Soon, anyone would be able to file an RTI application over the phone, with help and guidance from a call centre as well as through a website
While the government is consistently blamed for diluting the RTI (Right to Information) Act in several ways besides making illogical amendments at the state level, it is gearing up to make filing of RTI applications by just making a phone call. Citizens will not have to take the pains of either writing a RTI application or taking the pains to post it or physically deliver it. Proposals for setting up such privately run call centres have been advertised by the “Department of Personnel & Training” (DoPT) with the last date of submission being 10 July 2012.
The project has been named “RTI Call Centre and Portal Project” under which 2,000 centres are proposed all over the country.
The DoPT, which has put up details of the project on its website, cites two facilities under it. One is the computerised call centre which would facilitate the citizen to file his/her RTI over the phone; file first appeal applications over the phone and even track the status of their first appeal. This facility is termed as “Computer Telephony Integration enabled Call Centre Setup”. Second, is the development of a “web portal” which would provide information about the RTI Act as well as facilitate filing of RTI and first appeal applications.
The DoPT’s decision to start such a computerised facility is the result of a study sponsored by it on “key issues and constraints in the implementation of the RTI Act.” The findings revealed that citizens continue to face inconveniences in filing RTI requests; ineffective record management practices leading to delay in providing information by the public authorities and awareness level amongst citizens regarding their rights under the RTI Act is still low—though there has been a consistent 30%-35% annual increase in filing of RTI applications, showing citizens’ enthusiasm about the Act. It is DoPT’s assessment that due to the ease of filing, the call centre and portal will become the single largest mode of filing RTI applications in years to come.
The business model will be run as a PPP (public private partnership) format. The private agency is required to set up, operate and maintain the RTI Call Centre as well as the portal. The private agency can either set up a new centre or operate for an existing centre. It should have the facility of voice calls, SMS (outbound services) and IVR (Interactive Voice Response—a technology that automates interactions with telephone callers). The DoPT would pay the agency based on the number of calls and the talking time of the calls. For voice calls, the DoPT will make full payment that is Rs30 per call if the call duration is less than 15 minutes. For calls exceeding 15 minutes, 10% deduction will be made for each subsequent three-minute slabs. For example: If a call last 24 minutes, and “per connect minute charge” is Rs2, then the payment for the call will be commuted as per the calculations stated below:
Charges for the first 15 minutes: 2x15=Rs30
Charges for the next three minutes: 2x3x.9= Rs5.4
Charges for the next three minutes: 2x3x.8=Rs 4.8
Charges for the next 3 minutes: 2x3x.7=Rs 4.2
The payment for any voice call would be restricted to a maximum of 24 minutes duration call worked out as per above. The SMSs (outbound) and IVR calls have different payment terms. (For more information on the business model go to: http://rti.gov.in/RFP2.pdf)
For the citizen who wants to use this facility, all calls to the call centre would be chargeable at non-premium or premium rates depending on the purpose of the call. Calls seeking information, status check, and transcribing of RTI application/first appeal would be charged non-premium charges. These charges would be as per the caller’s existing call plan. To submit a statutory fee for RTI application, premium rate would be applicable and this would be deducted in his phone bill. This charge would be in addition to his existing normal call plan.
The method of filing RTI application is envisaged as follows:
• Citizens can call the call centre from any number anywhere in the country
• When a citizen calls in, the call centre agent will provide required information on RTI
• If a RTI application is to be filed, details along with mandatory information including, his/her name and address would be obtained
• Once the RTI application is transcribed, a Unique Reference Number (URN) will be generated and provided to the caller. There will also be a provision for informing applicants of their Unique Reference Numbers (URN) through SMS. Till this time, the RTI application will be stored in the call centre
• Once the caller makes the payment of statutory RTI fee against its URN by calling/sending SMS to the “RTI fee line” within 24 hours and confirmation received, it will be sent to the relevant PIO. Public telephone booths cannot be used for this purpose.
Envisaged benefits for the citizen
• Power of information is just a phone call away
• Removes the hassles of physical presence at Central Public Authority for filing application
• Money saved by way of travel time/wage loss as well as for making Drafts/Postal Order from Bank or Post Offices
• Government bears the cost of transmitting the application to the Central Public Authority
• Citizen’s handicap arising out of literacy level variations could be overcome by the call centre executives
Benefits to the government
• Systematic management and real time monitoring of RTI applications and first appeals
• Further improvement in transparency in government functioning
• Empowerment of the common man through easy information dissemination
• Man-hours spent by individual departments in collecting RTI applications can be saved by centralising the process on the portal
• Support data analysis indicating area of improvement as well as sectors demanding intervention
1. For more information go to: http://rti.gov.in/rfp.htm
3. Complete proposals may be submitted to the office of Director (IR), Department of Personnel and Training, Room No280, North Block, New Delhi-110001 by 5pm, Tuesday, 10 July 2012. Any queries in this regard may be addressed to [email protected].
(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also 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. She can be reached at [email protected])
Security was tightened following the 9/11 attack while rescue operations continued in the hope to find more survivors. The 40th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
All the TV channels and newspapers carried details of the attacks and more and more information of how these happened began to emanate from various intelligence gathering organizations.
Since the hijackers had given warning to the passengers on the ill-fated aircraft to make personal calls, a lot of information from the victims was made available as the planes crashed into various sites. It was heart-rending and extremely sad. Living, as I did, not far from the Pentagon, I experienced the tremors of the attack when the plane crashed into the world’s largest building complex. There were speculations that this hijacked plane was intended to crash into Pentagon or the US Senate nearby. Or, was it really meant to hit the White House itself? It was more of a conjecture than the available evidence at that time.
Apparently, the twin towers were the intended victims of the first two hijacked planes. The fourth one, which actually crashed in Shanksville, Pensylvania, was presumably intended for a strike either at the Senate or the While House. In this case, as we all came to know later, there was heavy struggle between heroic attempts made by passengers against the hijackers, which resulted in the crash and prevented the aircraft flying further into the intended crash points.
Back at the hotel, there were more government officials and security related personnel occupying rooms now and the flow was smooth. A great number of guests who had stayed back due to the strikes had begun to move out and as the DCA (Reagan Airport) was open, we began to get a trickle. Only the very few who had most urgent jobs to attend to in Washington DC had come in and registered with us, as, hotels in DC were mostly full.
Our staff, by now, had become more vigilant, in that, everyone was alert to ask for a photo ID when anyone approached the front desk for any kind of assistance, unless we happened the know the guest personally for some time. Many times, because of the tense situation, the guest would forget the key and leave it in the room, and may not even have a photo ID on them, if they had come down by breakfast. Even in such cases, we would not issue duplicate keys, but accompany the guest all the way to their rooms and verify the ID after opening their rooms. In one such case, when I had failed to do so, I was reprimanded by an FBI officer, who showed me his ID and warned me that it was not only in my immediate interest, but in national safety was involved, if we failed in our basic duty of checking at every stage. Even though I had checked him in earlier, it was his contention that I should insist on the laid down rule of photo IDs all the time!
Our courtesy coaches to and from the airport extended the complimentary service from the hotel to the Ronald Reagan airport only; we had guests arriving both at the Baltimore and Dulles international airports, both of which served the Washington DC metropolis. Because of the changed circumstances, for the time being, we reduced the frequency but made available the coach at short notice.
For those travelling back by air, it became necessary for a longer security check to be gone through, and the lines at the security desks became time consuming. Now, everyone was willingly offering all kinds of co-operation at the airports so that they were safe and could travel in comfort.
The rescue operations continued in right earnest at the Twin Towers and as the debris were being removed, more and more victims were being dug out. It was not an easy task. Although the fire had been put out, I believe, a lot of metals were still extremely hot and there was dim hope for survivors. Yet, the work went on day in and day out and lot of experienced rescue personnel from other states joined to save as many lives as was possible.
In the next few days, more details of the hijackers were given out by FBI. Apparently there were 19 hijackers, 15 of whom came from Saudi Arabia; two from UAE, one each from Lebanon and Egypt. And the Egyptian Mohamed Atta was the ring leader, who boarded the flight from Boston!
In the hate crime attacks that followed, a Sikh from India, as he was wearing a turban, was mistaken as an Arab Muslim (because of the head-dress) and was killed.
Slowly, life was returning back to normalcy; schools were being reopened and almost everywhere, issues relating to security checks, precautions, first aid classes, etc, were being conducted, so that everyone was prepared in all the emergencies.
Because of these strikes, there was no doubt that the economy had a crippling blow and economists felt that it would take some time before a recovery was possible.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
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