DoPT, Government of India applauds the RTI Foundation of India initiative
The Right to Information Act, 2005 is one of the most important legislation of the Government of India to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of the Government. Within eight years of its enactment, RTI has become one of the most effective means to make an informed citizenry. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has been playing a pivotal role in the effective implementation of the RTI Act. In the series of such initiatives, DoPT has decided to publish a compendium of Best Practices on implementation of RTI Act. Write ups were accordingly invited from public authorities/citizens on the subject. Amongst the write ups received, 12 write ups have been selected by DoPT for inclusion in the compendium. The readers would be happy to learn that their favourite site http://www.rtifoundationofindia.com/ has been included in the compendium.
The write ups on the best practices on implementation of RTI Act include the background of the need felt by the Public Authority, its scope, financial implication and deployment of resources such as manpower & infrastructure, lessons learnt by the public authorities concerned during implementation of said practices, outcome of such practices & scope of their replication by other public authorities. The DoPT has hoped that this compendium would encourage all the public authorities to adopt similar practices for more effective implementation of RTI Act.
RTI Foundation of India Initiative
*Dr Anuradha Verma
(RTI Foundation of India has taken an initiative catering to the needs of various stakeholders of the RTI Act through the use of information technology)
Information and knowledge are critical for realizing all the human aspirations, such as, improvement in quality of life. In a democratic set-up in which we live today, acquisition of information and knowledge and its application have intense and pervasive impact on governance. A representative government requires that a citizen should not only contribute to the development process, he should also feel a part of the administration.
The principal factors which necessitated the formation of RTI Foundation of India (RTIFI) were:
1. It has been observed that the awareness level in respect of the RTI Act is low even amongst the educated and there is an underlying need to make the citizens conscious of their rights. Massive efforts are required to spread awareness about the RTI Act amongst the masses to enable them to use the Act effectively.
2. Over the years, RTI Act has witnessed rise in usage and therefore, a need has been felt for an easily accessible dynamic medium which can present the interpretation of Law and the current happenings to all. Such a medium needs to be low cost, universally reachable, unbiased and not pose any difficulty to the person who wishes to obtain the information.
For greater accountability and higher degree of transparency
3. For a law which is new and evolving, the public authorities look for a window which tells them about their role and responsibilities and helps them in adjusting to the new working environment. The disclosures required from the public authorities and the repercussions of not fulfilling the same need to be specifically pointed and frequently reinforced. The difficulties faced by the public authorities and the solutions found by them need to be shared for better practices to develop.
4. For an effective implementation of the RTI Act, there is a need to enhance the capability of the Public Information Officer (PIO) and First Appellate Authority (FAA) who are at the cutting edge of the delivery of the services. There is a need for a regular training and inputs in the field of RTI and unless capacity building is done at the level of these officers, the Act is doomed to fail. There is no stage available for resolution of RTI related problems faced by them which sometimes leaves the PIO / FAA groping in dark.
For creating a balance between all the stake holders
5. Exploring and adapting is a very important stage in the implementation process. Considering the importance of the RTI Act, a medium is required which can stimulate positive thinking and research amongst the readers.
6. There is a requirement of a think tank which can point to the emerging requirements and prepare the ground for a healthy debate on RTI related topics.
Considering the situation, the need was felt for a neutral platform where exchange of ideas can take place amongst all stakeholders and all RTI matters can be discussed.
Details of the Practice
In the wake of the passage of the RTI Act in 2005, the RTIFI took note of the significance of the Act and the need for its effective implementation at all levels. Periodical evaluation meetings were held to review the state of affairs and taking necessary steps to address the incipient issues. It has been felt in many quarters that the achievements of the RTI Act are much lower than the expectations and its potential. Through the use of the information technology, the RTIFI has created a platform for all stakeholders to become partners and participate in the manner in which the RTI Act is going to evolve in future. It is a unique effort to provide inputs on a daily basis to all and add a little bit of RTI to everyone’s life just like a pinch of salt without which the food would be tasteless.
Practice and scope
The creation of this platform is unique and has led to many improvements in the effective implementation of the RTI Act.
1. Capacity Building - RTIFI is closely monitoring the implementation of the Right to Information Act and is proactive in identifying the difficulty areas and recommending future course of action. It has focused on actions for capacity building and resource planning.
2. Dissemination of guidelines - RTIFI has focused on dissemination of guidelines to remove any impasse in the implementation of the provisions of the RTI Act and also to streamline the functioning of the public authorities.
3. Empowering citizens - RTIFI has aided in the process of empowering citizens who can now demand information and become a part of the informed citizenry. Hopefully, it would lead to significant quantitative and qualitative improvement in the delivery of services and realization of benefits of the programmes designed and implemented for the poor.
4. Promoting information literacy –Those who come to website of RTIFI get free information and gain ideas to improve their level of knowledge of the Act which culminates in better governance. The basic idea behind launching of the website was to promote information literacy among people enabling them to decide what to ask for, how to ask and how to make good use of information, so that they can effectively participate in the process of development, including control of corruption. RTIFI has designed a multimedia strategy for promotion of information literacy by organizing trainings and seminars as per the requirements of the user based on examples from real life situations. Study material is also provided for the specific needs of users.
5. Pro-active disclosure by public authorities - Another major endeavour is to guide the public authorities in the field of pro-active disclosure and dissemination of information. An analysis of the working of the public authority based on the expected role to be played by it under the RTI regime and by recommending changes in its working has helped in evolving a transparent working.
6. Training the PIOs and FAAs - RTIFI has helped in equipping the PIOs and offering solutions to the problems faced by them so that they may deal with their responsibilities in the RTI regime. The PIOs and FAAs are hard pressed for time as their primary work is something else and implementation of the RTI Act is an additional responsibility. The website updates are expected to equip them on a daily basis and keep them abreast with the latest developments in the field.
7. RTIFI is working for identification and analysis of the all the factors (Institutional, Structural, Systemic, Procedural, Technological, and Attitudinal) facilitating and obstructing the implementation of the RTI Act at various levels in the Government and for taking remedial measures for the same.
8. Research - RTIFI presents a ground for the implementation of RTI and it is into doing research on the key features of RTI and how they promote success for common masses.
9. Best practices - RTIFI encourages the readers to question themselves as they learn about the various provisions of RTI to make it a self-evolving process. One can find examples of RTI implementation in and across the country including the steps initiated for implementing the provisions of the Act based on best practices from research.
10. Real life examples - The website provides people with the mechanism to access information, which they can use to be aware of the various ways and means by which the RTI Act has been or can be used. It describes real life situations where RTI has been used by ordinary citizens with the results achieved. In addition, analytical articles and studies provide a bird’s eye view of the ground situation for a discerning reader.
11. Helping the citizens - The RTIFI undertakes interactive awareness programmes to make the citizens conscious of their rights and promotes the judicious use of RTI Act in all fields. RTIFI indulges in dissemination of information through lectures, seminars, distribution of literature and offers guidance to all citizens who seek assistance. These programmes range from creating a basic level of awareness and extend to giving a thorough knowledge of the Act. Apart from the use of the RTI Act for seeking or obtaining information, the organization has pointed to the innovative uses of RTI Act for creating an environment where all citizens can work in harmony for the progress of the nation.
12. Accountability - RTIFI has tried to unmask the potential of an ordinary person to be a part of the decision making process. It has made it possible to hold a free and frank discussion on issues of common concern for people and thus aid in augmenting the accountability levels.
13. Bringing everyone on the dais - To bring the Civil society, NGOs and activists together to look into all RTI matters and work in a constructive manner for the development of the RTI Act.
14. Involving the intelligentsia - To encourage the intelligentsia to be involved with the RTI movement and build an atmosphere which favors transparent working. Contest has been organized for law students relating to issue involving RTI Act with cash awards for the winners.
15. Economical - It is an economical and egalitarian manner of dissemination of information to all. Until stakeholders are clear about what is being implemented and why it is being implemented, they may be disinclined to support the implementation efforts in a whole-hearted manner. RTIFI seeks to set the context for successful execution by creating momentum by involving the citizens, PIOs, FAAs, NGOs and professionals in the process of finding solutions. With nearly 1 lakh cumulative hits (nearly 600 hits daily), the website has begun to make an impact and is leading to an informed citizenry in the country.
The assets utilized for creating the dynamic web based platform are frugal which points to efficient use of resources by RTIFI.
The creation of the platform (website) has been through the use of voluntary service. Two personal laptops have been used to create the data and compile it in the fashion as it is seen. The non-copyrighted data from a variety of sources, both public and private, has been compiled and put up in a manner from where it can be accessed easily. All the orders of the Central Information Commission are downloaded from their website and read daily by part time workers. Those shortlisted are read by the experts and a selected few significant orders are put on the website. The different kind of data available on the website includes:
Case Laws: RTIFI publishes case laws everyday which provides an insight into how the Information Commission or the Court has dealt with an appeal. The description is in a very simple language like a story which aids the readers in understanding what can be sought and obtained under the RTI Act. The correct interpretation of RTI Act helps in dealing with a given situation and taking an authoritative decision citing the judicial order.
Latest Bytes: The latest news and developments in the field of RTI are presented as Latest Bytes. It provides an overall glimpse of the ways in which RTI Act has been used by the citizens and how it is shaping our future. One can keep in touch with the recent events / happenings in the RTI arena through this column.
Reading Material: Through this particular section all the study/ reference / legal material like bare Act, rules, circulars, guide books, etc. are presented at the click of the mouse. The plethora of the state fee rules and appeal rules has been made available at a single place. Further, some citizens may enjoy reading the RTI Act in vernacular and comprehend it better. The frequently asked questions for the PIO and applicant are useful for the readers. The judgments delivered by the High Court and Supreme Court have been compiled for readers. A link to the different Information Commissions and other organizations has also been provided.
Articles: A series of Articles are being put on site regularly to enlighten the readers. These articles dissect the issues relating to right to information threadbare and assist in a better comprehension and overall perception of the subject.
Research: Analytical articles and in-depth study on certain cases is taken up from time to time.
Contest: Various contests are planned by RTIFI such as the contest for law students with the objective of opening up the minds of the flag bearers of law who can play vital role in proper implementation of the RTI Act in the times to come.
For visiting the website, please go to - http://www.rtifoundationofindia.com/
The creation of the platform is challenge which has thrown up various structural, procedural and logistical issues and problems, which RTIFI tried to deal from time to time.
1. Downloading all the CIC orders – Clicking on the link of the CIC and downloading each and every order was a tedious job. The RTIFI developed software for downloading the orders.
2. As the team was small, there was a difficulty in keeping up with daily updates specially when someone was unwell or had some personal work. The organization gradually learned to tackle this issue and since the inception, not a single day has passed till date when fresh contents have not been posted on the website.
3. Queries from the readers are frequent and some seek the telephone numbers for the resolution of their problems. The RTIFI offers only e-mail based solutions and has yet to develop resources for tele-answering. It has been a satisfying experience of being able to respond to the various e- mails.
For any plan to be successful, accountability and performance measures have to be clearly defined in the absence of which, the probability of failure is high. In this background, it can be seen that the effect of the initiative taken out by the RTIFI has been tremendous.
1. The platform created by RTIFI has helped in creating a win-win situation for all stake holders by ensuring free and fair exercise of RTI by common people and providing legal inputs to all. It has helped in reducing the suspicion amongst the different stake holders.
2. When people use RTI, they tend to form informed opinions, thereby they influence policies and help in shaping a more assured future for themselves and for the next generation.
This idea has been carried by the RTIFI which has aided the common man to seek information. With the initiative of RTIFI, a larger number of people are filing applications, that too in an effective manner which does not drain the resources of the public authorities.
3. RTIFI has helped in spreading transparency both from the demand side as well as the supply-side, thereby enabling effective access to information, thus paving the way to better service delivery. With the initiative taken up by RTIFI, transparency is now moving stealthily into governance paving the way for good governance.
4. RTIFI is assisting the public authorities in making appropriate disclosures as per the section 4 of the RTI Act. It has repeatedly brought to fore the case laws which point the adverse impact on the public authorities in the absence of good records maintenance practice.
5. The RTIFI has been working towards providing a framework for promotion of citizen-government partnership in carrying out programmes for the welfare of the people. The assortment of information as provided on the website of RTIFI has enabled the beneficiaries to assume a central role in design and execution of projects. RTIFI has instilled a wider sense of understanding in the mind of common people enabling them to participate in economic and political processes through a dialogue between people and the government or public campaign on public policies.
6. The capacity building amongst the public servants has received a massive fillip with the continuous updates on the site. The PIOs who are reading this site are better equipped to deal with RTI applications.
7. In addition to lack of resources, many PIOs lack the motivation to implement RTI Act. RTIFI has tried to provide fill ups in RTI by covering the aspects usually neglected like lack of behavioral / attitudinal training. The PIOs are mentally prepared to deal with the RTI applications with a positive frame of mind.
8. The number of RTI Appeals with the Information Commissions is growing at a rapid pace year after year. The RTIFI has assisted in reducing the pendency status indirectly by helping the applicants to file RTI applications in an appropriate manner. Further, the PIOs have also been supported to respond to these applications in a judicious manner.
Scope of Replication
There is abundant scope of replication of the practice as it will assist the public authorities in many ways.
1. Simplify the process of filing the RTI applications - The PIO is expected to assist an applicant in filing the RTI application. It is very commonly seen that an applicant does not know how to draft an RTI application, so in case an applicant makes a visit to rtifoundationofindia.com for just 5 to 10 minutes it would help in overcoming all doubts regarding the Act. The public authorities can borrow this link and place them on their websites to fulfill the legal obligation cast upon them under the RTI Act.
2. Frequently asked questions – There is a column of frequently asked questions in the website which helps in allaying the doubts and confusion in the mind of the PIO/ FAA. All public authorities can borrow this idea.
3. Training the PIOs and FAAs – A visit to the website should be made mandatory for all the PIOs and FAA to get a free training and update regarding the RTI Act.
4. Details of Court cases – A need is felt by the public authorities to refer to the judgments of the High Court and Supreme Court for which no single source is available. The public authorities can mimic this effort.
5. Research - As an organization working in the field of RTI, RTIFI realised fairly early that the quality of research about RTI implementation was imperative for successful implementation of the Act. One can find many articles about RTI on the website which are the result of extensive research. The content provided by the RTIFI is backed by accurate research that one may not find even at a for- profit organization. The contents provided on the website provide a ground for further research.
6. Use of e-mail – The public authorities may imitate the use of e-mail to deal with the queries of the readers and reply to them. This builds up goodwill and loyal following. With the help of internet connection one can interact with others from even the underdeveloped parts of the country and as no physical movement is required, it saves time and money.
7. The public authorities can create a platform for sharing the views with the users / customers. A platform for sharing views and opinions and challenges and constraints would be critical in pooling together experiences and lead to better delivery of services.
8. Just as information and knowledge is shared by RTIFI on the website to empower the common people so that they can make an informed choice, all public authorities can consider disseminating information about their organization on a daily basis. It would aid in devising an action plan for adoption / adaption by public authorities to promote transparency in the working of every organization.
*Dr Anuradha Verma
She is M.Sc. (Zoology) and Ph.D. Her weekly column “DATE WITH RTI” on the site whispersinthecorridors.com is perhaps the longest running column on the subject in India. She has been invited by many institutions to deliver lectures and train their master trainers on the RTI Act, 2005. She is currently working as an RTI Consultant for IIM, Indore. She had published two books namely Right to Information Law & Practice and PIO's Guide to RTI along with co-author Dr. R K Verma.