Last week, I had reported that IPAB’s website was malfunctioning. It had been displaying untoward links that did not belong on a website run by the IPAB, or any other tribunal for that matter! My guess (based on gossip travelling around the grapevine) was that this was a successful hacking attempt, and nothing more. Indeed, this conclusion would sit well with current trends, with the there being at least 25 reported instances of successful hacking attempts of government websites only this year!
Alas, I was wrong! It turns out that the reason for IPAB website’s unbecoming behaviour was not a simple case of hacking, but a deliberate sale to a private party! Read on to get the full details on this story which involves an auction, a display of brazen disregard for rules by a statutory body, and, what I hope are signs of a happy ending!
The IPAB Website We Knew and Loved
IPAB revamped its website in 2016, serving as a portal for the latest orders passed by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board. However, for more than a while now, it has been malfunctioning. For a brief stint, it went completely offline. And when it resurfaced, it was displaying infelicitous links to PNR statuses of trains and not the content that we at SpicyIP are always craving!
Now, we have found that ownership of the IPAB website’s domain name (ipabindia.org) actually lies with a private party with a mailing address in Andhra Pradesh (further information has been redacted). In fact, the website was never owned by the IPAB itself, but rather, by the Deputy Registrars of the IPAB, in turn. Records reveal that it was finally auctioned to a private party on May 2, 2019, for a sum of $190.
So where does this leave us? Has the IPAB decided that it no longer requires a website? Not quite!
The IPAB Website We Deserve
Our Government realised that in the age of technology, there needed to be uniformity and a minimum standard of quality prescribed for all government websites. To this end, a document titled Guidelines for Indian Government Websites (GIGW) was released in 2009. As the years went by, a need was felt to update these guidelines, and so, in February 2018, we had the second, updated version of these guidelines (GIGW 2.0). They form a part of the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedures issued by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pensions (Government of India).
GIGW 2.0 prescribes measures that can be divided into 3 categories: mandatory, advisory and voluntary. The consequences of this classification are best explained in the FAQ section of a government website:
Mandatory: The usage of the term ‘MUST’ signifies requirements which can be objectively assessed and which the Departments are supposed to mandatorily comply with.
Advisory: The usage of the term ‘should’ refers to recommended practices or advisories that are considered highly important and desirable but for their wide scope and a degree of subjectivity these guidelines would have otherwise qualified to be mandatory.
Voluntary: The usage of the term ‘may’ refers to voluntary practice, which can be adopted by a Department if deemed suitable.
Thus, these guidelines do create mandatory requirements that any government website must meet. Now, under Part 2.2 of GIGW 2.0, there is a mandatory obligation for government websites to possess the secondary domain name ‘gov’. That is, all government websites must end in ‘gov.in’. GIGW, the predecessor of GIGW 2.0, had a similar requirement, with the additional option to end with ‘nic.in’ (also under Part 2.2). It is clear then that IPAB, which qualifies as a body that requires a government website, has flouted the rules of GIGW and GIGW 2.0 for the past 3 years since ipabindia.org meets neither has a ‘nic’ nor ‘gov’ in it.
Other tribunals, such as the National Green Tribunal or Income Tax Appellate Tribunal have websites that meet these criteria. NCLAT, however, is still stuck with a nic.in website, and should be changing it soon.
Signs of a Happy Ending, Coming Soon?
All does not seem bleak, however. Preliminary research suggests that the IPAB may well be on its way to rectify its earlier errors and obtain a domain name ending in gov.in. The search engine on the government registry’s website reveals that the domain name ‘ipab.gov.in’ is currently unavailable, with the IPAB being the registrant organisation. Further, a domain name can only be auctioned away voluntarily, which may indicate that the auction of ‘ipabindia.org’ was a deliberate move to bring IPAB’s website within the confines of GIGW 2.0. One can only hope that this will materialise in the near future.
But would this mean that all problems solved? Perhaps not. The owner of the domain name ‘ipabindia.org’ now has the ability to create email addresses such as [email protected], along with the legitimacy that IPAB has granted that domain name by using it for 3 years. This leaves the door open for potential misuse in the future.
PS: It is perhaps fitting that, in all of this mess, a government website suggests that the domain name of IPAB’s current website is actually ipabindia.in (and not ipabindia.org). This domain name is also owned by the IPAB.
H/T: Huge thanks to Kumar Panda for providing invaluable leads in this sleuthing exercise.
[Update: The blog initially suggested that the IPAB website was launched in 2016. This has now been correct. IPAB launched its website in 2004, which was hosted on a different domain (ipab.tn.nic.in). The use of this blog to advocate for transparency and access to information is well documented on this blog (see here, here, here and here). The current blackout of the IPAB website is not a mere glitch, but takes us back to the time when orders and information from the IPAB was not freely accessible. One can only hope that the problems at IPAB are resolved soon!]
Image from here.