DIGITIZATION LEADS TO DROP IN CROWDS AT CIVIL SECRETARIAT

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Digitization Leads to Drop in Crowds at Civil Secretariat

e-governance makes redressal of grievances faster and easier

“The Chief Secretary is personally taking the lead in e-governance and that gives us more reason
to expedite the disposal of files and meet deadlines.” – GAD Secretary Piyush Singhla

By Bashir Assad

The Civil Secretariat in Jammu is seeing an unprecedentedly low number of visitors which can be due to several reasons, especially the digitization of records and files under e-governance. Usually, the civil secretariat is all hustle and bustle with the visitors queuing outside the office of each secretary seeking redressal of their grievances. Now there are no queues at the main gate for security check, no overcrowding in the corridors, and of course, as a result, very few professional touts roaming the secretariat in search of vulnerable clients.

The fall in the number of visitors to the civil secretariat can be attributed to many factors. For political and social activists, it is because there is no popular government in power in Jammu and Kashmir and they are not really given any attention by the bureaucrats. So, a visit to the secretariat is futile and a waste of time for them. “It is not fun to visit the civil secretariat as there is hardly anyone to listen to us and address our grievances,” a prominent political worker from Poonch told Kashmir Central. He was sitting at a coffee shop just outside the civil secretariat. He said that the bureaucracy was in charge of the affairs of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and bureaucrats are not answerable to the people. Requesting anonymity, the political activist said that there was no scope for highlighting issues of public interest as the bureaucrats were not ready to listen. “Bureaucrats simply go by the rulebook or they claim to do so. We cannot impress upon them – or they don’t care – about the urgency or priority of the issues. They follow the order in the receipt or dispatch register,” he added.

Another person sitting next to the activist interrupted to say: “Bureaucrats deny us entry into their office chambers and in case entry is allowed, we are told to leave a chit on the table specifying the problem and leave.” The person added that they were never told about the status of their files. People were disappointed and that was the reason there were not many visitors queuing at the gate, he said.

The picture inside the secretariat, however, is not how outsiders perceive it. There has been a complete transformation. This correspondent visited the place on December 15 after almost a year. The government of Jammu and Kashmir had ordered the digitisation of the records and files of the civil secretariat in June 2019. Given the level of interference and influence of the political leaders and the vested interests of corrupt officers, it was almost unbelievable to see e-governance at the civil secretariat at Srinagar and Jammu. The office of the secretary to the government, the General Administration Department (GAD), would usually have piles of files. Both the personnel section and the table of the secretary would be covered with files. This is not the case today, however. There was not a single file on the table of the Secretary, GAD, Piyush Singhla, IAS. The tables belonging to his staff were also free of files. Both his assistants could be seen working on desktop computers. Inside his office, Singhla was busy working on e-files.

Secretary GAD, Piyush Singhla, IAS

Talking to this correspondent, Singhla said that in the last four or five months he had seen a sea change in the functioning of the civil secretariat. GAD was the nerve center of the civil secretariat as all the files were routed through the department, he pointed out. “Here you can see the physical files have completely disappeared and this is the case with almost all the other departments too,” he added. Singhla said that he had cleared 145 files from 12 midnight to 5 am and that there were just four files pending on his computer. E-governance had revolutionised the functioning of the secretariat, according to him. The beauty of e-governance was that there was hardly any room for favouritism and corruption
as files are disposed of with complete transparency, based on merit and the disposal was quick and timely, he added. “The Chief Secretary is personally taking the lead in e-governance and that gives us more reason to expedite the disposal of files and meet deadlines,” he said. GAD had a bird’s eye view on the disposal of files and every department was working hard to dispose of them, Singhla said.

On the allegations made by the political activist from Poonch district, Singhla said that visitors were always welcome and every administrative secretary has a specified time to listen to grievances. The fact remained that there was more transparency in the redressal of grievances, he added. Hinting at past practices, Singhla said that files don’t disappear or get lost any more. The records are filed online, Singhla said, adding that every single government order was translated into both Urdu and Hindi. The GAD website was available in three languages – English, Urdu and Hindi, he pointed out. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant General’s grievance cells at the district level are proactively functional which
could be another reason for the fall in the number of people visiting the civil secretariat. The district- level grievance cell have designated officers to resolve the issues brought to their notice online. The redressal mechanism both at the district and secretariat levels is efficient and few people are left dissatisfied at the redressal mechanism, necessitating fewer visits to the secretariat. This correspondent could see one tout from South Kashmir’s Aishmuqam town just outside the main entrance of the main building. He was looking exhausted, perhaps because there are fewer clients and also because he was probably feeling superfluous. This, as Singhla said, is the beauty of e-governance.

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