In a first, J&K Govt curbs use of social media by its employees

The government on Tuesday barred its employees from engaging in political discussions or criticising its policies on the social media.
In a first, J&K Govt curbs use of social media by its employees
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The government on Tuesday barred its employees from engaging in political discussions or criticising its policies on the social media.

Issuing a slew of guidelines for use of social media by its employees, the government cautioned its workforce against updating posts which are "illegal and anti-national." The guidelines also discourage social media use "in a manner that is construed to imply that government endorses personal activities of the users."

Invoking J&K service conduct rules, the government said that any violation of the directives empowers it to dismiss the erring employees from service, pre-maturely retire them, withhold their promotion or salary increments and even demote them to lower positions.

The gag order, issued for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir, comes at a time when people including youth and government employees are seen increasingly participating in discussions—ranging from politics to governance and host of other issues—on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

"This policy may restrict the speech of employees when they are speaking on matters of public concern or when the government's interests in maintaining law and order outweigh its employees' interests of freedom of speech," read the 16-page guidelines issued by the general administration department. "It is also intended to remind the employees about their limitations in their communications derived from their status as government employees."

The employees have been cautioned not to engage in discussions on social media by way of tweets, status updates, posts or blogs which are political in nature or on "contentious issues violative of applicable service conduct rules and have potential to create governance or law and order issues or are seen to propagate anything which is anti-social, anti-national or illegal."

"No government employee shall indulge in any activity on social media or permit any person dependent on him for maintenance or under his care or control to undertake any activity on social media which is, or tends directly or indirectly to be, subversive…No government employee shall engage in any criminal, dishonest, immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct on social media which may be prejudicial to the government. They shall also not use their personal social media accounts for any political activity," read the guidelines. "The government employees shall not use their personal social media accounts for any political activity or endorsing posts or tweets or blogs of any political figure."

The government has warned the employees against criticising through any post or tweet on social media any government policy or action taken by the government and said that employees shall not in any manner participate in any such discussions or criticism that takes place on social media.

Commissioner-secretary general administration department Khursheed Ahmad said that employees were governed by service rules and the government expects them "not to behave irresponsibly."

"There have been cases in the past where some people have behaved irresponsibly. We had started work on this policy some four months back," he said.

As per the guidelines, the government wants its employees to exhibit "decent and reasonable behavior" on social media and not to "sow discord on internet or post inflammatory, extraneous messages in an online community …with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion".

While the guidelines bar employees from disclosing official or classified government information on social media, they encourage the employees to defend and explain to public the policies of government for removing "misapprehensions and refuting disloyal and seditious propaganda."

The government has invoked J&K civil service rules to warn the employees of punishment in case of violation of the guidelines.

These punishments, according to the guidelines, range from premature retirement, dismissal/removal from services and disqualification from future employment, fine not exceeding one month pay, withholding of increment/promotion, reduction to lower post and lower-time scale.

"The government shall monitor social media to track violations of the guidelines and shall maintain official records of violations that contain certain data related to social media activity of employees. Therefore, government employees should adhere to the above guidelines to ensure against disciplinary action and consequent punishment which shall largely depend upon nature and severity of the violation," the guidelines read.

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