On May 13, sixty-one-year-old Jakkula Ravi Kumar, a former hospital administrator, sent out frantic tweets to save his son’s life. He tagged ministers and philanthropists and requested immediate assistance for Chaitanya Kiran, his 31-year-old son who was recovering from Covid-19 and shared a doctor’s prescription.
“@KTRTRS My son has recovered from COVID after 22 days of hospitalisation. We have spent up to Rs 10 lakh. The doctor has suggested we move him home if we have a concentrator. Please help,” he tweeted minister KT Rama Rao, along with photos of his bedridden son and an oxygen concentrator. On May 17 morning, he tweeted once again tagging the minister and thanked him for sending an oxygen concentrator.
KT Rama Rao, Telangana’s Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, Industries and Commerce, and Information Technology, is by far the most active minister on Twitter. After recovering from Covid-19 recently, the minister took charge of a State Task Force constituted to ensure timely supply of drugs and vaccines. Over the last week, he has been responding to Covid-related pleas on Twitter and making the most of the social media platform. At a time when Twitter has become the go-to place for desperate citizens to amplify their grievances, KTR’s timely response to COVID-related requests was on expected lines.
@KTRTRS Thank you sir , just now received the concentrator sir , within 3 hours of tweet , received the concentrator sir.@KTRTRS SAVIOUR for us ,….no words sir thank you sir pic.twitter.com/ZyHgbka0dt
— youthsupportsociety (@yssnaveen1014) May 17, 2021
The 44-year-old, it is said, now spends four to six hours on Twitter every day as compared to a couple of hours earlier.
The requests range from blood platelets and plasma, oxygen cylinders and concentrators, remdesivir and other emergency drugs, ICU and ventilator beds, and at times, financial assistance as well. The requests come from even users in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. He directs either his team, @KTRoffice, to assist or tags the minister, MLA, or official concerned to address the matter.
“It is not a Covid-specific war room. The minister’s office has a team of eight members led by a Group-1 officer. Once the minister responds on Twitter, the team takes care of it,” said Konatham Dileep, who helms the Telangana government’s Digital Media Wing as its Director. The office has a liaisoning role and redirects complaints to departments or officers concerned. In the case of a Covid-specific requirement, the team calls up the aggrieved user to verify the information and connects him/her to the supplier, manufacturer, or an NGO from its database of resources.
Over the last week, according to Dileep, the team has handled an average of 100 to 150 requests a day. “It is not possible to solve issues in isolation. We work with the community, activists, NGOs, etc,” he said, adding that the fight against Covid is a collective effort.
Admitting that there is panic among the public, as can be seen from tweets from users, Dileep said Twitter is not the only way but another way of serving the public. “Social media is an effective platform to resolve grievances. In a traditional setup, it takes several bureaucratic hurdles before a citizen’s voice reaches a minister. As we have a high level of social media penetration, KTR believes a lot of issues can be addressed if ministers and bureaucrats can respond on social media,” he said.
Speaking to IndianExpress.com, Ravi Kumar said he could not have afforded an oxygen concentrator. His son had tested negative for the virus 10 days ago and has been on oxygen support since April 26. The family couldn’t move him home without ensuring the supply of oxygen. After his relentless tweets over the last few days, Ravi Kumar received a call from KTR’s office on Sunday evening and was connected to a supplier who delivered the oxygen concentrator on Monday morning. “I did not have to pay a rupee. My son can use it till his full recovery and return so that others who need it may get it. I cannot express my gratitude enough. I wish many more people like me receive timely assistance,” he said.
Among the many tweets conveying happiness and gratitude on Monday evening , one read: “Thank you @KTRTRS @KTRoffice @cpcybd @psshmbad_cyb for protecting migrants in Telangana. Shamshabad police registered against the owner and today owner paid all wages to workers. Thank you once again @LabourOdisha @CMO_Odisha” (sic).
One Naveen Kumar had on May 15 tweeted, tagging the minister, about 35 brick kiln workers from Odisha who were allegedly beaten up by the kiln owner in Shamshabad and also not paid wages for eight months, amounting to Rs 5 lakh. While requesting the minister’s intervention, he also shared photos of workers showing their bruises. “Glad we could help the vulnerable people during these tough times,” the minister replied.