Should internet kiosks be used as RTI centres?
Ability of the citizen of the country to access information has been frequently questioned despite the Right to Information (RTI) Act being in place. The Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) survey in 2009 revealed that large segments of the population have little access to information. Lack of access to information has been blamed as the prime reason for their backwardness. The situation has not improved significantly since then and it has been reported that the population of 1.2 billion people filed just about 1 million RTI applications last year.
In this respect, the internet is possibly the best medium which can be used for providing information to the citizens. Nearly two-third of the population of the country is living in rural areas out of which internet is used by just about 38 million people (as per the estimates by the industry lobby group, Internet and Mobile Association of India and market researcher IMRB). As per estimates, more than one third of the 900 million mobile phone subscribers are from rural India (323 million) and just over 1 % (3.6 million) of them use their phones to access the Internet. Therefore, mobile phone users form merely 12% of the total Internet users among the rural population. The most commonly used access point for the internet usage by the villagers (nearly 60% of rural usage) is the common service centre (CSC). The government has made nearly 95,000 Internet-enabled CSC which the villagers can access by travelling an average 6-10 km.
RTI activists have pointed that a major percentage of the CSC are struggling for sustainability and have suggested their use for providing information to the citizens. It can further be expanded by including all the village councils as the places where CSC are installed to increase the number of access points to over 2,50,000.
Internet has emerged as the low cost, easily accessible permanent medium which provides unlimited space. The government is laying high-speed fibre-optic broadband lines to all villages and thus the synergy can be achieved. It can help in dissemination of information as per the requirement of section 4 of the RTI Act. RTI remains one of the most important facilities which can be provided by the CSC and these centres can provide access to citizens to seek information.