Password veil over officials’ attendance

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By ANANYA SENGUPTA
  • Published 14.10.14
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The Opposition aren’t really the Opposition. They are only the government in exile. The civil service are the Opposition in residence

— Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister

New Delhi, Oct. 13: The government wanted the public to know at the click of a mouse which babus were absent on any given working day and whether the rest were coming and leaving on time. No minister, said the babus.

So, less than a fortnight after an attendance portal for its employees went live on September 30, the Centre has had to backtrack on its promise of transparency and make it password-protected.

Senior officials had told The Telegraph last week that the portal — attendance.gov.in — had been set up on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal initiative.

Sources today confirmed that pressure from civil servants, who told the communication and IT ministry they were uncomfortable with the move, had prompted the portal to be closed to public scrutiny.

“Members of our technology team felt there was no need for the general public to know when an official had clocked in or out, and how many days of leave he had taken in a month,” said an official of the National Informatics Centre, which manages government websites.

“Nor is it necessary for people to know which government office an official is visiting on a given day.”

Officials, however, clarified that Modi hadn’t been consulted on the latest move since he was away campaigning —and that consulting him wasn’t necessary since the portal hadn’t yet been officially launched. “Once he returns, he will take the final call,” a source said.

The portal now covers 50,000-odd employees across 149 offices in Delhi and was to be gradually extended to the rest of the capital’s offices and then the whole country. Till yesterday morning, the portal was showing all the attendance details of every registered official.

Today, it displayed an edited version that revealed only the collective attendance figure in all these offices before asking for a password that, sources said, is known only to the babus themselves.

Where the Modi government has failed — at least for now, unless the babus have the nerve to say “No, Prime Minister” as well — the Jharkhand government has succeeded.

Its attendance portal — attendance.jharkhand.gov.in/ — the model for the central portal, continues to let the public track some 34,000 employees nine months after its January launch.

Both the central and Jharkhand venture were led by Ram Sewak Sharma, the Union communication and IT secretary who was chief secretary in Ranchi earlier this year.

Sharma had been director-general of the Unique Identification Authority of India and was part of the team that conceived the Aadhaar card.