Finance Ministry blocks non-govt sites, but what’s the point?

Government authorities, in all their wisdom, have decided to block non-government websites for Finance Ministry officials of the rank of director and below, following leaks of confidential documents related to foreign investment proposals. 

As reported in these pages today morning, that means that except websites under the domain of .gov,.in or, junior officers will not be able to access anything else on their work desktops, be it personal mail, social media websites, or even news and research portals. Officials with ranks of joint secretary and above are not subject to any such internet restrictions though.

While it is not yet known who issued the ban – whether it is the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is investigating the leaks and has made a number of arrests, or the Finance Ministry itself which has issued the ban (although the message on the officials’browsers does say ‘Blocked by Ministry of Finance) – the move does not seem well thought out and may well be ineffective and counter-productive.

Ineffective because, in this day and age, everyone, from the directors right down to section officers and personal assistants are likely to own a smartphone and laptops or home desktops. If anyone has an intention of passing on government documents to unauthorized personnel online or offline, it can be done outside of work. Blocking sites at work will achieve nothing.

Counter-productive because, and this is an important argument, government websites are the last place one should look for information. Whatever Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcements about the government’s increased footprint on digital platforms may be, the fact remains that information on most of these sites are hopelessly outdated.

The junior officers, which includes directors, deputy directors, deputy secretaries, under secretaries and joint directors, among others, are responsible for authoring most of the government documents and files. They do the painful research and background data work for these documents using various tools which may include several websites on the world wide web. 

As a very insightful analysis by a colleague pointed out (Read here), even if most central government websites are up-to-date, state government portals are in a bad shape indeed. Most of the states don’t even have latest basic information about their economic and social indicators. For example, certain portions of the Bihar government website has data from the 1991 census. A page on technical education on the West Bengal portal was last updated 13 years ago.

Even in some central government websites, the data is outdated by two years. In such a situation, officials usually depend on private news and data portals because the facts and figures they carry are much more relevant. I mean you can’t prepare a document on ‘x’ state’s infant mortality figures if the ‘x’ state’s own numbers are outdated and the private portals which have the updated data, are blocked.