Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

When C (for Corrupt) Governance Dominates Over E (for Electronic) Governance

Want to know why state’s departments are not on Information superhighway yet? Read this, here is the reason!

Srinagar: While the world is steadily leaping towards having a global E-parliament to harness Information Technology for progress and welfare of global public, here in this God-forsaken land, computers and related sciences and accessories simply mean a goldmine for those vested with the role of computerizing the governance.

Certainly the government’s Information Technology Unit (ITU) created in the year 1998for the purpose of computerizing the system of governance so as to lessen the bureaucratic hassles for the betterment of people in the state has got a dubious distinction of not only misusing but even surrendering unused whooping Rs 2239.16 lakhs to the Centre.

And ironically, the person responsible for this mismanagement of financial resources meant for introduction of E-governance in the state continues to enjoy field-day as the sun of unaccountability shines on the state’s power horizon.

The tragic story of state’s disastrous tryst with the E-governance begins in the year 1998 when government created ITU, which was subsequently transformed into a full-fledged government department in 2002.

With the aim of lessening the characteristic hassles of manual data processing through paper- and file-work, the government set the ball rolling by mooting the proposal of Secretariat Knowledge Information Management System (SKIMS). Several departments including the Employment Exchange, Transport, SMHS Hospital, Treasury offices, State Motor Garages, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, and Forest Protection Force were shortlisted for computerization in the first leg.

The government also managed to put forth this proposal under the National E-governance Action Plan (NeGAP) so as to mobilize cent percent funding from the Centre.

However, the department as well as its plans got the biggest jolt when an Assistant Executive Engineer, Dara Singh, of Power Development Department (PDD) was handpicked by the then ruling dispensation in January 2003 to head the ITU as Systems Executive.

Interestingly, the said officer had neither any educational nor any technical qualifications about computers or E-governance; nor had he any foresight about what he was supposed to do, sources in the department said.

The result has been that the dream of E-governance remains a pipedream even today. And worst still is that crores of rupees have been wasted on purchasing software and hardware that is either not suitable for use here or has not been used at all.

Narrating the faulty track-record of the System Executive, sources revealed that unmindful of the peculiar needs of the state’s departments, in April 2007 the IT Department entered into a deal with ‘Tata Consultancy Services Limited’ to procure “SKIMS TriplePlus” named software which had originally been created for Andra Pradesh government and was being used there.

Despite having shelled out Rs 13.15 crores for “SKIMS TriplePlus”, this software proved of no use for the state’s departments, sources revealed, adding that of the 430 programs of this software only 274 were found suitable to state’s needs. Of these too, only 18 programs were actually identified as being of some utility.

“Since the software was created for the unique needs of Andra Pradesh departments, its utility for Jammu and Kashmir was always suspect, but given that person heading the department had no knowledge of IT, the cost paid for this software simply went down the drain as hard- and software worth crores could not by utilized,” sources alleged.

They informed that the department also spent Rs 42.25 lakhs and Rs 42.38 lakhs respectively on the computerization of Regional Transport Offices and Employment Exchanges and “this money too was wasted as you can yourself see if at all any of these departments are computerized…”

They said even the Accountant General in its audit report pointed out the failures of the department in implementing the E-governance plan of the government, and questioned why ‘Tata Consultancy Services Limited’ was paid for a software that was of no use for the state.

As if this was not enough, the department embarked on another project – State-wide Area Network (SWAN) - and actually paid another Rs 21.26 lakhs to a consultancy firm from New Delhi. However, till date, nothing has been done on ground vis-à-vis implementation of SWAN, sources revealed.

Between the years 2005-2007 only, the department got a funding of Rs 13.84 crores from the Centre of which only Rs 1.53 crores were utilized while Rs 12.17 crores had to be returned to the Centre as the department failed to utilize this money. So far since 2003 to 2008, a whooping amount of Rs 2239.16 lakhs has been returned to the Centre for this money could not be utilized for the purpose it was meant for.

“Even though huge funds have been wasted so far in the state in the name of implementing E-governance and those at the helm of state’s affair are aware of it, the government has adopted a meaningful silence over this brazen misuse,” sources in the secretariat alleged.

They revealed that all these financial irregularities in the department were brought forth in March 2008 when the then Commissioner Secretary Information Technology, Ashok Kumar Parmar, conducted a detailed inquiry to unravel the mysterious and scandalous deals.

In July 2008, Commissioner Secretary, Ashok Kumar Parmar also issued a notice to the Systems Executive Dara Singh seeking explanation of the financial irregularities and mismanagement he had discovered. However, not getting any reply from Singh, Parmar issued an order 21-IT of 2008, dated July 29, 2008 with recommendations for action against the erring official to General Administration Department (GAD). Attached with the order was the detailed inquiry report that Commissioner Secretary had conducted in the department.

“Even though the report was sufficient to nail the Systems Executive and Commissioner Secretary had even written to the state Chief Secretary and Commissioner Secretary GAD and furnished them the copy of inquiry report, no action was taken against Dara Singh,” sources informed.

Instead, Parmar only was removed as the Commissioner Secretary and Dara Singh again vested the responsibility of Systems Executive in the IT Department.
Corruption and nepotism being major contributing factors to the perennial backwardness of the state is a known fact but what is the worst of all ills plaguing the overall governance here is lack of accountability that rules the roost.

And irony is that even when the proverbial black sheep and their dubious roles are exposed, there is not only marked lack of political and administrative will to nail them, but instead those at the helm don’t mind bending and breaking rules to shield the culprits.

God, save this forsaken land!

(Kashmir Images)

No comments: