Babus can`t use e-mail of external service provider: Centre
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Last Updated: Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 22:24
  
New Delhi: Government employees will be given e-mail accounts for "mandatory" use in official communications and use of internet services of "external service providers" will be prohibited, the Centre has told the Delhi High Court.

The Department of Electronics and Information Technology, which has repeatedly been rapped by the High Court for not coming out with the e-mail policy for government officials, has filed an affidavit saying the Committee of Secretaries (CoS) has met recently and undertaken a wider consultation process among stake-holders in the country.

"The E-mail Policy of the Government of India lays down the guidelines with respect to use of email services. As per the proposed policies, e-mail accounts will be given to all the employees of the Government and it will be mandatory for them to use this e-mail account for all official communications.

"The use of e-mail accounts of external service providers will be prohibited for official communication. The objective of this policy is to ensure secure access and usage of data by the Government employees," the affidavit said.

A bench, headed by acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed, is likely to consider the reply of the IT department tomorrow when it will hear the PIL of former BJP leader K N Govindacharya seeking directions on a host of issues relating to websites.

The affidavit also said the consultation process undertaken by the CoS included "policy issues, ways and means of implementation of policies, enhancement of infrastructure and other related issues."

"Since both the policies have to be implemented across the country, approval of such policies have to be at the level whose decisions are binding on such matters across the country. The competent authority for consideration of policies which are applicable across the ministries and states is the CoS headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

"Depending upon the sensitivity and importance of the policies and recommendations of CoS, decisions of the CoS are further processed for approval by the Cabinet," it said.

Earlier, the court had come down heavily on the Centre for not framing the e-mail policy for government employees in consonance with the Public Records Act, saying all sensitive official data cannot be transferred to a server outside India.

Besides the e-mail policy, the Centre is also in the process of laying down guidelines for use of all information and technology resources, the affidavit said.

"'Policy on Acceptable Use of IT Resources of Government of India' lays down the guidelines with respect to use of all Information Technology resources. This would apply to all IT resources, owned or leased by Government of India, and services accessible on or through them.

"The objective of this policy is to ensure proper access and usage of Government of India's IT resources by all its users and protect the Information and Communications Technology infrastructure of the Government from any misuse," it said.

It also said a similar practice is being followed in several countries like Singapore, the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Ecuador, Sweden and the UAE.

Meanwhile, the Service Tax department also filed its response today to the issues raised by Govindacharya in the PIL.

The Service tax rules are applicable to Facebook India and Google India, the affidavit said.

"That Respondent No. 3 (Google) is registered with the Office of the Commissioner of Service Tax, New Delhi, for providing various taxable services and is paying Service tax on a regular basis....," it said.

"The field formulations of Central Board of Excise and Customs, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance have already initiated enquiries against M/s Google India Pvt. Ltd. and others for detecting evasion, if any, of Service Tax and recovery thereof," it said.

The Income Tax departement, in its separate response, has told the High Court that the incomes of Facebook India and Google India are subject to Indian tax regime and their foreign counterparts did not fall under the Indian taxaiton net.

"It is pertinent to mention that the private respondent nos. 2 and 3 (Facebook India and Google India respectively) are residents of India and their income is subject to taxation in accordance with the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

"Private Respondent Nos. 9 and 10 (Google Inc and Facebook Inc) are foreign companies which are not residents of India and only that income of these respondents which is taxable in accordance with the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961 and the India-USA Double Avoidance Agreement will be taxable in India....," the affidavit said.

The PIL has raised various issues includng use of e-mail services, provided by offshore providers, by government officials for official purposes.

The websites evade taxes and make public the personal details of Indian users, it said, adding even minors below 13 years of age are being allowed to use Facebook due to lack of proper mechanism.

Govindacharya, in the PIL, also said, the government officials usually use Gmail accounts, whose servers are outside India, and transfer the official data through them which is violative of the Public Records Act.

The plea, filed through counsel Virag Gupta, has also sought a direction to ensure safety of the data of 50 million Indian users which was transferred "to the US and is being used for commercial gains in violation of the right to privacy."

Earlier, US-based Google Inc, in its reply, said it is not liable to pay any taxes in India for its internet activities as it is not providing any taxable services or earning income from here nor does it have a permanent establishment in the country.

On August 23, 2013, the court had directed Facebook and Google to display on their websites the name and contact details of grievance officers to deal with complaints and had observed "they cannot flout the law just because they are a foreign company".

PTI

First Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 22:24


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