Transparency audit of virtual content

Websites and social media outreach should also be constituents of Good Governance Index
Transparency audit of virtual content
Representational Pic

If one has to access information about any Govt or Non Govt organisation or any for-profit company, first and foremost thing people do is that they look into the official website of that particular organisation. When the website we access has very limited information on it or it is not updated for months and years, it gives us a feeling that the organisation is unprofessional.

Recently Home Minister Amit Shah released a first-of-its-kind District Good Governance Index (DGGI) for Jammu and Kashmir. The District Good Governance Index (DGGI) for 20 districts of J&K has been prepared by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) Govt of India in collaboration with the J&K Government Union Minister in PMO Dr Jitendra Singh and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha were present when the DGGI was released. District Jammu topped among the 20 districts of J&K. The aim of the good governance index is to make an assessment of the governance in twenty districts of J&K which will enable ranking of districts and present a comparative picture that will set up a competition among the districts to work for better public service delivery and good governance. After Jammu, Doda and Samba were ranked second and third. Among 10 districts of Kashmir Valley, Pulwama district has emerged as top performer in governance, ranking 4th in J&K. Srinagar was ranked at 5th number. Ganderbal, Anantnag , Baramulla and Kathua were ranked at 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th respectively. North Kashmir’s Kupwara district was ranked at number 10th , followed by Kishtwar , Budgam , Udhampur, Reasi, Bandipora, Ramban, Kulgam, Shopian, Poonch and Rajouri.

What is a Good Governance Index ?

Good Governance Index (GGI) is an exhaustive substructure to make an assessment for the Governance across the States and Union Territories (UTs) enabling ranking of States, UTs and Districts. The aim of the good governance index is to create an instrument or a tool that can be put into use, thus making an evaluation and estimation of different interventions taken up by Union Govt or State Govt’s / UT’s for ensuring better governance especially. GGI is based in 10 sectors Public Health , Environment Agriculture and Allied Sectors, Commerce & Industries, Human Resource Development, Public Infrastructure & Utilities, Economic Governance, Social Welfare & Development, Judicial & Public Security and Citizen-Centric Governance. Unfortunately the transparency audit of Govt websites or proactive disclosure of information under section 4 of RTI Act 2005 or social media outreach is not made part of GGI? According to the Good Governance Index (GGI) of 2021, twenty states have improved their composite GGI scores over the GGI 2019 index scores. The state of Gujarat ranked number 1 in the Good Governance Index of 2021 covering. It was followed by Maharashtra and Goa. Among North-East and Hill States Himachal Pradesh ranked number 1 followed by Mizoram and Uttarakhand. In the Union Territories Delhi tops the composite rank registering a 14% increase over the GGI 2019 indicators.

Transparency Audit of websites

Section 4 of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act 2005) comprehensively deals with voluntary disclosure of information held, or under the control of Government and other public authorities (PAs). The RTI Act cannot be made operational in letter and spirit without ensuring voluntary disclosure of maximum possible information on official Govt websites. Some years back the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) directed all the public authorities , vide its order dated April 15, 2013, to ensure regular audit of mandatory disclosures under section 4 of RTI Act 2005 by a third party. This audit will ensure better compliance of section 4 of RTI Act 2005 and keeping all the public information on the internet so that people don’t have to seek all the details from Govt offices using RTI. Why shall an RTI application be filed to get the updated PM Awas Yojna - PMAY list or list of beneficiaries under the old age pension scheme? Why can’t Deputy Commissioners upload the PM’s Ujjwala, PMAY etc., beneficiary list on their websites? I have been urging DCs to do this for the last one year but they have some other priorities. I would suggest that all Block and Tehsil level offices also have dedicated websites and have their official twitter handles and Facebook pages. I would appreciate district administration Budgam on this, as most of the Tehsildars, BDOs, Executive Engineers, District Officers are on Twitter and respond to people as well. I had actually brought this issue to notice of Hon’ble LG Manoj Sinha ji last year during my meeting with him, and GAD had issued orders for updating websites and social media pages. Districts, like Budgam, did act on social media front but other districts need to act as well. Budgam district has to work more on updating its official district website as it is not regularly updated. Same is the case with Kupwara, Baramulla, Anantnag and Bandipora. Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Ltd (KPCDL) is the most responsive public authority on Twitter, I have observed. Once you tag them with a grievance, the officers definitely respond. If social media outreach award is to be given to a public authority, I will say the same should go to KPCDL and among districts Budgam district will get this award. But unfortunately these things have not been made part of GGI ?

DoPT’s directive

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which works under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) directed that each ministry/public authority should have its proactive disclosure package audited by 3rd party every year. The audit should cover compliance with the proactive disclosure guidelines as well as adequacy of the items included in the package. The audit should examine whether there are any other types of information which could be proactively disclosed.

The DOPT’s direction further says that 3rd party audits should be done annually and should be communicated to the Central Information Commission (CIC) annually through publication on their own websites. All public authorities were directed to proactively disclose the names of the 3rd -party auditors on their websites. For carrying out third-party audits through outside consultants ministries/public authorities were asked to utilise their plan/non plan funds.

The Central Information Commission, CIC, was asked to examine third-party audit reports for each ministry/public authority and offer advice/recommendations to the concerned ministries/public authorities.

The CIC was asked by DoPT to carry out a sample audit of a few of the ministries/public authorities each year with regard to adequacy of items included as well as compliance of the ministry/public authority with these guidelines. The DoPT further suggested that compliance with the proactive disclosure guidelines, its audit by third-party and its communication to the CIC should be included as Result Framework Document (RFD) target. In partial compliance with the DoPTs guidelines the Central Information Commission -CIC prepared a document called “Transparency Audit: Towards an Open and Accountable Government”. The document outlined the framework of conducting disclosure audits to verify and authenticate disclosure of information. It seems there were very few takers for that document.

Conclusion

As J&K is directly under the central rule now, the Department of Personnel and Trainings (DoPT) must ensure appointment of 3rd party auditors in all Public Authorities of J&K to monitor and evaluate suo-moto disclosure of information as mandated under section 4 of RTI Act 2005. This is infact DoPT’s own directive. Pertinently the J&K Govt had assured Hon’ble High Court of Jammu & Kashmir in the matter of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement v/s Govt of J&K and others that suo-moto disclosure of information will be ensured by all Govt departments. Our PIL on the issue was disposed of by the High Court division bench on Dec 24th 2018 after the assurance by the then Additional Advocate General appearing on behalf of the General Administration Department (GAD). As J&K Govt failed to update its websites and social media pages / handles even after 3 years of HC judgment, it is now mandatory that transparency audits of Govt websites and social media outreach of Govt departments be also made part of Good Governance Index (GGI). This will help not only in regular updating of the websites, but will help citizens to access information from their cell phones.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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