Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
The 20 days campaign called Jan Abhiyaan began from September 10th across Jammu & Kashmir. Government claims that Govt officers will be available to listen to the public under this People’s Campaign wherein Government officers will be constantly available for the public. This 20 days programme will end on Sept 30th which will be followed by Back to Village -B2V part III with effect from October 2nd 2020.
As per the order issued by General Administration Department (GAD), the 20 days public outreach campaign focuses on delivery of essential services, development demands and public grievance redressal. Three important components are given a special thrust by Government during Jan Abhiyan and B2V-III which are listed as under Campaign for Rights Muhim Barai Hakooq or Adhikar Abhiyan, Village Development Campaign Deh Tarraqi Muhim or Unnat Gram Abhiyan Public Hearing Campaign Awami Sunwai Muhim or Jan Sunwai
The campaign has been efficiently designed but the timing is not good as there is a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases from more than a week across J&K. The COVID-19 positive cases per day has now touched 1750 per day in J&K and the Govt needs to take more stringent measures to address this pandemic. The rush of people in BDO and other block and tehsil level offices has increased during the last 7 to 8 days which will have serious implications. The people visiting offices are not abiding by COVID 19 protocol like physical distancing , using face masks etc. This is a matter of serious concern.
Lt Governor Manoj Sinha seems sincere towards ensuring good governance and transparency and during the last two weeks he had met with a large section of people at Raj Bahavan which usually used to be out of bounds for common people. He visited several district headquarters as well and met public deputations under proper COVID 19 protocol. As the situation is not feasible for mass gatherings, I would suggest that LG must ensure that people maintain social distancing during Jan Abhiyan gatherings. I would rather appeal to him to make sure that from Principal Secretary to a Patwari are directed to be available on social media platforms especially creating an official Twitter handle for every Govt office. From the office of Chief Secretary , Principal Secretary to Patwari or Panchayat , all should be readily available on Twitter so that citizens can tag the concerned officer sitting at home.
Chhattisgarh Govt on Twitter
Dantewada and Bijapur are the most backward districts not only in Chhattisgarh state, but both the districts are two of the 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 @Dantewada Dist and @bijapurcg.
I have observed both DMs actively responding to people through this platform. Even the official district websites of these Naxal infested districts are fully updated. More than 7 years back I had appreciated the DM of Bijapur for his beautiful website through my column and exposed some of J&K’s official websites which had obsolete and outdated information available on them. Even after 7 years our Govt officers and District NIC staff have not rectified their mistakes. Our official websites continue to be in shambles. I will discuss this soon through a detailed piece.
Absent on social media
Majority of the Administrative Secretaries , DC’s , Directors , HoD’s in J&K don’t have any official twitter handle or facebook account. There are some DC’s who have official twitter handles but they are not much responsive except a handful of Deputy Commissioners and some Chief Engineers and senior IAS officers like Rohit Kansal. SDM’s ,Tehsildars and Block Development Officers (BDOs) are hardly seen on Twitter in their official capacity? Very recently Assistant Commissioner Development (ACD) Budgam created her twitter handle. Chief Engineer PWD (R&B) Kashmir created a twitter account a few years back. Until Sami Arif was the Chief Engineer Kashmir , the officer would update about the activities of the department regularly and people would also update him regarding their grievances and tag him photos and videos of dilapidated roads. He retired some time back and the new Chief Engineer joined. The incumbent Chief Engineer is also active on whatsapp but not on twitter and unfortunately the twitter handle of Chief Engineer R&B Kashmir Kashmir is defunct right now.
Tariq Hussain Ganai former Deputy Commissioner Budgam would regularly update people by posting updates on COVID 19, but after his transfer from Budgam on May 27th there were no more updates until some days back when I highlighted this issue. The official twitter handle of DC Budgam has again become operational from Sept 14th. Similarly I found a Twitter handle of BDO Aloosa in Bandipora district which is a welcome step. Official social media accounts should be institutionalized. The same should not stop working after the transfer of an officer who operates the same.
Twitter handles and facebook pages should be operated by a dedicated staff and Chief Engineer or any other officer can focus on other work and occasionally look at social media grievances as well. The dedicated staff must update the offivcer about complaints and grievances on a daily basis.
Who cares for emails ?
I have been sending emails to Govt officers for the last more than 15 years. During this time not even 15 officers have responded to my emails ? This is not with me only , but I know at least two dozen journalist and activist friends who have similar complaints. Almost all the official emails shown on official websites are not operational. Administrative Secretaries , Directors, CEO’s or DC’s are too busy , one can understand that but why can’t these officers have dedicated staff to address people’s grievances via emails ? 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. Leave aside information related to expenses, I was unable to see other details related to this deadly disease. Till this day no officer responded to my email. This has happened in the past as well. I remember when Baseer Ahmad Khan was DC Budgam in 2002 , he would respond to my emails. Since then not a single DC has replied back. I won’t blame DC’s, as they are busy but can’t their PA’s or any other official respond back with mere acknowledgement ?
Section 4 (1) of RTI Act 2005 also makes it mandatory upon all public authorities to make COVID-19 expenses details public. Under the RTI link of Budgam district website, the official phone number (01951-255242) of Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR), who is also the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under RTI , is invalid. No mobile number of officers is mentioned.
There are active and public spirited citizens in every colony , village or a mohalla. They will always highlight social issues but they feel frustrated when they can’t even tag a concerned officer about the grievance on facebook or twitter. These people can represent their villages, mohallas and towns and upload their grievances on social media and tag the officers. This will ensure urgent redressal of grievance. Recently a dead body of a woman from Ladakh who had drowned in a river was sent back by Deputy Commissioner of Gilgit to her relatives within 24 hours as the issue was highlighted on twitter and DC was tagged by people from Ladakh and local administration got involved as well. COVID 19 pandemic is the best time to make social media platforms active for public service delivery. Let all officers from Secretariat to village panchayat have official Twitter handles….
(The author is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement)
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat