Kudos to Delhi Municipal Corporation for facilitating online RTI applications



What the external affairs ministry has been unable to achieve in terms of facilitating Indians abroad on RTI—to make online RTI applications and also pay the fees online—the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has successfully introduced this facility


Last week, I had written about how Indians living abroad are finding it difficult to file RTI applications to various government departments back in their home country, thanks to red tapism. I had highlighted how despite the Department of Posts (DoP) making arrangements with Axis Bank for online payments for overseas online RTI applications, the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are sitting on the issue and have yet to take a decision. (Read: "Indians living abroad keen to use RTI, but the government isn't making it easier")

In the meanwhile, very quietly, yet actively, the Delhi Municipal Corporation (MCD) has created history, by becoming the first to facilitate online RTI applications along with online payment of fees through credit or debit card. This is one of the most pro-active examples of a public authority (meaning government department, in RTI parlance) responding to citizens' issues, in line with the principles of transparency and good governance, the very fundamentals of a healthy democracy, facilitated by the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

How did it all begin? Dr RC Patnaik, chief of the information technology department of MCD, who has been designated to bring in e-governance reforms in the civic body says, "The MCD has around 200 public information officers (PIOs) and we receive a lot of RTI applications everyday. Since most citizens are not aware about the correct PIO to whom they should address their query, transferring the applications to the appropriate PIO was a cumbersome job. Sometimes it would take a month to pass on such applications to the right desk. As a result, central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi would admonish us for defaults and penalise us too.''

This set Dr Patnaik thinking about an online option, at the behest of the municipal commissioner. "So a few months back, I hit upon the idea of scanning the RTI applications which came to the wrong PIO and sending it to the right one by email. Although it temporarily solved much of the problem, it still was not clear sailing.''

Dr Patnaik's IT team then began exploring the possibility of filing RTI applications online, along with online payment of the Rs10 fee for every RTI application under Section 6 of the RTI Act. The hurdle of online payment was solved through an official arrangement with Axis Bank. The bank was hesitant initially, as this is a very small amount. But since property tax is paid online through Axis Bank and that is a major sum in a city like Delhi, it agreed to process the small transaction also, as a goodwill gesture.

Dr Patnaik explained, "The RTI applicant has to pay Rs11; the one rupee extra is the transaction charge.'' He was not sure whether MCD would be criticized for the one rupee extra charge. However, the central information commissioner put this matter to rest saying, "Any RTI applicant has to either pay for the postage or fuel if he or she goes personally to MCD to file the RTI application. In the case of online application you pay just one rupee, which in fact saves precious time and travel expenses for citizens.'' Mr Gandhi congratulated the MCD and expressed the hope, "Now, every municipal corporation should follow suit.''

In just five days after initiating the online RTI application facility, the MCD received 71 applications from citizens in Delhi and two from people in Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. "In this technological era, we are committed towards e-governance for the comfort of citizens,'' Dr Patnaik says.

We gather from the website, www.mcdonline.gov.in, "The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is among the largest municipal bodies in the world, providing civic services to an estimated population of 13.78 million citizens in the capital city. It is next only to Tokyo in terms of area."

To enter the RTI application area, click on the sub-category "RTI online'' on the homepage of the MCD website. On the right side you will see the online RTI application. It has also uploaded other forms related to RTI applications.

Now that MCD has set a precedent, all municipal corporations must follow suit. "Every government department can now have online RTI applications and we are ready to guide and help them.''

In another first, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has over the past two years, set 3pm to 5pm, every Monday, for any citizen to conduct inspection of files, as allowed under Section 4 of the RTI Act. He or she can visit any of the departments of the PMC and check the files required. This is over and above any other time that citizens can inspect files during working hours. PMC was also the first to set up an RTI library, which has been named after renowned journalist-activist Prakash Kardaley. All these efforts are the result of rules under Section 4 which focus on suo moto disclosure by the government department.

MCD's endeavour on online RTI applications is a big boost for citizens' participation and it should not remain a solitary example. RTI activists in every city must move to shake up the civic bodies in their areas, and insist that they follow the MCD initiative.

Do write to me for any help regarding this at [email protected],com.

(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)

Comments
malq
1 decade ago
1) The MCD was amongst the earliest to really try, as an organisation, to work with people on RTI. Despite everything which is wrong with the MCD, much of which is also due to the strange "thing" that Delhi is, where bigger thieves and looters move around openly - there were eager as well as honest people in the midst who tried.

2) Early adopters of RTI, including Arvind Kejriwal (now LokPal Bill and more), Parveen Amanullah (now a Minister in Bihar) and others worked through the early days, amidst tough opposition from existing vested interests. Blade slashing when going to submit an RTI? MCD organised weekend camps and made it easier to send them by post, as well as gave people the option of both Acts, State and Centre.

3) Long story short, MCD (like Delhi Metro, DTC and some other local bodies) appears to be on its way to try to help. Ofcourse, if you go to the MCD office, then much has not changed - but steps like this, atleast for those with Credit Cards, solves some issues.

4) There are a few glitches - an instant email copy of the application, option to apply online and send the payment later by some other means, other languages . . .but no two ways, this is a great step forward by an organisation which was simply never admired for anything in the past.

It just shows that yes, we can do things the correct way, if we want to.

Thanks, Vinita, for this great article, and thank you Mr. Phatak.
nagesh kini
1 decade ago
Response to A Banerjee
Vinita is absolutely right. A properly worded and focused RTI query does elicit better response. No way with inquisition of why, how, when type cross question. Amchi BMC has been quite responsive to the extent of telling us not to go for RTI. Sec.4 is an useful tool or weapon!
A BANERJEE
1 decade ago
Well, I for one would keep my fingers crossed despite this initiative. This is because, I have never been fortunate enough to have received a single response to my several emails to MCD Commissioner who, being an IAS, is naturally above law and id unapproachable. His secretary is equally unapproachable and, the author ought to have noticed, there is no e-mail access addresses of a single MCD functionaries available anywhere. The culture of bribes obtains even more forcefully and not one single paper can move without that "extra" payment (rates commensurate with inflation!) that is customary in MCD under any party, be it Congress or BJP! The ordinary middle class people building or reconstructing/remodelling/extending their residences are the worst hit as, for every single procedure, one must pay a huge sum for getting the required permission/sanction and approaching the higher officials is neither safe nor permissible, with the IAS Commissioner remaining beyond reach as ever. I had seen some serious complaints some time ago in the website of consumercomplaints.in about the encroachment of public land/space/footpath by the rich and powerful in certain south Delhi gated communities. Strangely, there has never been any action taken while, in the same localities, the moment a resident of modest means commences reconstruction/repairs of his dwelling unit, the visits by the MCD hoologans begin demanding bribe which is compulsory. Otherwise, under some rule, the construction is stopped and the ratepayer harassed. What then is this hype about the ONLINE RTI facility? Does the author think that, any resident of modest means, seeking any information under the RTI Act from the MCD will be safe and be immune frome harassment bordering on danger to life and property?
Let this be the start of a debate on this move by the MCD which is bound to be only a showpiece as the MCD officials are immune from any action by any authority.
Vinita Deshmukh
Replied to A BANERJEE comment 1 decade ago
I tend to believe you on the corruption front of the MCD. However, MCD's online RTI application should be commended as the common, faceless man can sit at home and invoke this Act with the click of the mouse. When more and more citizens file applications which i should think they would as it is made simple now. then the pressure on the municipal corporation to be transparent will be more. Subsequently it should lead to dip in corruption. It may be a long drawn battle but we have to make a beginning somewhere. So, I think we all should spread the good word to invoke RTI applications on so many issues that hurt the common man in Delhi and become a huge citizen pressure group. I know it is only logical to be cynical but we need to get off it whenever there seems an iota of hope of change for the better. Hope you agree/
A Banerjee
Replied to Vinita Deshmukh comment 1 decade ago
Having been in the civil service and an activist of sorts, and having been a Delhi-ite and also a witness to how the MCD functions, I would like to keep my fingers crossed. This is because, if due to any RTI application any MCD official or employee were to be in trouble, the RTI applicant would need protection. But, yes, let us hope.
nagesh kini
1 decade ago
Not that the Mun.Corp.of Greater Mumbai is lagging behing. They do respond but at their own sweet will and pleasure.
My RTI application sent to a Ward Office was forwarded by the AE Maint. to the Tree Officer who reports to him with a cc to me. He replies and says a part of the info relates to the AE Environment with whom he shares his room, in fact both are seated next to each other! Another response follows.
This is a futile exercise to gain time and/or avoid replies.
To save on time and waste of stationery, instead of 10 Public Info. Officers at the Ward Office, the BMC HQ must be having many more, there ought to be just one department collating all the data and forwarding a consolidated response.
In another RTI applicatioin
the SRA replied to all queries but said those relating to Bank Guarantee and Security Deposit of the same Contractor are with the Accounts who took time to respond.
narayan varma
1 decade ago
good of you to share this info which i consider landmark and needs to be sent to all Public Authorities one has a contacts and I shall do so. Thanks
N. Varma
Nitin Kirtane
1 decade ago
This is a awesome effort by the minicipal corporation of delhi to allow filing of RTI online and payment , this is very useful to thwe commen man , good work by Mr Patnail also to the PMC to keep aside one day to allow inspections , an excellent article by Mrs Deshmukh again as this is a important issue , keep up your good work and writing on social issues , all the best NK
K B Patil
1 decade ago
Dr RC Patnaik, chief of the information technology department of MCD, deserves to be congratulated for his initiative. The sad fact is that this important news is yet to be highlighted by leading newspapers and TV news channels.
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