Use of Information Technology for better implementation of RTI Act: Supreme Court asks States and Union Territories to decide in Three weeks

Use of Information Technology for better implementation of RTI Act: Supreme Court asks States and Union Territories to decide in Three weeks

A Supreme Court bench comprising of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice A.K. Sikri has urged the States and Union Territories to take a decision regarding setting up of a mechanism for use of Information Technology in regulation of Right to Information Act.

Disposing of a PIL filed by Madhya Pradesh-based lawyer Rajeev Agrawal in his personal capacity, the bench said the plea be treated as a representation by the states and Union Territories and a decision be taken within three weeks. The petitioner, Rajeev Agrawal is a graduate from Campus Law Center, University of Delhi and a Member of the Supreme Court Bar Association. He has filed number of RTI’s in various Government Departments on a variety of subjects.

The petition demanded a direction to the States and Union Territories to take urgent steps to ensure filing of RTI applications, appeals and complaints through electronic mode including through Websites and through Call Centres as voice facilitation Centres for filing RTI applications, appeals and complaints. Read the LiveLaw story here.

The petition says, “It is also said that information and knowledge are critical for realizing all human aspirations such as improvement in the quality of life. Lack of transparency acts as a barrier which prevents the masses not only from actively participating in the Governmental functioning, but also from raising questions. Non-transparency also promotes and disguises official graft and favoritism.

It’s here that e-governance can play an essential role in bringing the governmental policy and processes to light. And to ensure e-governance, the factor of accessibility must also be taken care of. For example, official corruption can be reduced by creating an online monitoring system to track each application, whereby official could be identified and held personally accountable for any action or inaction at any stage.”

The major impediments of implementation of such provisions, as highlighted in the petition are locating designating officials, inconvenient submission channels for RTI application, absence of PIOs, inconvenient options for collection of Fees Payment Channels, inordinate delay in transfer of application under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, non-availability and inaccessibility of proactively disclosed information and limited use of Information Technology.

The websites that are in fact currently implementing the RTI Act in the true spirit are Central Information Commission Online and https://www.rtionline.gov.in/. Bihar is one of the first states to accept right to information applications on phone to expand reach of Right to Information to the villages. Bihar Government established the ’Jankari’ call centre on 29 January 2007. The centre records the voices of the citizens over phone and drafts the application in the manner that can be put before the Public Information Officers in the Public Authorities.

Since a large chunk of rural population is unable to read and write, the call centre would prove a boon for them as it would virtually write application on behalf of the complainants. A sum of Rs 10 as fees (under the RTI provisions) would automatically be charged in the caller's telephone bill. The call centre's number is 155311.

Similar example of RTI call center exists in Bangalore which is maintained by Manjunath Trust. The number of this national help line in RTI: 080- 666- 00- 999 (toll free only in Bangalore, for rest of India, STD rates are charged). All the details of the information asked by a person are recorded immediately by the call center professionals.

Kerala State Information Commission has been conducting public hearings of 2nd Appeal at the district headquarters, so that citizens do not have to spend their resources for coming to the state capital.

The petitioner had made representations to State and Union Territories and also State Information Commission seeking as to whether the concerned authorities are providing the information or entertaining the applications through electronic means or not which is one of the requirements of section 6(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Also Section 4(1) (a) of the Act requires each public authority to maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and form that facilitates the right to information under the Act. The law requires that all records that are appropriate to be computerized should, within a reasonable time, be computerized and connected through a network so that access to such records is facilitated.

In most of the States, UT and State Information Commission there is no provision to receive the applications through electronic means as also no provision to accept the appeal in State Information Commission.