Bihar's RTI-query-through-phone scheme has been highly popular
Brajesh Kumar | February 1, 2010
Sivnath Saini, a law student from Hajipur in Vaisali district, 90 km from the Bihar capital, is furious. His university has not furnished his degree certificates and he wants to know why. He has dialled 155310, a dedicated telephone line launched by the state government for its residents to file Right To Information (RTI) applications.
Vandana, an executive at Jankari, the call centre started in January 2007, attends to the complaint.
“Aapne Jankari call centre par call kiya hai, Main aapki kya sahayata kar sakti hoon (You have dialled the Jankari call centre. How can I help you)?" she asks. As she listens to him, she simultaneously fills in the details on a prescribed form on her computer screen. She then forwards the application to the concerned department.
Located on the 13th floor of Biscoman Bhavan, near Gandhi Maidan in Patna, Jankari runs from a one-room office with six phone lines.
Sushanta, Vandana’s colleague is furiously punching keys on her keyboard, trying to catch up with another caller, Saheb Singh, from Sitamarhi. Singh, a student of class X, is upset with the Nitish Kumar government as he feels it is biased against upper castes. He wants to know from the government what it has done for the upper castes since it came to power four years ago.
These are just a couple of 100-odd calls that the executives at Jankari receive through the day.
Pramod Kumar Ranjan, manager of the centre, says phones have not stopped ringing since Jankari was launched three years ago. And the number of calls has grown steadily, from around 40 calls a day in 2007 to 80 by December 2009.
“Sometimes, we get as many as 200 calls a day,” says Ranjan.
So, while the centre received 6,820 calls in 2007, the number went up to 15,780 in 2008 and 24,682 in 2009.
Under this eGovernance initiative, all an RTI applicant is required to do is make a telephone call to file an RTI application. The applicant has to pay Rs.10 -- the same as one pays for filing an RTI application. The call has to be made on dedicated numbers (155310, 155311) through a BSNL connection. The call is handled by an executive who fills in the details on a prescribed RTI form, which is then forwarded to the concerned department. The applicant is also given a unique reference number to track the progress of the application.
Speaking to Governance Now on phone from Hajipur, Sivnath Saini, the caller from Hajipur, said he was using the facility regularly. "I have filed more than 50 applications through the Jankari call centre," he said. It has been of great help to poor who cannot travel to district offices to file an application, he added.
The second caller, Saheb Singh, said he had asked for information from the government on welfare schemes for the upper castes. “Now that I have sought details through Jankari, I am confident the government will respond,” he said.
While this model exists only in Bihar, its success has generated queries from other states. “Madhya Pradesh has shown interest in replicating the model and we have provided them with all the project details,” said Chanchal Kumar, personal secretary to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and one of the brains behind Jankari.
Jankari has won several national awards, including the Golden Icon and Manthan, for its novel concept of simplifying RTI applications.
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