Arun Jaitley for freehand to ministers, bureaucrats on social media

DoPT’s draft rules bar officers from criticising government on social websites

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi | Published: August 7, 2016 2:13 am
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Highlighting the power of social media, finance minister Arun Jaitley credited pressure of public opinion in creating unanimity for passage of legislations relating to bankruptcy and Goods and Services Tax. Speaking at an event to mark two years of MyGov.in, the government’s citizen engagement platform, Jaitley also batted for a freehand to ministers and bureaucrats to express themselves on social media for a transparent functioning of government.

Jaitley’s comments follow the issuance of draft service rules by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) that propose to allow bureaucrats to participate freely on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but bar them from criticising the government.

The draft rules bar officers from making “criticism of government” on television, social media or any other communication application by any means, including a “caricature”.

“In the final decisions of the government, you should talk in one voice and it should be one decision,” Jaitley said. “But one strong asset which the social media has provided you is that before you reach that one decision there are multiple opinions which come.”

Social media provides alternate viewpoints, criticisms, comments and suggestions, he said.

“Therefore, in a transparent government system, I see nothing wrong in civil servants expressing themselves freely, ministers expressing themselves freely,” he said, but added that eventually the decision has to be one.

Social media has done great service, Jaitley said. “In the last few days … we have passed two important laws which are being discussed worldwide — GST and bankruptcy law. Both these laws were passed through unanimous decisions.”

“Public pressures” and “pressure of public opinion” built through social media and news media were behind this unanimity, he said, adding that the print, electronic and social media played an important role in opinion formation.

Speaking about advantages of social media, he said previously only big metropolitan cities were looked at for opinion or suggestions but today with the advent of social media, opinions are freely available from schools, colleges, tier II, III cities and even downwards.

Talking about ways to propagate about government schemes like crop insurance, Jaitley said government should not leave any form of media as it has limited cost but unlimited advantages like a wide reach.

The minister said all media should be used to help schemes reach the last mile. “If there is a way to use social media, then the help of local administration is also important,” he said.

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“There was a time when we did public rallies, then came radio, television media and then came social media whose cost is low and impact is more,” he said, adding that it empowers all and increases accountability.

Also present at the event was Union Minister of IT, Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad, who said the user base of the government’s citizen engagement platform should touch at least 10-15 crore, given that the country has 103 crore mobile phone users.

“The country is changing. Digital democracy is the essence of India and Digital India is the destiny of India. MyGov is the biggest platform of Digital India,” Prasad said.

Prasad said suggestions that come on myGov, even if they contain criticism, should be taken positively.

The event culminated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducting his first ever “townhall” in the evening. A new PMO app that will enable mobile users to connect with the Prime Minister’s portal was also launched at the event.

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