic, WhatsApp has also provided an effective means of providing Covid-related information to residents in Chennai. We leverage other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram too, but WhatsApp's reach is much larger,” said Bedi.