Public feedback as a mere formality

The issue is the government's will

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | June 16, 2011



The government has made a strong case that only the elected representatives have a right to frame laws. A spokesman of the Congress party has even labelled a section of civil society "unelected tyrant". But the government's own devices of inviting public participation leave much to be desired.

The Department of Information (DIT) under Kapil Sibal recently invited feedback on the guidelines on the e-district project. The guidelines were uploaded on Friday (June 10) on the website of DIT and the feedback was expected by Monday, June 13. That the stakeholders would be able to send their feedback so soon was expecting too much and cast a doubt on the seriousness of the government.

Something similar happened in the recent past in the matter of IT rules, which faced a huge criticism from the stakeholders after they were notified. In this case, the secretary (IT), in a statement to PTI, asked, "Why were the critics silent on the draft?"

However, did the DIT make a serious effort to reach out to people? The TRAI, standing committees of parliament and other bodies bring out advertisements in national dailies when they hold citizen consultations but the DIT has not done the same. It just fulfilled the formality of posting the draft on the DIT website and invited its select protégés for discussions. These invitees are in most cases from the institutions which toe the line of the government and will not raise a line of dissent.

On June 14, the DIT conducted an open house on the new IT policy in Delhi. In this case as well, the invites were sent to select participants who speak the language of the government. Sources within the DIT confirmed that the invites were sent by the minister’s office only. No doubt the participation must have been from the NGOs which receive grants from the DIT, business houses which get tenders from the DIT, trade bodies which just seek tax exemptions and the officials / academicians who work under the same minister.  

In the age of Yahoogroups, Linkedin groups, Facebook and Twitter, there are many more ways throuh which the government can reach out to the stakeholders. The DIT does not respond to or even acknowledge the feedback it receives. It would be a good idea to uploaded the suggestions of various stakeholders on the DIT website as it would increase transparency and encourage participation.

Of course, it all depends on whether the government is seeking a true feedback or just fulfilling a formality.

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