Digital India: Government websites fail to clear transparency test

The Economic Times and The Times of India | 20 August 2016

New Delhi: The Digital India initiative may be aiming to make all government services electronically available, but a recent study has found 10 government websites in Delhi lacking in several transparency parameters.

The study, published in Delhi Citizen's Handbook 2016, audited the websites against predefined parameters of Section 4 of Right to Information (RTI) Act that sets guidelines for proactive disclosure of information by government agencies without the public having filed RTI queries. Nine out of the 10 websites could not even meet 60% of the compliance points, said the study, conducted by Centre for Civil Society.

Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has outperformed all others with its website satisfying 81% of the parameters. It is the only agency with a nodal RTI officer who coordinates and facilitates the flow of information. But the website, which received praise for its design, doesn't have contact details of the public information officers. In fact, contact details of PIOs seem to be closely guarded secrets in almost all cases, with Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) and NDMC's education department being the only exceptions.

Two Delhi government agencies—Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and vigilance department—are found to be the worst performers. At 31%, the DTC website is the worst performer with incorrectly labelled and outdated information, and a poor layout making it difficult to access.

Researchers also carried out a comparison of the education and health departments of the three corporations (MCD), NDMC and Delhi government. In both cases, MCD turns out to be the worst compliant authority. "Incorrect labelling makes it extremely difficult to navigate through the websites," the study pointed out. The IT departments in the civic bodies have always drawn flak for shoddy performance. While many people-friendly IT projects have failed to take off in the past few years, even the basic details of the councillors are usually wrong.

Contrary to the spirit of RTI Act essential to attain the lofty goals of good governance, the departments were found to be blaming each other rather complying with Section 4. The study identified the ambiguity in the wording of Section 4 as the root of the problem. "The ambiguity allows public bodies room for interpretation on what information is to be disclosed. Lack of provision regarding regular updating is leading to variation in frequency of updates," the report said.

To improve accessibility, researchers recommended reworking of Section 4 to incorporate clearer wording and addition of a clearly defined penalty in case of non-compliance. Citing the best practices from the US, they also suggested a regular audit by a third party to ensure strict compliance.

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