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Digital sabotage of ministerial identity: Open letter to the three ministers of Jal Shakti

A screenshot of the Ministry of Jal Shakti website
By Mansee Bal Bhargava* 
Dear Honourable Ministers of Jal Shakti, Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Shri Prahlad Singh Patel, Shri Bishweswar Tudu,
Greetings of the Day! This letter is to express my concerns and ideas on the digital platform of the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, in other words, the pictorial representation on the homepage of the website, which must give the due importance to the Ministry’s actions and achievements more than anything else.
The background of this letter is linked to my teaching-learning of water governance with students from various disciplines across India. As part of the course, often students are given assignment to look through the websites of the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, and allied websites to share their observations. Well, students usually do not return with their observations.
Anyway, I did a quick review of the website to update myself on the happenings of the Ministry. As a governance scholar with a design background who is engaging with the students regularly, it is important to express my concerns and ideas on the three websites of the Ministry of Jal Shakti that I surfed thoroughly: National Water Mission, Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, and Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation.
There are several observations that need elaboration like from the pages not opening/working such as, the National Water Mission Internship Scheme 2021 that appears first in the list of what’s new the who’s who for information on the office bearers in the ‘About Us’ section; to the total absence of all the ongoing projects details and almost no hope for a page on grants for water related research/studies to understand where is the Ministry putting its thrust & funds. Then there are pages of information without a date, a Government of India logo and signature of the deemed authority making the validation of the document weak.
Further, the weak representation of the women and youth in spirit and in documents is concerning. Then, the urge to find some robust statistical documents of the present water use, misuse and abuse and the related policy-programme plans is also unavailable.
The poor representation of the other forms of water bodies like wetlands, lakes, ponds, mangroves, swamps, marshlands, drainage channels, besides the other rivers, the two seas and the ocean are very much noticeable and concerning. This may be because they are discussed on the website of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) however, linking the shared information may be helpful for the readers.
In a polycentric (multi actor-level-scale-strategy) water governance, we learn that the policies, programmes, plans, funding are interlinked between multiple organisations and ministries, and therefore those must be least represented in the website contents for readers/researchers to know the interrelations before even understanding them.
Like, the Public Grievances section in the Citizens' Charter takes us to the homepage of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, the three websites of the Ministry may also link the contents with the other crucial Ministries websites such as, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA); the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC); Central Ground Water Board (CGWB); and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB); besides, the website of the Prime Minister as the pictures of the PM seems to be more dominant than the water matters.
Then, the Covid information that are appearing in the websites also calls for linking the three websites of the Ministry with the website of the Ministry of Ayush. Well, the Ministry of Ayush home page pictures and info are all geared towards corona info with a stress on Ayurved and not much on Allopathy (surprisingly!). There is absolutely no information on water except washing hands with soap, rightfully so. In that perspective, the corona information must not dominate the websites of the Ministry of Jal Shakti.
Website design is indeed a special work of art besides science and technology. So, the layout of the website speaks volumes about the perception and preference of the Ministry. In the world of digital India and the race we are in, it matters what is shown on a Homepage of a Website. Since graphics/pictures capture people’s imagination must faster than words.
There is poor representation of wetlands, lakes, ponds, mangroves, swamps, marshlands, drainage channels, rivers, two seas and the ocean
The web-designers are very much aware of this fact that they have to capture the eyeballs in first few seconds. Then it is more crucial what is shown to see, mis/interpret, understand out the pages. Let me take the simple homepage pictures to make a simple observation as a lay person since these websites are meant to be user friendly and reaching the last mile with pertinent information.
First, the six pictures of the National Water Mission home page (surfed on October 26, 2021) must be on what the Ministry does with additional representation of where, when and how it does. For example, the Catch the Rain, national water mission events require representation of catching the rain from buildings into the water tanks or flowing it into the water bodies. By all means, we also now need to come to terms with catching the rain by cleaning the drains.
Compiled homepage images: nwm.gov.in
We cannot live any more in a state of denial about the drains when many rivers themselves have got converted into drains in the process of urban development. Still drains spatial coverage is tremendous and they need to be promoted by the Ministry for achieving the nation’s water missions. By the way, the nation’s water mission is also sought as a document in the website which is non-existent.
Besides, the pictures of the multiple events are starving for a balanced gender and age representation. There are merely three women and three youth visible in the pictures among the innumerable men. Then the picture on ‘Nahi Jal, to Nahi Fasal. Kam Jal le, Vo Sahi Fasal’, also starves for farmers representation. It looks here that it is All Elite Men’s Game.
Second and similarly, the six pictures of the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, home page (surfed on October 26, 2021) seems to be sabotaged by the updates of the COVID and the Prime Minister from checking our nearest vaccination to latest updates on the virus information and from PM’s Mann ki Baat to Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. We really do not require Mann ki Baat to Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav in the home page of Water Ministry.
The other two pictures present are of the Old Ganga Ghats of Varanasi and the large Almatti Dam. They are more intimidating in nature rather than showcasing inclusiveness. While one (ghat) is sabotaging the emotional-spiritual mindspace, the other (dam) is becoming a bone of contention to debate flowing-unpolluting river (like Aviral-Nirmal Ganga) as well as allied flood-drought distresses.
Compiled homepage images: jalshakti-dowr.gov.in
Nonetheless, these two pictures at the least represent what the Ministry does though missing on the additional representation of where, when and how it does. Definitely, the home page could have been used to showcase other forms of water resources like the, Ramsar Wetlands of the country and the lakes undertaken through National Lake Conservation Plan (now National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems, NPCA) of the MoEFCC.
The last website reviewed is of the Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation. The eight pictures of the department homepage (surfed on 26th Oct’21) fairs better than the previous two. Although the sabotage by the updates of the Prime Minister’s activities from the Mann ki Baat to the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav is evident here too, the representation of Jal Jeevan Mission App and the Dialogues with Pani Samiti (Samvad) are pertinent to the department activities.
Then the Startup Grand Challenge on Solid and Liquid Waste Management is certainly a welcome inclusion in the homepage. Though I could not succeed in proceeding further in the three pages because the click was bringing me back to the homepage, a benefit of doubt is given to the pages that those are functional. 
It is important to ask the presence of the picture of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav in here unless it showcases India’s water management targets to achieve by the 75 years of Independence. Instead, the picture is a mere representation of the forthcoming celebrations (rightfully so) but how water plays its part is missed out.
Compiled homepage images: jalshakti-ddws.gov.in

What is noticeable and appreciating in this homepage is that there is women representation. I wish that representation is also increased to the provision side than the receiving side only, with inclusion of more women leaders and office bearers in the Ministry itself, that too beyond the clerical-cleaning-compering positions. Further, the rural/poor women shown in the beneficiary side than the urban/rich or leadership women also reflects the implicit patriarchy in the society and among the web designers.
So, does it matter what is shown on a homepage of a website of the Ministry of Jal Shakti (or any Ministry for that matter)? Why? Who is the usual reader/looker/user of such sophisticated and complicated websites? Yes it matters and I shall conclude with providing the example of the website of the Prime Minister’s homepage.
On the website of the Prime Minister’s homepage, one finds only Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pictures whether in photos or in videos and rightfully so. Interestingly (read ironically), the larger-than-life pictures of PM-NM even managed to sabotage the Indian flag and the national emblem pictures and the previous Prime Ministers. More Ironic is that there is nowhere an India Map on the homepage. There is certainly no information (I repeat, no information) on other ministries including that of Ministry of Water.
Homepage of PM’s website
Then a pertinent question is why should the homepage of the Ministry of Jal Shakti be sabotaged with other matters than water? The Water Ministry’s page must simply focus on the Water matters. On the one hand, government websites are spaces where government must present its actions, achievements, and acknowledgements.
On the other hand, it is a medium to assess and seek accountability of the government by the citizens besides a platform to learn the functioning of the government as scholars and students. While laypersons may just not look at these websites, but considering that students, researchers, policymakers, consultants, politicians, do look at them, the visual impact is way too powerful to leave an impact on one’s cognizance.
A last example that popped up is the picture of the festive season to go vocal for local now on the home page of the Ministry of Jal Shakti, which is inappropriate and against the water ethics besides, the sad reality of a country that has half the population below poverty and sleeping hungry, this kind of promotion is insensitive. 
Then, amidst the rising unemployment and falling GDP, even the middle class will not find it sensible. And if looked from water perspective, the promotion does not take into account the gruesome rise in the water footprint of India due to consumerism and the urgent need to conserve water.
Such information is misleading for the citizens especially the students whom I ask to surf the Ministries’ websites and ask to be more responsible citizens with minimal consumption. If we are talking about water conservation and catching the rain, then a leader must talk about Responsible (equivalent to reduction now) Consumption and Production which is also the Sustainable Development Goals number 12 and the mother of all SDGs, if I may say so and where India is yet to start working.
With this letter, I am sending a message of caution to be careful on what should be promoted and what needs to be preserved. Web designers and decision makers know the importance of pictorials and how first few seconds matter to impact the mindscape of the readers who are citizens here. I hope leading the Jal Shakti Ministries affairs, three of you will take a cognizance of the matters raised here and take necessary corrective measures. 
Thanks and regards, Mansee
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher educator, water enthusiast, governance scholar, and keen political observer. Click here for more about Mansee

Comments

mansee bb said…
i missed mention of sanitation pictures in the website of Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation.mansee
Anonymous said…
high time someone pointed out the sheer notoriety in using public spaces- yes a government website is a public property - for baseless and I'll informed propaganda. and as the author points out at a time of certain distress amongst the citizen.The website interface lacks imagination and credence at every step.

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