Jharkhand government’s digital attendance system faces obstacles

The average attendance for August was 8216, excluding holidays - this, against 13,308 active users.

Written by Deepu Sebastian Edmond | Ranchi | Published: September 22, 2014 5:39:00 pm

In the near future, when the public witnesses a slice of the impossible – central government employees turning up in time – they will have Jharkhand and a former chief secretary to be thankful for.

However, even as the system seems to have helped the administration take giant strides, it has certain obstacles to cross – all ministers are excluded from it, a cursory survey by this newspaper indicated that most secretary-ranked officers do not use the system, and – at least in Jharkhand – there could be problems scaling up due to trouble with availability and maintenance of hardware.

State government officials say an Aadhaar-based attendance system devised by former CS Ram Sevak Sharma last year and implemented since April 1 this year has improved attendance indicators at the Secretariat in Ranchi.

The Jharkhand model is one of those now being replicated by the Union government and Sharma – now a Secretary at the Department of Electronics and Information Technology in Delhi – is in charge of opening up attendance.gov.in to around one lakh central government employees based in Delhi by the end of September as a pilot.

Sharma is bullish about the scalability and cost effectiveness of his model. “The data cannot be tampered with as servers of the UIDAI are not in the same building…. You can log in using even mobile technology. The scanners cost around Rs. 2,200; the tablets, Rs. 5,000,” he said.

Principal Secretary in Jharkhand’s Department of Personnel Santosh Kumar Satapathy, who is tasked with extending the project down to the block level by the end of the year, says it has reached saturation point in the Secretariat, spread over multiple buildings in Ranchi. As of August 30, 5586 of 5730 registered employees were using the system regularly. “Earlier, people would come late or even the next day and sign in the office register. The effects of the system are obvious five months into its implementation: we have groups of people going into the Project Bhavan [where the CM’s office is located] and the like almost around 10 each morning,” said Satapathy.

The website attendance.jharkhand.gov.in is open to public viewing; the attendance of each registered and active employee is viewable in real time, down to their log in and log out times. The idea to link the system to the Aadhaar database was Sharma’s – he was Director General of the UIDAI before his appointment as CS here. At the time of registration and each log in by each employee, the biometric information is verified against those with the UIDAI.

“We have also linked their salaries to this project. If someone comes later than 10.30 am for three days or leaves before 6 pm, an SMS is sent to their mobile informing her or him that an automatic casual leave has been recorded,” said Satapathy, who said “many salaries” have been withheld using the MIS of the website but said the data was not on hand. “When there were allegations that government officials from Bihar were skipping work on Fridays and going home, we were able to prove them wrong by showing the MIS, which showed no blip on Fridays,” he said.

There are very few data points that illustrate the effectiveness of the system – attendance percentages do not work, as new users are being added to the website each day. The average attendance for August was 8216, excluding holidays – this, against 13,308 active users. What is disconcerting is the gap between Registered and Active users: there are 31,726 of the former. This means that 18,418 employees – more than the number of active users are not using the system currently, mostly because of the absence of log in machines and internet connectivity. This figure is dwarfed by the ambition of the project itself: the government wants to cover its 2.8 lakh employees by the end of the year.

The problem begins at home. Satapathy, who talked to this newspaper at the CM’s Secretariat premises as he is also the Principal Secretary to the CM, had not been able to log in that day. The CM’s Secretariat has not yet been fitted with the scanners. At the CM’s office, only one employee, a computer operator, has registered himself.

Those who are supposed to lay down the law too, have been aloof about the project. Former acting Chief Secretary Sajal Chakraborty, whom the system still recognises as CS, has not even logged in once. The Information Technology Principal Secretary – whose department handles the hardware end of the project – has not used it. Secretaries of Home and Health are among the defaulters. Almost the entire top brass of the police has ignored it – no one above the rank of Inspector has logged in at the Police Headquarters. The Principal Secretaries of HRD, Rural Development and Personnel are among the few who use regularly.

“My problem was that I worked odd hours a lot. I intended to start using it – even installed a scanner at my desk – but kept putting it off. I think it is a very good initiative that should be used widely,” said former CS Chakraborty. He had few options to do so, too: due to differences with the government, Chakraborty mostly worked out of the state hangar and guest houses during his short tenure. “It is of course compulsory for all employees, but we have relaxed the norms for touring officers – those above the rank of Director. Many of them hold multiple positions, so they are allowed to log in from any system,” said Satapathy.

There seems to be a severe hardware shortage to boot. The government wants a scanner for every 50 employees. At the state’s largest hospital – the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, only two scanners were installed but one of them has malfunctioned. The hardware divide is obvious in the districts, whose headquarters have received 10 machines each. Ranchi has 2818 registered and 511 active users while far-flung Sahebganj has only 480 and 164 respectively.

IT Secretary N.N. Sinha said all offices except those that constitute the Secretariat in Ranchi have been asked to procure the hardware on their own. “They have not started buying yet. We fixed our rates recently and provided them with a list of desired suppliers. Connectivity will not be a problem – they can even use GPRS to log in,” he said.

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