Lahore offline

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

The city home to top software houses is without an official website for years http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/feb2011-weekly/nos-27-02-2011/she.htm#1

Lahore, undoubtedly one of the most sought-after travel destinations in Pakistan, is widely searched on internet by millions of people all over the world. The inquisitive web searchers are mostly interested in knowing about any upcoming public events in the city, details of historic places, cultural and tourism scene, shopping opportunities and, in case of locals, the district government’s service delivery mechanism.

But quite unfortunately, the situation is that the official website of the City District Government Lahore (CDGL) is dysfunctional for many years. The website, which once was there, was hosted on the orders of Lahore former nazim Mian Amir Mehmood, and carried comprehensive contact details of elected representatives as well as officials serving the district.

This was in addition to the availability of brief history of the city, a press clippings section, UC-wise profile map and some downloadable forms like those needed for issuance of domicile.

Though static in format with no option at all for two-way communication, the past at least had a symbolic presence in the cyber world, says Asif Bhatti, a website developer based in Lahore. He tells TNS that the things have got bad from worse as there is no credible website on the city that can provide authentic information to visitors.

The website’s address was lahore.gov.pk which according to the CDGL sources has now been changed to lahorecity.gov.pk and printed on official stationery as well. Asif says when one types any one of the addresses what appears is the message that the webpage is not available. “God knows what stops the government from making its website functional. Money should not be an issue as I think the amount spent on the salary of one grade 17 official and his perks and privileges is enough to run it,” says Asif.

Shahid Kamran, an web developer who serves clients abroad, says it’s quite an irony that Lahore, which is the software industry hub of Pakistan, does not have an authentic website of its own. He suggests the government must outsource the maintenance of its website if it’s hard for it to perform the function. This will save huge costs incurred on the running of the IT wing of CDGL and the employees can be adjusted in some other section.

Shahid says the assertion that Lahore is a widely searched keyword on search engines is backed by the results shown by Google trends service. He says the results show the web queries about the city have trebled over the last four or five years. The same results, he says, show the highest number of searches have been from Pakistan followed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, United States, Germany and France.

When talking in terms of cities, Lahore tops and is followed by Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Delhi, Toronto and London. The Google trends service has also revealed that the highest number of searches about Lahore have been in English. German and French are two other languages in which most of the searches have been made, he says adding this service is similar to the one which put Pakistanis on top in searching for the word “sex” some time back.

When contacted for comments, a CDGL official tells TNS the website became a victim of neglect after the departure of Mian Amir and suspension of local bodies’ system. He says there is an IT wing in CDGL and every other day they are told the website will be functional soon but no one gives an absolute date.

He says the sitting Lahore DCO Ahad Cheema has made repeated announcements, even in the media, about the likely launch of the website but never gave a deadline. On the contrary, he says, the CDGL has succeeded in achieving the much tougher task of acquiring the software for online transfer of land ownerships and training the relevant staff, he adds. This is enough proof that public interest comes much after the commercial for CDGL which is eyeing land transfer fees and service fees, the official adds.

Normally, whenever the government fails to deliver, the private sector steps in to fill the void. But in this particular case the situation is not the same. There are non-official websites like lahore.com, lahorecity.com and lahorebazaar.com but the data is sketchy and sometimes even contradictory.

Citing an example, Adeel Butt, an avid web server says the website lahorecity.com has a lot of relevant information on it but in addition to that there’s stuff not related to the city at all. For example, he says there’s no need to give links like ‘Arab Singers and Models’, ‘Beautiful Pakistani Girls’, ‘Bollywood Wallpapers’ etc. Adeel says he’s not against the freedom available to website developers but believes the domain name lahorecity.com qualifies for much more relevant stuff.

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