The Right to Information (RTI) is set to take its next big leap, into the Internet. The Central Information Commission will, this week, ask all departments to begin accepting applications via email, and has proposed to the Prime Minister that government-related information of any kind that can be shared with citizens—possibly tens of millions of pages—be put on the Internet.
And in the future, citizens can even look forward to seeking information from the government sitting at home, making payments online through credit cards.
“The idea is to ease things, so that right from the time of the first application, to the appeals, no paper activity is involved anywhere,” said chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. At the commission’s main office in New Delhi, paperless appeals are already possible. He said instructions will be sent out to all departments in a few days. “These are only recommendatory instructions, but departments usually follow them,” he said.
Bihar launched a similarly trailblazing innovation in January. Citizens can make a phone call to a call centre where their recorded voice will become their RTI application, and the fee will be charged in their telephone bill.
The plan to completely computerize the government’s information was devised jointly by Habibullah and officials of the National Informatics Centre. It was sent to the Prime Minister this month for his approval, he said.
“The original application can be sent via email, and the fee of Rs10 can be sent through postal order whose number will be in the email. The first and second appeals can be sent in a scanned version via email,” he said. “We may also have facilities for online payments later, though it is not being planned right now.”
The RTI Act, implemented in 2005, enables all citizens to seek any information from the government, with some riders related to national security and privacy concerns. It has been widely praised for the transparency, but 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,” said RTI campaigner Arvind Kejriwal.