Basic tools are functional requirements, and there is no additional recruitment for social media unit, say officials.

With the Planning Commission reportedly raising objections to the expenses being incurred by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on social media activities, and its decision to set up a social media cell, ministry officials have sought to counter the Commission’s concerns.

They have rejected the perception of the budget being “excessive,” argued that basic technological tools are functional requirements, and denied that there has been any additional recruitment for the social media unit.

The ministry was allotted Rs. 22.50 crore in the 12th Five Year Plan for social media tasks, which comes to less than Rs. 5 crore a year. An official source told The Hindu : “We need resources for the bare minimum tools for venturing into the social media space. You need a dedicated Internet line with high speed, a lease line for live-streaming. If you want to develop a mobile application for Apple products, you need a Mac.”

A large part of the budget, the official who works on social media said, would go towards software services, branding, and adopting tools for social media monitoring. “We are on Twitter. When we tweet, then there are models to analyse the reach of the tweet, who is mentioning it. We are developing customer-relationship manager software, where suggestions, feedback and complaints can be segregated, for effective response management. The whole exercise would be in vain if we don’t adopt the best tools and infrastructure.”

He added that the ministry also planned to outsource to agencies the task of content creation, including infographics and special videos, for multiple platforms. This would also be covered in the budget.

Rejecting the perception that the budget involved handing out the latest tabs and laptops to all senior ministry functionaries, the official said “only four-five people” involved in the social media activities, “feeding real-time information” would have tabs. “This is a functional requirement now.”

The Planning Commission had also rebuked the ministry for diverting the budget from an outreach programme for rural areas. Another senior official, however, said the ministry had only engaged in prudent financial planning. “There was a high-level review of the capacity of media units to deliver. Based on the past record, there was an assessment of where money had to be surrendered and non-utilisation of funds. Deadwood and inefficiencies have been eliminated.”

The Commission had also asked why a separate unit was set up in the ministry, independent of the Press Information Bureau. The ministry, however, says this falls under its mandate, and it is officers of the Indian Information Service who are part of the cell. “We are not making any additional recruitment or appointments. No special posts are being created.”

On the value addition being provided by them, when other ministries have their own social media cells, the official said: “… we are on all platforms with high following. We are not duplicating the domain strength of other ministries. We are providing a model for anyone who would like to collaborate with us.”

In the past six months, with the perception that the Opposition parties and dissent movements had an edge in new media, the government has aggressively taken to social media. Its recent Bharat Nirman campaign was integrated into these platforms.