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Are states really serious about Digital India plan?

March 07, 2015 12:56 IST

Official websites of some states haven’t been updated for years

Does Bihar have only 10 cities with populations of more than 100,000? Is Uttar Pradesh so urbanised that 42.59 per cent of its people live in towns and cities? Does 27 per cent of West Bengal’s population still live below the poverty line, way more than the national average?

These figures have been picked from the official websites of these states. Some of these sites haven’t been updated for years, it seems.

According to Census 2011 data, only 22.27 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population lives in urban areas. The same source lists 27 cities with populations exceeding 100,000 in Bihar. And, according to latest data, the percentage of people below the poverty line in West Bengal is slightly less than 20 per cent, two percentage points less than the national average.

At a time when the government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative is set to prepare the “country for technology-based transformation and citizen-centric transparent governance with service orientation”, as the President said in an address to Parliament before the Budget session, the seeming indifference of some state governments towards a basic digital platform raises questions over their preparedness for the initiative.

To check the digital preparedness of states, Business Standard reviewed the official websites of all 29 states, as well as Delhi. It seems many aren’t concerned about the state of their most visible digital platform — official websites. Seven states haven’t updated even basic information such as that on per capita income, poverty estimates and census data on their websites. The otherwise developed state of Haryana is seemingly indifferent towards its digital footprint.

Latest census data, too, haven’t been incorporated in many official websites. Of the states that seem to regularly update information, the performance of some is only marginally better than those categorised as digital laggards. The Madhya Pradesh government’s website, for instance, has latest census data but doesn’t have cabinet decisions till 2013. Only a handful of states such as Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Odisha seem to have taken good care of their digital platforms.

For this study, only the primary websites of states were reviewed; those of specific departments weren’t. The websites of specific departments are likely to be reviewed regularly.

There are several instances of official websites containing archaic information. For instance, if you click on a link on the West Bengal government website that takes you to the page that has data on technical education, you see the page was last updated on November 29, 2002. At a glance, the section called ‘state’ has very little and mostly outdated information. It doesn’t even have the latest census figures; the per capita income data is for 2003-04.

The Bihar government website has a link, ‘Bihar through figures’, which leads one to a page that has links to sectoral data. Most tables here are sourced from Census 1991.

It has data on production and distribution of electricity in the state till 1998-99. Factory statistics are available till 1991, motor vehicles data till 2000 and tourist arrival figures till 1999. “For long, industry bodies have been demanding government websites contain updated information. But that does not seem to be happening. As a result, any investor, big or small, who wants to invest here has to do his own research before investing,” says K P S Kesari, former president of Bihar Industries Association.

The website of the Uttar Pradesh directorate of economics and statistics has a link, ‘UP in figures’ which, when clicked, says, “Uttar Pradesh at a glance 2013”. It shows the state’s per capita power consumption in 2012-13 was 262 KWh; according to the Planning Commission website, the state’s per capita power consumption stood at 450 KWh in 2011-12. The same page gives poverty estimates for 2004-05.

“Based on my interaction with some state governments, I can tell you giving importance to updating information on the digital platform is yet to become a habit in many states. It is seen as a responsibility of a small information technology team. Unless it becomes a matter of routine with all departments at all levels, we will continue to have websites with outdated information,” says Sanjay Sharma, managing director of QuBit Technologies, which provides web solutions to organisations.

The Karnataka government’s primary website says it was last updated on October 18, 2014, while the Punjab government’s website says it was last updated in July 2014.

The Tamil Nadu state government website claims it is up to date. It has a statistical handbook with all the latest available information. The Rajasthan government website, too, is user-friendly and seems to be updated regularly, as does the website of the Odisha government.

There are cases of difference between official data, too. According to the Punjab government website, per capita power consumption in the state was 1,102 KWh in 2010-11, while a Planning Commission report pegged it at 1,799 KWh for 2011-12.

Also, there are instances of dearth of meaningful information on some websites. In the case of the Jharkhand government website, there was no information about Bokaro and Dhanbad, two of the most important districts in the state. On the Delhi government website, the section ‘About CM’ says “content awaited”.

“Official websites can be effectively used to interact with citizens. They could also become an effective grievance redressal forum. The problem is in many states, there is no pressure on governments to implement e-governance, which could be an effective route to good governance,” says Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner, KPMG. He is, however, hopeful that as the usage of internet increases, people are bound to put pressure on governments for better digital platforms.

Mayank Mishra in New Delhi
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