Since 2014, Maharashtra has tom-tommed about its RTI online website
. Last week, the 190-year old Amrutanjan Bridge, was demolished. I wanted to know whether there were public consultations, call for suggestions and objections by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
I visited the https://rtionline.maharashtra.gov.in
website to file my RTI online to the MSRDC. To my utter disappointment and shock, it is just not listed amongst the public authorities on which you can click and go further to file your RTI application. The website states: "At present the facility of the online filing of RTI application is available only for the Mantralaya departments and departments outside Mantralaya will be taken up in subsequent phases."
Six years have passed by and still the same message remains—that other public authorities would 'be taken up in subsequent phases'. So, as you scroll through the list, you will find 200 public authorities under Mantralaya, all municipal corporations, zilla parishads, municipal councils, tehsils and rural police are included.
However, Maharashtra being a progressive state, there are several state-owned or public-private-partnership organisations, one example being MSRDC which is one of the most important public authorities, considering the toll collection and the massive mileage of roadways that it builds, operates and maintains.
As per the website onlinerti.com, Madhya Pradesh RTI portal has the Madhya Pradesh Road Development Corporation Limited as one of the public authorities. However, Rahul Singh, information commissioner stated that, "since the last three to four months, our website is not functioning. I have got in touch with the Central information commissioner as it has a very good online portal and he has agreed to help us develop it. Waiting for the lockdown to get over."
Delhi-based RTI activist, commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), who steered the campaign for overseas Indians to file online RTI by paying the fees through e-IPO, says the central information commissions RTI online portal is very active and covers almost all the central public authorities. The website is https://rtionline.gov.in/.
However, Batra has been uniquely filing his RTI applications with the Central government public authorities through his email. To date, he has bought 355 e-IPOs. For this, you have to go to https://www.epostoffice.gov.in/.
You buy the e-IPO through your debit card or credit card, download it and attach it to your RTI application, which also you attach with your email. He has been consistently getting replies to his varied RTI applications. Unfortunately, no state information commission has this facility.
States Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who has filed an RTI application online on https://rtionline.maharashtra.gov.in/
, "I have filed my RTI applications several times in the last two years, but I have yet to get any response. They are extremely lax in this regard."
Thus, citizens are being denied their right to access information due to the lockdown, when it should be easily accessible with the click of the mouse. At the 10th annual convention of the central information commission in Delhi in 2015, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi had said in his speech, that the Union government’s 'Digital India' initiative is complementary to RTI, because putting information online brings transparency, which in turn, builds trust. He had also described the Right to Information Act as a tool through which the common man has got not just the right to know, but also the right to question those in power. In reality, these statements have remained a pipedream.
As for me, I would have to wait for the lock-down to be over to know the chronology of the demolition of the Amrutanjan Bridge.
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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”.