By Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
AFTER issuance of a circular by the General Administration Department (GAD) on 29.1.2021, a Government order was issued recently wherein a committee was constituted for continuous and concurrent updation of official websites. Vide Government order No: 148-JK (GAD) of 2021 dated: 13.02.2021 the Government accorded a sanction for constitution of a three member committee headed by the Secretary to Government Information Technology (IT) Department. State Informatics Officer (SIO) of National Informatics Center (NIC) J&K and a representative from J&K e-Governance agency to be nominated by Secretary IT Department are the two other members of the committee. The aim of constituting the committee is to continuously supervise the updation of official websites of Govt departments and districts in Union Territory of J&K.
For the information of readers, a delegation of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement has brought the matter related to the non-updating of Government websites into the notice of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha when we met him in Srinagar on January 18th . For the last several years, the author has been highlighting the issue but there was no response from the Government. Finally, we had to take up this issue at the highest level with the Lt Governor. In one of my columns titled Social media outreach of Government published in Kashmir Observer on January 21st 2021, I had exposed many administrative departments and district websites who have not been updating their websites for last several years and on the other hand Government keeps making tall claims about implementing the flagship programme on digital transformation in India like digital India and many other programmes related to this.
Covid-19 lockdown enhanced the digital transformation of India. It is said that India is now the 2nd fastest digitizing economy . The technology is growing fast , as the country is seen as a great destination for new products and a market that has yet to be tapped. The trend is affirmed by a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute that shows businesses in India are transforming to the digital economy at a pace that trails only Indonesia. India is also the second fastest-growing market for digital consumers. The country had 560 million internet subscribers in 2018, trailing only China. The report says that Indian mobile data users consume 8.3 gigabytes (GB) of data every month on average, compared with 5.5 GB for mobile users in China and somewhere in the range of 8.0 to 8.5 GB in South Korea, which is an advanced digital economy. Enabled by massive investment in new technology and a huge internet market driven by 560 million connected consumers, India has emerged as an upcoming leader in digital solutions but when we see the other side of the story we have Government departments who are not even slightly bothered to upload the recent orders and circulars on their websites. They don’t want people to see the beneficiary list of various Government schemes like PMAY , PM Kissan etc ? They want to keep the public in the dark which strengthens mis-governance and maladministration.
Good learning from COVID 19
COVID 19 pandemic which made lives 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 people physically or travelling long distances to attend workshops, seminars and meetings, the same can be held through virtual mode as well. Digital platforms like online zoom , skype etc have been used a lot during the last 1 year . These facilities were available in the recent 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 senior Government officers of J&K who were very active on social media during the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic. These officers continue to be active even now. But when it comes to the updation and maintenance of the official websites of J&K Government we are lagging behind almost all the states and UT’s. I appreciate that the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj department in Civil Secretariat has finally updated its website which was otherwise defunct for more than 2 years. The Tribal Affairs department website continues to be in shambles. I had written about it several times and even the February 18th deadline announced by GAD in its Jan 21st circular having reached closer, the Tribal Affairs department in J&K has not even uploaded the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and its rules on its website. The obsolete information related to repealed J&K RTI Act 2009 continues to be on the website. These are just a few examples , I can quote hundreds of such examples. I wish all the Government websites in J&K were updated and activated on the pattern of GAD website which is the only well maintained official website in J&K Government.
Mohammad Ramzan’s case
The implementation of Digital India flagship programme in J&K can be judged from the fact that J&K Public Service Commission (PSC) called a 71 year old man to its Jammu office for an appeal hearing. At a time when virtual meetings are given more thrust by the Government. By calling an old man to Jammu from Srinagar seems not only absurd but this is an insult to the Digital India programme. In one of my articles in this newspaper , I had highlighted how PSC was violating the Right to Information and Mohammad Ramzan Khan’s application filed under the act remained unaddressed. Instead of rectifying its failures the PSC recently asked Mr Khan, father of an aggrieved J&K civil service aspirant to travel to Jammu from Srinagar for a simple RTI appeal hearing which can be done through video conferencing as well. The First Appellate Authority (FAA) should be taken to task by the authorities for issuing such orders. Pertinently Mr Khan had filed an application under the RTI Act 2005 before the designated Public Information Officers (PIO) of JKPSC . In his reply dated 21.12.2020 the Deputy Secretary of J&K PSC Vinay Samotra who is the designated PIO had told the applicant that PSC does not provide evaluated answer scripts of the candidates. He however asked the applicant that he could inspect the papers as per record retention schedule.
Mr Khan had alleged that his son Irfan Khan had qualified J&K Combined Civil Services mains exam and appeared for interview, but could not find his name in the list of qualifying candidates. He told me that Irfan fared well in the anthropology paper, but got less marks and thus wanted to know whether the evaluation has been made correctly or not ? This is his right as in the past also PSC has provided such information on the direction of J&K State Information Commission. How can they deny the same when they have already provided it on several occasions ? This is completely ridiculous and a violation of the orders of the Supreme Court , CIC and JK SIC as well. When the aggrieved filed an appeal , ironically he was asked to appear for an appeal hearing at PSC’s Jammu office ?
How is it possible for a senior citizen to travel 300 kms in harsh winter when Srinagar Jammu highway remains mostly blocked ?
At a time when India is leapfrogging into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how can authorities at helm in J&K Government not even make the official websites of the Government updated on a regular basis ? When the Digital India flagship programme is transforming the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy, the Deputy Commissioners in UT of J&K fail to even put the updated data of centrally sponsored schemes like housing for poor (PMAY) and PM Kissan beneficiaries on their official websites ? When the government’s digital model is narrowing the digital divide and bringing technology to even the most remote parts of the country, many officers in J&K administration are not ready to be part of this digital revolution. I would suggest these officers particularly the erring Deputy Commissioners and HODs be declared deadwood and let bright officers be given a chance to show their talent.
Views expressed in the article are author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. He is an Acumen Fellow as well
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