With the Department of Posts all set to launch its electronic postal order for accepting RTI fee online from Indians living abroad by 15th January, the five-year campaign of RTI activists and NRIs will finally bear fruit
The final trigger for the launch of e-IPO (electronic Indian Postal Order) that would facilitate Indian citizens living abroad to pay the Rs10 fee for filing a RTI application came when on 12 December 2012, Sujata Chaudhury, general manager of Business Development & Marketing Directorate of Department of Posts set a deadline of 15 January 2013 and asked the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to treat this “as most urgent” and to complete the work on a “war footing.”
Ms Chaudhury’s letter states: “Now it has been decided at the highest level that the facility of accepting RTI fee by generating e-IPO through the e-post office portal is to be launched by 15 January 2013. Therefore, it is requested to take accelerated steps to complete the task much before the targeted time fixed earlier. This may be treated as most urgent and work be done on a war footing.”
Delhi-based activist Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra, who steered the campaign for Indians living abroad in several countries, is ecstatic at this citizen victory and congratulates the Department of Posts for completing the project in record time. He had filed more than 150 RTI applications in various relevant departments since 2008 and consistently pressurized the government to provide online payment facilities for RTI fees.
States Commodore Batra: “If all goes well as per the plans of the ‘Department of Posts’ (DOP) for launching of e-IPO for RTI fee, Indian citizens abroad will be able to use their ‘Right to Know’ before this Republic Day.” On 31 December 2012, Commodore Batra went through the complete process of the functioning of e-IPO at the Department of Posts and says that if not 15th January, then by 25th January it is sure to be launched. When the scheme becomes a reality, it will be a huge achievement for Indian citizens abroad who have been pressing the government for the last five years to facilitate them in nation building by exercising their right to know.
The final step of this issue has been languishing since March 2012 when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) gave its “no objection” to the government to start an online payment facility for RTI fees for NRIs but the Department of Posts was waiting for orders to put a system in order.
Now that it has happened, soon the RTI applicant abroad would be able to use a credit or debit card to pay the Rs10 fee. Axis Bank is the payment gateway provider. The RTI applicant living abroad would be required to log on to the Department of Posts’ website and then register (if it is his or her first time) and click on the “RTI counter”. He/she would have to upload a copy of his/her passport after filling the RTI application. Then he/she would be required to pay the fees through the electronic postal order. Thereafter, the RTI application would be sent to the relevant public information officer of the department that the applicant is seeking information from. The CPIO (Chief Public Information Officer) can verify the IPO number by logging on to the ePO portal.
Commodore Batra had been continuously filing RTI applications since 2008 to relevant government departments which handle this issue like the ministry of finance, the Department of Personnel and Training (which implements the RTI Act), the Department of Posts (which can make e- payment possible), the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). While initially the DoP had taken initiative to hasten the process, the RBI was sitting over it. Thereafter the DoP was waiting for a green signal from the ministry.
Following are some of the landmark communications accessed under RTI by Batra:
4 February 2011: Department of Posts had written to the RBI stating, “The Department of Posts has developed a portal called ‘e-portal’ office. We have received a reference from the secretary, Department of Personnel and Training, requesting to include a provision for the purchase of Indian postal orders by Indian citizens living abroad to enable them to seek information under the RTI Act, 2005. The challenge faced by the Indian citizens is in remitting the prescribed fee for seeking information as per the specified mode of the Act. The post office can provide a solution to this challenge, since the Indian postal order is one of the most prescribed modes of payment under the RTI Act. To put a system in place to facilitate this, we would require clearance to accept credit card/debit card for online payment from abroad through e-portal.”
15 June 2011: RBI’s reply to Commodore Batra’s RTI query on the status of letters from the Department of Posts stated: “The RBI has not taken a final decision on the request of the Department of Posts. As such this information cannot be given as per Section 8 of the RTI Act.”
3 February 2012: RBI (which had earlier denied Commodore Batra information under Section 8 of the RTI Act) it had sent its “no-objection” to the government. In a letter dated 3 February 2012 to the ministry of communications & IT, Department of Posts, Anita Kumari, manager of the RBI had stated, “the payment gateway provider will be Axis Bank” and “online payments from abroad should be made only through debit and credit cards issued by the bank having affiliations with one of the card payment networks authorised under the PSS Act 2007”.
12 December 2012: Department of Posts sets a deadline of 15 January 2013 (letter reproduced at the beginning of this article).
Some of the milestones in this citizen campaign include:
2008: Commodore Batra steered the campaign for Indians abroad, when he had a personal experience in 2008 when he was in the US. The date for his appeal before the Information Commission in Delhi was fixed while he was abroad, and then chief information commissioner, Dr Wajahat Habibullah, allowed the hearing through audio-conferencing. However, when he began to ask about regular RTI applications filed from the US, he found that Indians there faced many hurdles.
The Indian embassy in Washington put its hands up, saying that it could only accept RTI applications pertaining to queries related to its office, or at the most those related to the ministry of external affairs. Indians tried to impress upon the embassy that under Section 6(3) it is the duty of the PIO to forward applications not relevant to him, to the concerned departments. But the embassy refused to take responsibility. This triggered off his campaign.
2009: Commodore Batra filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission (CIC) in April 2009 against the ministries for not providing him the required information. Information Commissioner Annapurna Dixit gave an order on 16 April 2010 asking the Department of Personnel and Training to ‘formulate’ a system to “facilitate accessibility of the Act by Indians abroad”.
2010: Commodore Batra was joined by activists abroad. The campaign abroad was steered by RTI activist Vishal Kudchadkar, member of Association for India’s Development (AID), living in California. In 2010, a delegation of US-based Indian activists submitted their petition to prime minister Manmohan Singh, carrying 316 signatures from Indians residing in Australia, Burundi, Canada, Dubai, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Kuwait, Maldives, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, UAE, the UK and the US. However, the PMO was silent on this issue (not surprising).
What the petition to the PM stated:
The petition said: “Our suggestion is that just as the government has facilitated APIOs by the postal department in India for all public authorities, along similar lines, the government should facilitate an APIO in each Indian Mission/Post in local embassies and charge fees equivalent to rupees.
”Alternatively, we suggest that arrangements may be made by the MEA, the administrative ministry for Indians abroad, for missions to accept RTI fees in foreign currency from applicants filing RTI to central public authorities, using the same procedure as they are hitherto doing for RTI applications concerning their own ministry. The mission’s role would be to accept the fee along with a copy of the passport to verify the citizenship and issue a receipt/E-receipt to the applicant for the fee. Thereafter, either the mission or the RTI applicant can forward the application to the concerned central public authority (PA) online… Any additional costs for providing the information can be remitted to the mission in the same way and the receipt/E-receipt given by the mission can serve as proof of payment.'”
Earlier stories on this issue:
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
Medical developments from around the world
Exercise after Age 40 May Increase Life Expectancy
A study published recently in the journal PLOS Medicine sounds a loud wake-up call to ‘healthy weight’ couch potatoes who believe their good BMI (body mass index) will ensure them a long life. “Even from among people with a BMI of between 20 and 25, those who told researchers that they were physically inactive were far more likely to die in the next decade or so than those who were overweight or obese exercisers. Among the 431,479 study
participants over the age of 40, the sedentary were almost twice as likely to die during the course of the study than were participants who were highly active,” the study said. Other studies also show that a little bit of activity helps the human body, irrespective of the body size and weight. Walking for an hour daily has been shown elsewhere to reduce the risk of premature death by as much as 80%! Drug interventions in other risk factor management therapies might reduce the risk by hardly 1%-2%. The MRFIT study (multiple risk factor interventional trial) did show, at the end of 25 years of observation, that risk factor control with drugs and/or surgery would definitely alter the risk factor but NOT the final risk (premature death). Writing his opinion on the trial, one of the trialists, Roger W Sherwin opined that, as far as the MRFIT trial was concerned, there was nothing called risk factor controlling with which the risk gets altered. He labelled the study a boondoggle.
Patients with Diabetes
A recent five-year follow-up study of diabetic patients who received cardiac interventions showed clearly that bypass surgery was better and safer compared to the fashionable angioplasties especially in multi-vessel disease syndromes. The guidelines will have to be changed accordingly. This research data was presented at the American Heart Association meeting in September 2012.
Excessive Sitting Linked to Unhealthy Fat around the Heart
A new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, states that “all those hours Americans spend in their office chairs or on their sofas may be packing on a particularly unhealthy form of fat around the heart,” and “what’s more, the fat stayed in place even when people undertook regular exercise.” Interestingly, there have been many studies recently that showed that “when it comes to its deleterious health effects, sitting is not just the absence of physical activity—it has effects on the body that go beyond lack of exercise.”
Heart Failure and Cancer
“Heart failure patients face an increased risk of cancer along with an increased risk of death.” These preliminary findings were presented at the recent American Heart Association meeting. Investigators found that a cohort of patients diagnosed with heart failure at baseline were significantly more likely to develop cancer than participants in a control population without heart failure; cancer in those patients was the cause of death in almost half of them.
Sulfonylureas Linked to Increased Risk for CVD
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a journal, showed that “using sulfonylurea as a first-line treatment for diabetes is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease compared to other drugs. How that happens is not known. They felt that metformin is better. But common sense says that metformin is a not a safe drug.”
Alternative to Statins To Lower Cholesterol
An alternative to statins that lowers levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ by up to two-thirds is being developed. The drug, called AMG 145, is currently only being tested in an injectable form but scientists hope to be able to make it available as a pill in the future. This study was published in The Lancet (Early Online Publication, 6 November 2012).
Hospitals often diagnose fake critical illness or serious injuries just to loot hapless patients
Gopal (not his real name) is a young techie working for a big software company in Chennai. One day, he was a bit late to office and was in a hurry. He was trying to park his two-wheeler with his helmet on which was not securely tied as usual. He slipped and fell on his face with the helmet strap cutting his upper lip. His friends got frightened on seeing blood gushing from the mouth and rushed him walking to a nearby five-star hi-tech hospital.
When they reached the hospital, Gopal was rushed into the intensive care unit (ICU) in a wheelchair, although he preferred to walk. No one was allowed inside the ICU for the whole day. Gopal was brainwashed that he had 'serious' head injury. Apparently, everything was normal—including the results of a battery of blood and urine tests. Despite all that, even his three-month-pregnant wife was not allowed to see him. They were told that Gopal was seriously ill and could become unconscious any minute and might throw a violent fit at any time. His life, they said, hangs by a thin thread! The anxious wife almost collapsed and became unconscious herself.
By then, it was late evening and his other relatives got scent of the incident: one of them was an influential man who works with hospitals in Chennai. He insisted on seeing the patient at any cost or else he would get the patient discharged against medical advice. The nursing staff relented and allowed him inside. Incidentally, no medical staff, above the rank of a duty doctor, had seen this ‘seriously’ ill patient whose life was said to be hanging by a thin thread (!) all day, as most of them were in Deepavali mood. What the relative saw there shook him up. It was a large A/C room. One side of the room was separated by a plastic sheet to keep contagious patients being quarantined and the other half was used for such 'fake' serious patients. The nurses refused to show him the CAT-scan and blood reports. Blood was still oozing from the wound and they had not stitched the torn lip wound yet, as they were waiting for their facio-maxillary surgeon who was out for Deepavali holidays. In these hi-tech hospitals, even minor surgery had to be done by a sub-specialist!
It was too much for the relatives to keep him there, under the circumstances. They got the patient discharged against medical advice. The hospital insisted that they pay Rs25,000 on the spot as it is the minimum charge for any patient admitted to their intensive-care unit. The hospital refused to give any certificate or discharge summary for insurance purposes, as patients discharged against advice were not entitled to such luxuries!
This is the new ‘fakery’ syndrome that I am describing. Anyone who goes to the hospital becomes a patient. Most of them have minor ailments; the problems get exaggerated in these hospitals to fake into serious maladies to net a bigger booty from them.
What worries me more is the way the hapless and anxious patients are further pushed into the bottomless pit of anxiety by labelling them as serious, where life hangs by a thin thread. Many a time, they even predict when the patient is going to die without a shred of scientific evidence to predict the unpredictable future of their patients. The last usually happens to cancer patients. The ‘wise’ doctors tell the patient that s/he has a only certain number of months to live and so on! Such scare generation is one of the novel methods of disease mongering. This fakery is the height of ‘health-scare system’ that prevails today. Would the powers that be take a call? Incidentally, our friend Gopal is fine on his own, a bit shaken, though, by the new experience.
“To fake it is to stand guard over emptiness.”— Arthur Herzog.
Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He can be reached at [email protected]