On March 11th this year the Administrative Council in Jammu and Kashmir approved the adoption of an e-office system in all the administrative departments of the Civil Secretariat. The roll out of e-office in government departments at an estimated cost of Rs 67.62 crore is a step towards the introduction of paperless offices, which is a distinctive feature of e-governance. This administrative council decision led to halting of the 150-year-old durbar move practice around April this year when the offices had to shift from Jammu to Srinagar. Lt Governor Manoj Sinha took a decision to halt the Darbar move due to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
“In view of sharply rising cases of Covid in J&K, the government has taken few important decisions ensuring safety of employees. Darbar Move deferred because of Covid. Secretariat to function both at Srinagar & Jammu. Office functioning not to be affected because of e-Office,” LG Manoj Sinha had tweeted.
It is for the first time in J&K’s 150-year-old history that no files have practically moved from within the civil secretariat. There is indeed a legacy and history involved in the 150-year-old durbar move tradition. Halting it in one go that too by a non- political Govt is indeed questionable? Government claims that 20 million pages (two crore) from 3.50 lakh physical files of various government departments in the J & K Civil Secretariat have been digitized. These digital files or e-files have been uploaded on a network designed for the new e-office project. The project is being implemented in the civil secretariat and would cover other Govt offices of J&K in the months to come. Will e-office also help people to access information under Right to Information or Public Services Guarantee Acts? This is the issue I am discussing today and I am hopeful that very soon Govt will consider my suggestion.
What is e- Office project?
The e-Office project of Govt of India is aimed at supporting the governance by ushering in more effective and transparent inter and intra-government processes. The aim of the e-Office project is to achieve a simplified, responsive, effective and transparent working of all government offices. The open architecture on which e-Office has been built, makes it a reusable framework and a standard reusable product amenable to replication across the governments, at the central, state and district levels. The product brings together the independent functions and systems under a single framework. The benefits of e-office project are :
·Ensuring transparency – files can be tracked and the status is known to all at all times
·More accountability – the responsibility of quality and speed of decision making is easier to monitor.
·Assure data security and data integrity.
·Promotes innovation & transforms the Govt work culture.
·Promotes greater collaboration in the workplace
·Aggrieved citizens don’t have to move from office to office to see the status of their file. The same can be checked from a cell phone.
Why not adopt e-RTI ?
On July 12th recently I filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) through an online mode with Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under Govt of India. I wanted some information from National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDC). Instead of sending an application via speed post to the NHIDC office at New Delhi with Rs 10 postal order attached to it, I filed the same on Govt of India online e-RTI portal www.rtionline.gov.in. RTI application fees of Rs 10 were deducted from my bank account. I was not made to wait for 30 long days. On 28th July I got the information through an email i.e with16 days only. On the other hand, in J&K an information seeker has to look for a Rs 10 postal order which is hardly available in all the post offices. I had to file an online complaint on this issue some days back before the Posts and Telecom Ministry. After getting a postal order, the information seeker has to find a lawyer or some well educated person who would draft the RTI application. But for e-RTI , there is a simple online format available wherein we have to simply write down our questions in a column. For filing an RTI physically, applicant has to spend money to reach to a Govt office and then search for a designated Public Information Officer (PIO) , who is most of the times busy in meeting or out of office.The applicant has to come back empty handed . Some clever RTI applicants send the application via speed post . In many cases PIO’s claim not having received the application . This has happened to me as well. Then the designated PIOs hardly reply within 30 days. There are so many flaws of not adhering to e-RTI and I can write a series of articles on this. I am unable to understand why the J & K Govt is not adopting e-RTI ?
Government recently brought eighteen more services of seven departments under the ambit of J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA). The PSGA is an erstwhile J&K state law that got legal protection post article 370 abrogation. As of now more than 200 services are covered under PSGA. After Omar Abdullah led Govt enacted PSGA in 2011, the Governments of Assam, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Maharashtra and many other states too enacted state level Right to Public Service laws. The provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtookhwa (KP) in Pakistan also enacted a law in 2014 on the pattern of PSGA known as Haq e Hasool e Khidmaat ka Qanoon. The Govt of KP went a step ahead by creating a separate Right to Public Service (RPS) Commission as well. For last 10 years we have been demanding a similar commission in J&K under PSGA . Unfortunately, very few people use PSGA in J&K to get access to various services. There is no awareness and the Govt is not creating an awareness on this law through local media. I have brought this issue into notice of the Govt several times in the past. If someone has to get a copy of FIR using PSGA why shall he or she have to visit a police station ? To get a copy of Fard e Intikhaab from a Naib Tehsildar, PSGA can be invoked , but why visit his office ? Can’t applications under PSGA be filed electronically and then the service also be provided digitally? Why can’t 1st or 2nd appeasl under PSGA be filed electronically and then heard through zoom or skype ? If the Govt of India has protected this law post article 370 abrogation, it is now the duty of Govt to make it people friendly as well.
Jammu & Kashmir Bank is a reputed financial institution. The bank is fully digital with lots of e-banking service available for customers, but when it comes to receiving RTI applications through an e-portal, the bank exhibits disinterest like other Govt institutions. I had to file a complaint before the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on this issue. The PMO grievance cell forwarded my complaint to JK Bank . I was put in touch with an officer in the customer service division of bank . When I asked the officer in writing how many RTI workshops for bank officers were held in the last 2 years , he said the information was not available. When I asked whether JK Bank has a digital platform to file online RTI applications, the officer said as on date the bank has no such facility available ? Now I have forwarded his emailed conversation to PMO once again. If all the central Govt offices and many other states can receive RTI applications digitally, why is J&K Govt lagging behind ? If UT administration had digitized 2 crore pages from 3.50 lakh office files, why is the Govt not interested in making RTI and PSGA part of its e-office project ?
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman 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.