Social Media Outreach of Government 

Image Credits: Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

Make it mandatory for Adm Secretaries , Directors, DCs , Distt SPs 

WHEN we discuss Gilgit Baltistan, a picture of a rugged mountainous place comes to our mind. This region which was once a part of Kashmir state during Dogra rule. In that sense we have social ,cultural and emotional attachment with the region. I am not going to discuss politics of Kashmir or Gilgit Baltistan, instead I am touching a  very unique issue which is related to good governance and public outreach of the Government. Chhattisgarh state in central India is also one of the backward states. When we hear or read about Dantewada, Sukma or Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh,  a picture of naxal charged places with thick jungles comes in front of us. Both Gilgit Baltistan and Chhattisgarh may be very backward regions when it comes to socio-economic status of people or lack of education but when it comes to Government’s public outreach through social media , the same is much better than Jammu & Kashmir.

COVID 19 pandemic which made our lives very difficult and brought a lot of miseries into the world economy taught us many lessons. We have now come to this conclusion that without meeting physically or travelling long distances to attend workshops, seminars and meetings , the same can be held through virtual mode as well via zoom , skype and other online platforms. These facilities were available in the past also but its importance was not explored properly. Similarly, governments across the world became more active on social media during  COVID 19 pandemic  which has brought them closer to people.

I have been following regular posts of various Government officers of Gilgit Baltistan. Home Secretary to Deputy Commissioners of remote districts like Hunza Nagar, Ghanche and Skardu have a dedicated twitter handle. Even the Assistant Commissioners in Gilgit Baltistan  which are equivalent to our Sub Divisional Magistrates (SDMs) all are updating their activities on social media. Similarly, the District Collectors in Chhattisgarh have their well-maintained official websites which provide all the updated information. On the other hand, when we compare the Government websites of J&K, the same have not been updated for years. Even some administrative departments like Rural Development and Panchayati Raj have no official website at all. The social media presence of Administrative Secretaries , Deputy Commissioners , Directors of various departments, HODs, District Superintendents of Police (SPs) is not encouraging at all.

Chhattisgarh Government

As already mentioned above, Dantewada and Bijapur are the most backward districts in Chhattisgarh state. These districts are considered to be the most backward districts of India as well. When it comes to their presence on social media , the District Magistrates (DMs) of both the districts have official Twitter handles @DantewadaDist and @bijapurcg. I have observed both DMs actively responding to people through this platform. Even the official district websites of these Naxal charged districts are fully updated.

More than 8 years back, I had appreciated the District Magistrate of Bijapur for his beautiful website through one of my columns and exposed some of J&K’s official websites which had obsolete and outdated information available on them. Even after 8 years, our Government officers & District NIC staff have not rectified their mistakes. Our official websites continue to be in shambles. Recently I wanted to get an email ID or contact number of Secretary Tribal Affairs J&K Government, but after going through the official website of this administrative department   https://tribalaffairs.jk.gov.in, I found the same in mess .  J&K RTI Act 2009 and Rules 2012 are yet to be replaced from this website. In the “who is who” column, Mr Abdul Majid Bhat is the designated Secretary of Tribal Affairs and on the main page Ms Rehana Batul is shown as Secretary of the Department.

Leadership Qualities 

Majority of the Administrative Secretaries , Directors , HoDs in J&K don’t have any official twitter handle or facebook page. There are many DCs who have official twitter handles but they are not much responsive except a handful of Deputy Commissioners.

I have observed that the Power Department J&K Government is the most responsive Government organization that addresses public grievances when the same is highlighted on social media.  Principal Secretary Power Department, MD Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Ltd (KPDCL) , Chief Engineer KPDCL and Chief Engineer Transmission Kashmir are always responsive on twitter and Facebook. They address people’s problems when the same is highlighted on social media media. The District SPs are not active on social media that much, when it comes to addressing public grievances.  SDMs , SDPOs , Tehsildars and Block Development Officers (BDOs) are hardly seen on Twitter or Facebook in their official capacity.

Some officials have a habit of blocking people on Twitter when they make critical analysis. By virtue of being public servants, Government officers need to face the critics positively. This is how they are trained in the administrative training institutes. Blocking people on social media for making positive criticism is nothing but exhibiting lack of leadership qualities. Criticism, in my opinion, is a term for judgment or evaluation, good or bad. It pops up everywhere.

PMGSY JK has No website 

PM’s Garmin Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) in J&K has no official website. This is not only ethically wrong but an illegal act as well. As per section 4 (1) (b) of RTI Act 2005, public authorities are supposed to make voluntary disclosure of information. I had sought some information from the PMO last year , a part of it was related to rural road projects and they transferred the same to J&K Government. Finally after many months, I got a reply from PMGSY Budgam. I have been asked to deposit more than Rs 15400 for getting copies of Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of some road projects in Budgam which I wanted. The documents I sought under RTI Act are public documents within the meaning of section 4 of RTI Act 2005 and the same should be available on PMGSY’s official website, which they don’t have at all . Asking me to pay such a huge amount is not only devious but illegal as well because  under the provisions of section 7 (6) of RTI Act 2005 after a lapse of 30 days the RTI applicant has not to be charged any fees for providing information.

Official emails ?

I have been sending emails to Government officers for more than 15 years. During this time, not even 15 officers have responded. This is not happening with me only, but I know dozens of journalists, activists and other people who have similar complaints. Most of the official emails shown on official websites are not operational. On July 29th 2020, I emailed a detailed letter to Deputy Commissioner (DC) Budgam complaining about non availability of COVID 19 expenses information on his official website www.budgam.nic.in. Till this day no officer responded to my email. I sent an RTI application several months back which was also not responded to. As discussed above, section 4 (1) of RTI Act 2005 also makes it mandatory upon all public authorities to make COVID-19 expense details public. Under the RTI link of Budgam district website, the official phone numbers used to be invalid until recently. For the last few months, the phone number has been allotted to the DC office grievance cell.

Conclusion

There are public spirited citizens in every village , city or a  town. These people keep highlighting public issues through social media but feel frustrated when they can’t even tag a concerned officer on Facebook or Twitter.  I have now brought this issue into the notice of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha some days back when a delegation of J&K RTI Movement met him in Srinagar. He assured us to make sure DCs and SPs at least have better social media outreach so that public grievances get addressed in a short span of time.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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