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Technology signs out tradition in Himachal assembly, saves money

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  23 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT

Shimla, March 22: Technology has literally signed out the tradition of desk-thumping in the Himachal Pradesh assembly. And the environment-friendly paperless process helps save approximately Rs.15 crore ($2.5 million) per year. During the month-long budget session that began on March 11, the not-so tech-savvy members were seen busy in tapping their fingers on their desktop computers. In the process, they were hardly left with time to thump their desks if the situation warranted. Governor Kalyan Singh, in his iugural address, said the digitalisation of the assembly proceedings, which ensures paperless work of the house and its committees, would not only save approximately Rs.15 crore but also the environment.

The Rs.8.12-crore e-Vidhan Sabha project, commissioned in the last monsoon session, was funded by the union communications and information technology ministry. The web-based paperless assembly is the country’s first such project. In his 18th budget speech, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who is at the helm for the sixth time, said the e-Vidhan system, launched on August 4 last year, helped save a huge quantity of paper. He said the initiative has been lauded all over the country. But the assembly this time is different from what it used to be in the absence of loud thumping of the desks, a tradition to acknowledge achievements and new announcements.

When the chief minister was announcing schemes and incentives in his budget speech on March 18, the members were busy in scrolling down to see the entire text of the speech. In the process, the ruling party members, who were in full attendance, missed thumping their benches most of the time. But the web-based technology has also thrown up its own set of teething problems. BJP member Randhir Sharma pointed out to Speaker B.B.L. Butail during Question Hour on March 19 that there was a huge difference in the printout of a reply and in the figures showing up on his desktop. “The printout shows Rs.71,309.43 lakh sanctioned by the central government for 15 educatiol schemes, while the desktop showes Rs.55,891.40 lakh for these projects. Which is the right reply?” he asked the chief minister. Later, Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal intervened and asked: “Is it a mistake?”

At this, Speaker Butail, the man behind commissioning of the project, got irritated and retorted: “It could be an error, rectify it.” But the chief minister clarified that the figure in the printout was correct. Official sources said even during the budget speech there was a lot of confusion because the members initially didn’t have access to the address. When some of them protested, the speech was provided to all the 68 members.

The newly tech-savvy legislators and the jourlists covering the proceedings are still getting a bunch of papers with replies to questions, an assembly official said. Butail said that from the next session all replies to questions would only be provided online. He said in this session, for the first time, all copies of bills and reports were laid online. “Only printouts of starred and unstarred questions are being provided to the MLAs, staffers and jourlists in the house,” Butail told IANS. The speaker said publication of official documents like annual reports of government departments, boards and corporations and assembly committees have been drastically reduced. “We are getting just three-four copies of these reports published in place of the earlier practice of publishing over 100 copies each,” he added. Officials said some legislators are still finding it difficult to follow the paperless system despite assisance by information technology experts during the session. They included 85-year-old Irrigation and Public Health Minister Vidya Stokes, Power Minister Sujan Singh Pathania and Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri. Even Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 81, preferred to give replies and to conduct business in the old-fashioned way. BJP leader and two-time chief minister Dhumal was among those seen trying their hand on the desktops when the session was in progress. Over time, it is expected to be smooth sailing all the way. (IANS)

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