A day in the life of “Hello Sarkar” officials
- The popular national hotline receives hundreds of prank calls, bogus complaints, annoying demands—and then a few genuine concerns
Feb 4, 2019-
It’s 9:30 in the morning. A room in a newly built prefabricated building in Singha Durbar is reverberating with constant ringing of the phones.
“Hello, welcome to Hello Sarkar. How can I help you?” says Hema Adhikari, as she picks up one of the phones. But the caller hangs up. There is another phone ringing. Adhikari takes the call. “Please don’t ask me personal questions. This is a public platform to lodge complaints related to government agencies,” she responds before hanging up.
Adhikari, 40, is one of the 17 officials working at Hello Sarkar, a government initiative tasked with listening to public complaints and grievances and transferring them to concerned ministries and government agencies. It was established under the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.
“There is hardly any break; phones ring here constantly,” Adhikari told the Post. “Some of the concerns of the callers are genuine, but there are people who ask some weird questions--and even put forth a list of demands.”
Just then, the phone rings again.
The caller identifies himself as Ram Sugarath Mahato from Saptari. He asks Hello Sarkar to grant him Rs 20 million to construct a house and pay for his children’s education. “There are provisions in the constitution that guarantee free education, housing and food as fundamental rights. I want it from Sarkar [the government],” Mahato says over the phone.
Adhikari tries to convince him that the hotline is not the right place for that kind of grievances, but fails, and she disconnects the phone.
She has been working at Hello Sarkar for the last four months. Previously, she was posted at the District Irrigation Office in Gulmi for two years as a senior non-gazetted officer.
Hello Sarkar was established on November 3, 2011, during the Baburam Bhattarai administration. Currently, there are eight women and nine men handling the grievance redressal department, which is led by Pradhyumna Prasad Upadhyay, an under-secretary in the government.
Complaints registered at Hello Sarkar range from personal matters to illegal transfers, cases of corruption and misconduct, politics, disaster-related issues, roads, drinking water and traffic. And of course, there are many who call to share their personal issues.
The Post reporter spent an entire day with Hello Sarkar officials and found some would call and just hang up while there were others who would crack some jokes. People even ring up Hello Sarkar and make the attendants listen to music or hand over their phones to children, leaving the officials at their wit’s end.
But officials say they also receive some genuine concerns, which they believe have to be addressed immediately.
Sujit Khatiwada, who identified himself as a visually impaired person from Kathmandu, says: “I am a bachelor-level student. Until tenth grade, the government provided us with braille course. But now there is no course designed in braille code. I believe I am equally competent as other students, but it has been difficult for me to find a job.”
Rajan Khatri, another official in the department, notes down the complaint and forwards it to the Ministry of Education, where he used to work before being posted at Hello Sarkar.
The office of Hello Sarkar at Singha Durbar in Kathmandu. POST PHOTO: KABIN ADHIKARI
The staff for Hello Sarkar work in two shifts--from 7am to 2pm and 2pm to 9pm.
There are four internet phones that ring when a caller dials 1111.
Two other women officers sit in one corner--their eyes fixed to the LED monitors. They are responsible for keeping track of complaints and queries posted on social media, especially Twitter.
Hari Kala Acharya looks after complaints and grievances that come via social media and email. Apart from forwarding the complaints to concerned agencies and issuing the registration number to the complainants, she also retweets some of those messages in which @Hello_Sarkar is mentioned.
Mentioning a congratulatory message by @KPSharmaOli, the official twitter handle of the prime minister, Binod Das, the former Nepali cricket team captain, writes: “Sir if this is your authentic ID, I would request u to please make sure that sports and sportsman in Nepal are treated with some respect. Sports has always made the country proud but it’s high time the country (govt.) makes the sports family proud.” [SIC]
Acharya retweets the message.
“We receive some complaints in our message box. Most of the complaints are related to financial embezzlement by local bodies and government offices. Complainants do not want their names to be published,” she says.
Hello Sarkar on an average gets around 60 complaints in a day via phone. Around 70 complaints are received via social media--Twitter and Facebook (80 percent via Twitter and 20 percent via Facebook). Officials say they receive around 20 complaints via email.
Officials at Hello Sarkar say they feel good when callers’ complaints are addressed. How and when the grievances are addressed are beyond their jurisdiction.
“We are just facilitators. Our job is to forward the complaints to the concerned agencies,” Khatri, 30, who was transferred to Hello Sarkar four months ago, told the Post.
Officials say some of the calls at times leave them in stitches. When asked for some instances, they would say: “Wait and you will find out.”
The wait isn’t too long. Khatri reaches out to another ringing phone to hear a girl calling from Kalikot. “Ke chha budha (How are you, my husband),” the caller says and hangs up. “Such bluff calls are part and parcel of our job,” says Khatri, with a grin.
“Yes, sometimes it becomes really frustrating when people call and start their rants. Some even use abusive languages,” Khatri says. “At times, it feels like we people at Hello Sarkar are the root of all evil.”
Officials told the Post they faced most difficult times in recent days when people called and expressed their dissatisfaction over the Asia Pacific Summit, banning of ride-sharing services, Nirmala Pant rape and murder and Dr Govinda KC’s hunger strike.
Hello Sarkar has a portal—gunaso.opmcm.gov.np—where officials register the complaints and enquiries and then send them to concerned ministries and government agencies. Each complainant is given a registration number through which he or she can see the status of their complaints.
According to Upadhyay, the chief of the department, Hello Sarkar has so far received 84,107 complaints from the public, of which 65,777 problems have been sorted out. “We have sorted out 78.20 percent of the problems. We are also going to upgrade our system.
We plan to hire more staff to make the service more effective,” said Upadhyay.
Officials also told the Post about the pattern of grievance redressal.
Some of the ministries, according to statistics provided by Hello Sarkar, promptly respond to complaints and enquiries, while there are others that simply ignore.
The Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, Nepal Electricity Authority, Nepal Telecom, Nepal Police and the Home Ministry are the prompt responders. The Ministry of Water Supply, the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, the Ministry of Information and Communications are too slow in responding, shows the data.
In the past year, the Home Ministry received the highest number of complaints (3,985), while the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports received the least number of queries (128).
Upadhyay says that only 40 percent of calls--and queries--they receive are genuine. Officials say even though it is annoying when people ask irrelevant questions, they understand why some people want to simply call and vent.
“I understand the frustration of the people,” Adhikari says. “I believe they are angry at the system and not at me. And I am also part of the same system.”
Published: 04-02-2019 08:08