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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Central employees attendance can be monitored by public also

Not only is Big Brother watching the pen pushers, even the public can now keep a tab on them through a web portal, attendance.gov.in.

It tells you which babus reported for work on any given day, how punctually they arrived, if some of them left midway and where. It even provides a graph on each employee’s attendance trends to reveal how often he tends to take leave.

The portal went live quietly on September 30, covering 50,233 employees across 149 offices in Delhi. The idea is to enrol the capital’s one lakh-odd central government employees on the scheme before bringing the rest of the country under it, a senior official said.

A senior official at the National Informatics Centre, the agency for e-government initiatives, said the idea had come personally from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July. The source insisted that there had been “no complaints” from the babus about the scheme being intrusive.

At 6.45pm today, the attendance dashboard on the portal showed a figure of 26,951, which means less than 54 per cent of those enrolled had turned up to work.

The system is based on the Aadhaar biometric identity card, launched by the previous government, that now covers 68 crore people.

Every employee who has such a card has to enter the last six or first six digits of his Aadhaar number into a device at the entrance to his office, and then undergo an iris and fingerprint scan. Senior civil servants can do it without queuing, using devices attached to their workstations.

The process is repeated while leaving. If a babu goes to some other government office on an assignment during work hours, his arrival and departure is marked there too.

The National Informatics Centre source said the idea was not just to improve punctuality but to “weed out ghost employees and proxy attendance and instil a sense of equality among staff”.
Not everyone is happy.

“I can’t understand how the number of leaves I take is a matter of public interest,” said a senior bureaucrat who didn’t want to be named.
Another bureaucrat pointed out loopholes. One, if an employee wants to slip out for a while, there’s no way of ensuring that he records his departure in the machine at the gate.

Two, as a bureaucrat said: “If I have a meeting with the home secretary and go to North Block, everyone will know I was there but can anyone guarantee that I actually met him? So, how can this guarantee better output?”

He regretted the “move to have control over the bureaucracy” through a “weird public display at an increasing cost of governance, with expensive biometric devices and what not”.

Once the portal receives cabinet approval and is formally launched, all central government employees will have to register themselves with it. Those who lack an Aadhaar card will have to get their biometrics done.

As of now, the Prime Minister’s Office is not enrolled, though sources said it had approached the National Informatics Centre to get registered with the portal.
Neither cabinet secretary Ajit Seth nor foreign secretary Sujatha Singh is registered yet. The highest number of enrolments is from the Planning Commission, which is on its way to extinction.

The nine-day-old online register shows that home secretary Anil Goswami has not visited his North Block office the past four days.

Suhaib Ilyasi, editor of Bureaucracy Today — a magazine for and about the country’s bureaucrats — said the response had been positive.

“People like it even though they have to be punctual,” he said. “There is no sense of intrusion.”

But a bureaucrat asked why the scheme didn’t cover the ministers.
“Politicians, who call themselves public servants, have kept themselves out. If attendance is so important to this government, why have half the cabinet ministers skipped work to go camping in poll-bound states?” he said.

It isn’t clear whether Modi would be enrolled.

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