State govt dept and dist websites not functional, user-friendly, and rarely updated on time, finds report
Geetanjali Minhas | December 3, 2012
While the world is going online, most Maharashtra government websites are yet to take themselves as a serious medium representing their own departments, it seems. A large chunk of these websites are found wanting in areas of functionality, user-friendliness and are not continuously updated, says a study conducted by the Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai.
According to the yet-to-be-released report by Rammohan Khanapurkar and Aparna Sivakumar of Mumbai, titled ‘Evaluation of Maharashtra government websites’, “Cluttered and lacking mandatory functionality, many websites have been developed without tight processes across board from software requirement to usability tests. There is a disturbing degree of deterioration and stagnation, every government employee does not have government email address and there is disregard for interactivity and response.
This scathing criticism comes at a time when institutionalisation of the National e-Governance Plan has meant that government websites are to utilize web architecture to disseminate relevant information and deliver electronic services, or e-services as they are called.
While an interactive and informative website serves as an interface between the government and the ordinary citizen, enabling efficient and effective information exchange, the report notes that many websites studied as part of the research are “unreachable”.
“Uniform use of Marathi language is not present and there is lack of universal accessibility in development and maintenance processes,” it said.
Conducted between August 2011 and August this year, the study has evaluated websites based on compliance matrix, as prescribed by National Infomatics Centre (NIC), online validation tests designed by Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), RTI on website details, and universal accessibility (multilingual and differently-abled) criteria. It was carried out on 43 randomly selected state government sites for adherence to these guidelines.
Irregular quality, irrelevant information
Only 5 percent of the selected websites were found to be of commendable quality, with the average score ranging between 30 percent and 50 percent. Forty-two percent sites scored below 50 on account of language, universal accessibility, multimedia, interactivity, and design, the study reported.
According to the report, naming of websites does not follow guidelines, especially for zilla parishad and district sites. Some websites were found to be registered under domain names rather than.gov.in or .nic.in. Most sites were found lacking detailed copyright/content/privacy/terms and conditions policy.
The Ahmednagar district website has a disclaimer saying: “This information is supplied by various departments in the district, NIC will not be responsible for any information that may be incorrect.”
While the disclaimer simply absolves NIC of any responsibility regarding content, it does not help the common citizen any which way. People look for trustworthiness rather than indicators of lack of responsibility, the report pointed out.
In another example quoted by the study, the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation website says: “It does not warrant that the functions contained in this site will be uninterrupted or error-free. It also does not guarantee that defects will be corrected or that this site or the server that makes it available is free of viruses or signify the full functionality, precision and reliability of the materials.”
Certainly not the best elucidation by a site intended to help the public.
Not navigable, lucid for local language speakers
Among other observations, the researchers found email IDs are not in government domain but on private ones like Hotmail, Gmail, Rediffmail, Yahoo and so forth. In some cases, IP addresses have been used instead of government domain names, while the contact information does not carry the name of the ‘officer in-charge’ concerned. Further, documents were found listed without appropriate title or description.
Most websites are not available in Marathi or are not completely bilingual, it was found. “The website must be bilingual and without inconsistencies. There must be consistent and concurrent use of Marathi as default language with option to view in English,” the study observed.
Instead of Unicode type, scanned documents are often uploaded, while information or section heading in many instances does not provide the information required by a user. The study found all websites do not lead to a common data repository for common attributes and one comes across outdated documents on home page of several sites. The format, layout, hyperlinks, fonts and nomenclature are inconsistent across pages, and only 30 percent websites studied were found to have better HTML standard compliance.
The research also found the websites are not navigable, with the search and sitemap features for cross-linking missing on most. Alternative text for non-text content is virtually absent, leading the researchers to lament: “It appears that developers are unaware of importance of alternative text for decorative and informative images.”
Further, due to non functional email addresses and non-responsive staff, response to RTI queries failed with all but three websites while preparing the report. “The websites need to improve in order to meet the mandate by government of Maharashtra as well as make their websites disabled-friendly and accessible for all users,” the report advised.
Acknowledging the state government’s role in promoting the use of ICT, the report appreciates comprehensive efforts being put in by DIT, Maharashtra, and spearheaded by IT secretary Rajesh Aggarwal. Aggarwal, the study observes, is aggressively working on e-governance efforts like online certification course on e-Governance (free and open to all), ‘First Saturday, Teach Saturday’ programme and on creating identification and awareness about needs of persons with disabilities, among other initiatives.
The mandate of quality assurance has been given to C-DAC Pune, which says all Maharashtra government websites will be Unicode-compliant within a year.
In technical collaboration with C-DAC, the government has set up the Centre for Excellence (COE) for Marathi to boost e governance.
Maharashtra is the first state working toward making all government websites compliant with 2.0, Level A web content accessibility guidelines. Additionally, DIT is also creating a special cell to assist different government departments for their e-governance projects and websites.
Driven by the ‘guidelines for Indian Government Websites’ developed by NIC for promotion and implementation of ICT solutions in the government and drawing references from best practices of cyber world validated by reputed consortiums and forums, the study was aimed at understanding the effectiveness and ethos of e-governance.
Scores were given on following parameters
1 Central/state government 10
Identifiers and Confidence Indicators
2. Functionality, content composition 20
3. Content structure, quality and policy 20
4. Design 20
5. Language 10
6. Universal accessibility 5
7. Multimedia and interactivity 10
8. Website promotion 5
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