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Bengal: IT in bad shape

West Bengal cuts a sorry figure on the web. The state?s election website compares very poorly with that of all other states in the country.
PTI | By Jaideep Mazumdar, Kolkata
UPDATED ON APR 27, 2004 08:35 PM IST

For a state that dreams of transforming itself into an IT hub, West Bengal cuts a sorry figure on the web. Fraught with errors, the state’s election website compares very poorly with that of all other states in the country.

The website of the state chief electoral officer (www.ceowb.org), constructed by state government-employed systems engineers, lacks most of the features that figure in similar websites. The websites of all other states are interactive, list the complete electoral rolls, detail the model code of conduct, contain tips for voters, including an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section and explain the electoral system.

In contrast, the West Bengal CEO’s website contains little information and whatever is there can be viewed only in PDF format that’s supported only in computers that have the Acrobat Reader software. Most computers, especially the ones in internet parlours, don’t have this software.

West Bengal’s website says the sections on electoral system and ‘news & events’ is under construction. Go to a vital section on electors’ photo identity cards (EPIC) and the message in erroneous English reads: “At present, no EPIC programme is running on. Please watch on this page for detail programme in future”. The same page on the websites of the CEOs of all other states list details of photo identity cards issued, including the names and addresses of those who have been issued such cards.

Many states, even Arunachal Pradesh, have a toll free number listed for the convenience of voters. Their websites allow for online registration of complains on violation of the model code of conduct by parties and candidates. Voters can submit online requests for inclusion of their names on the electoral rolls and can even register their objections on inclusion of names of other voters. The West Bengal CEO’s website provides no such facilities.

The reason, perhaps, is because while the National Informatics Centre designed the websites of most other states, software engineers and web designers on the rolls of the West Bengal government did the same here. In the websites of the other states, affidavits filed by candidates have been scanned and loaded while here, there is no such link. The vital electoral statistics section of this state’s site takes a visitor directly to the Election Commission’s website while all other states have their own pages detailing the constituency-wise breakup of voters, past voting trends, results of at the last two general and last three Assembly polls and even election analyses.

Leave aside IT-savvy states like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, even Arunachal Pradesh’s website is far better that Bengal’s. Bihar’s website is highly interactive and provides a forum where voters can register themselves for free and interact with each other, exchange views and post queries and complaints to the CEO. Jharkhand’s website has a guest book while that of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Sikkim, all the northeastern states and many others have a helpline, exhaustive FAQs and a complete guide on how to operate electronic voting machines. The state website does not have any of these.

Not that the people behind Bengal’s website are bothered. “Our website is good and is updated everyday. We’ll have all the required features very soon, but we can’t help if a computer does not have the acrobat reader software. That’s a must if most of the information on our site is to be viewed or downloaded,” said Ashis Kumar Chakraborty, the Systems Manager in the CEO’s office and the man behind the website. He, however, has not visited the websites launched by other states to know what they offer. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

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