Friday, June 01, 2007

InfoChange India News & Features development news on Right to Information in India

Right to info soon to be available online

Bringing information closer to the public and extending the scope of e-governance, the Chief Information Commission proposes to accept applications for information online, and put all information that comes under the purview of the RTI Act online

The landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, is all set to take its next big step -- it will now be accessible on the Internet. Soon, applications for information under the Act can be made by email, and all government information that comes under the purview of the Act will be put up on the worldwide web.

The Central Information Commission, the nodal agency for administering the RTI Act, will ask all government departments to begin accepting applications for information from citizens via email.

Applications can be sent in by email and the fee of Rs 10 sent through postal order whose number will be in the email. First and second appeals can be sent in scanned, via email, said Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. He added that instructions would be sent out to all departments in a few days. “These are only recommendatory instructions, but departments usually follow them.”

The plan to completely computerise the government’s information was devised jointly by Habibullah and officials of the National Informatics Centre. It was sent to the prime minister last month for his approval. It has also been proposed that government-related information of any kind that can be shared with citizens -- possibly tens of millions of pages -- be put up on the Net.

If these proposals are accepted, citizens can look forward to seeking information from the government from their homes, and paying for the service online through their credit cards. “We may also have facilities for online payments later, though it is not being planned right now.” Besides improving ease in access, the idea is also to make the process of providing information less unwieldy.

In January this year, Bihar took the lead in launching a similar innovation in the filing of RTI applications -– citizens can make a phone call to a call centre where they can put in their request for information under the Act. The fee will be added to their telephone bill.

The Right to Information Act, implemented in 2005, enables all citizens to seek any information from the government, with some restrictions on information related to national security and privacy concerns. But while the Act has been widely praised for increasing transparency in governance, its implementation has been tedious.

“The process of filing an RTI application is very cumbersome. People don’t understand governance, they do not know which department handles what -- or how to deposit money, and in whose name,” says RTI campaigner Arvind Kejriwal.

Source: Hindustan Times, May 24, 2007, May 24, 2007

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