Success Story of Online RTI at Municipal Corporation of Delhi
Last week, I had written about how Indians living abroad are finding it difficult to file RTI applications to various government departments back in their home country, thanks to red tapism. I had highlighted how despite the Department of Posts (DoP) making arrangements with Axis Bank for online payments for overseas online RTI applications, the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are sitting on the issue and have yet to take a decision.
How did it all begin? Dr RC Patnaik, chief of the information technology department of MCD, who has been designated to bring in e-governance reforms in the civic body says, "The MCD has around 200 public information officers (PIOs) and we receive a lot of RTI applications everyday. Since most citizens are not aware about the correct PIO to whom they should address their query, transferring the applications to the appropriate PIO was a cumbersome job. Sometimes it would take a month to pass on such applications to the right desk. As a result, central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi would admonish us for defaults and penalise us too.''
This set Dr Patnaik thinking about an online option, at the behest of the municipal commissioner. "So a few months back, I hit upon the idea of scanning the RTI applications which came to the wrong PIO and sending it to the right one by email. Although it temporarily solved much of the problem, it still was not clear sailing.''
Dr Patnaik's IT team then began exploring the possibility of filing RTI applications online, along with online payment of the Rs10 fee for every RTI application under Section 6 of the RTI Act. The hurdle of online payment was solved through an official arrangement with Axis Bank. The bank was hesitant initially, as this is a very small amount. But since property tax is paid online through Axis Bank and that is a major sum in a city like Delhi, it agreed to process the small transaction also, as a goodwill gesture.
Dr Patnaik explained, "The RTI applicant has to pay Rs11; the one rupee extra is the transaction charge.'' He was not sure whether MCD would be criticized for the one rupee extra charge. However, the central information commissioner put this matter to rest saying, "Any RTI applicant has to either pay for the postage or fuel if he or she goes personally to MCD to file the RTI application. In the case of online application you pay just one rupee, which in fact saves precious time and travel expenses for citizens.'' Mr Gandhi congratulated the MCD and expressed the hope, "Now, every municipal corporation should follow suit.''
We gather from the website, www.mcdonline.gov.in, "The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is among the largest municipal bodies in the world, providing civic services to an estimated population of 13.78 million citizens in the capital city. It is next only to Tokyo in terms of area."
To enter the RTI application area, click on the sub-category "RTI online'' on the homepage of the MCD website. On the right side you will see the online RTI application. It has also uploaded other forms related to RTI applications.
In another first, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has over the past two years, set 3pm to 5pm, every Monday, for any citizen to conduct inspection of files, as allowed under Section 4 of the RTI Act. He or she can visit any of the departments of the PMC and check the files required. This is over and above any other time that citizens can inspect files during working hours. PMC was also the first to set up an RTI library, which has been named after renowned journalist-activist Prakash Kardaley. All these efforts are the result of rules under Section 4 which focus on suo moto disclosure by the government department.
Do write to me for any help regarding this at vinitapune@gmail,com.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)