Coming soon: RTI call centre and web portal

Activists remain sceptical

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | May 18, 2012



After an in-principle agreement with the department of posts to launch e-Indian Postal Order for RTI payment which an RTI applicant living abroad will be an be easily able to purchased using their debit or credit cards the central government, now proposes to introduce an RTI call centre integrated with a web portal for seeking information from the central government authorities approximately 2000 in number across the country.

The call centre and web portal will provide information on RTI Act, filing RTI query and first appeal application, track application and first appeal status over the phone and web. The call centre will be integrated with the portal to ensure timely information flow to and fro between the call centre and portal application.

Anuradha Chagti, director, and First Appellate Authority, Department of Personnel & Training, Ministry of Personnel, PG& Pension, New Delhi said, "We have invited applications from implementing agencies but it is quite possible that we may not receive any application at all  till the deadline, July 10 2012."

Chagti said that the helpline will be specially beneficial for those appellants who do not know where to go and what to do, as they will be able to file their applications through the online helpline number which will be redirected to a separate no to pay their fees.

However, many activist remain sceptical. 

CJ Karaira of www.rtiindia.org, who helps people file RTI applications through his website, was sceptical. He said, “in Bihar people are complaining that the there is no response from the Jaankaari call centre or the person on other end does not understand their complaints. We are  talking of space when at the ground level we are still taking baby steps. The system will benefit only a small handful PIOs." Speaking of his own case -- he filed 18 second-appeals online from January 2010 to June 2010 after none of them came for hearing, he was told that the files had been lost. Later during October-November 2011 his complaints were reregistered with CIC. During January-November 2011 he filed seven new second-appeals. “This, when CIC receives far less applications compared to RTI queries.”

Recalling another instance he says after his appeal filed with CIC on 21-2-12 did not yield results he had to file another RTI plea to know its status which showed that it had only been registered on 14-5-12. “No one pays attention to details,” says Karira and adds, “One CIC told me his eyes start paining when he is working on screen and therefore he has cut work on screen.”

“While doing so the government did not apply brains as per section 6(1) of the RTI Act which says that the information has to be given in writing and there is no provision for a portal where digital signatures will be required,” he says .

“Over the years I have made a lot of noise but they are just not bothered,” Karira says.

Retired naval officer and RTI activist, Commodore Lokesh Batra from Noida, who has filed 500 RTIs till date says that though he still has to go through the full project report the move is a positive development and brings cheers to RTI fraternity.

Referring to DOPT’s proposal he says “at present there is no  provision of charging of fees for filing of first appeals. If in future, rules may change regarding charging of fees for first appeals  then such provision may need to be  made for filing of first appeals through the call center and portal.” Batra says, “It appears to be a veiled attempt by the government change RTI rules in future in terms of charging fees for first appeals."

Pointing out another grey area which says that where information is sought from more than two central public authorities  the application will be processed with regards to the part that concerns the public authority to which it is assigned  and the applicant shall be informed to make a separate application to other concerned public authority, Commodore Batra says, “is trying to tinker with section 6(3) of the  RTI Act.”

“As per the proposal, the call center and web portal will function 365 days, 24x7. Which means come Diwali or Holi , an applicant can file applications any day. It is a great leap forward and every state should implement it,” said Sunil Ahiya, a Mumbai-based RTI activist.

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