Downloading and using mobile apps is the way to go for various entertainments and everyday services that you seek, as your phone has become a one-stop virtual platform for your real-life activities. Adding to the ocean of help that’s accessible at the tip of your fingers, Moneylife Foundation has launched a unique app called ‘RTI Advice’ which offers quick guidance on any issue you face about (Right to Information).
The unique quality of the ‘RTI Advice’ app is, that it breaks all language and location barriers. For, if you can’t express your query in English, you can upload your 15 second video in your language and the RTI expert will video back his or her reply in the same language! An endeavour which the government should have undertaken as the RTI Act mentions that public awareness campaign should be spread by it, has been realised by a reputed NGO (non-government organisation). The ‘RTI Advice’ app is available for both Android and IPhone smartphones.
Here’s how a user used it. On 23 December 2020, Dr Sundaram, who downloaded the ‘RTI Advice’ App; sought advice on the indifferent attitude of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) towards his sewage connection. He wrote: “BWSSB is the authority in Bangalore to provide drinking water and ensure sewage disposal. They are providing water but till date have not connected the sewage line of my house with theirs. They are aware of the lapse but have done nothing till date despite many complaints. How do I get my civic right facilitated?’’
He promptly got a reply from one of the experts on how to file RTI for his issue. She suggested “to file a RTI seeking information on action taken on each of his correspondence to the BWSSB; the name of the officer in charge of this responsibility; what is the time frame fixed by the authority to fix the sewage line after citizen request; copy of action taken against the officer for dereliction of duty (in case the deadline has passed) and; copy of rules of the authority for fixing sewage pipe in private property.”
Another user, Sujit88 sought help on the issue of fees for RTI, which he pays for his application. There seemed to be some miscommunication between the public information officer (PIO) and the accounts office. This matter too was promptly explained by informing him that for RTI application he needs to pay Rs10 as application fee and it can be paid by Indian postal order (for central government departments) and by court fee stamp for some state governments like Maharashtra. These and several such queries are being answered by a panel of RTI experts on the RTI Advice app.
This ‘RTI Advice’ app is unique as never-before could a citizen access an RTI expert so easily for advice. He or she would have to find out the expert’s contact details and initiate a dialogue. Or he would have to attend a workshop or seminar on RTI and ask his or her questions or doubts. The whole process is time-consuming.
For the first time after the implementation of the RTI Act in 2005, Moneylife Foundation has made it feasible for citizens to just use the app and thereby use RTI with much more confidence and thus become better informed.
Says Sucheta Dalal, founder trustee of Moneylife Foundation, “The ‘RTI Advice’ app is an opportunity for citizens across the country to ask all their Right to Information queries to our panel of experts. The app is an initiative undertaken by Moneylife Foundation’s RTI Centre, which is supported by its benefactor Dinesh Thakur, the world-renowned Ranbaxy whistle-blower.’’
Presently, the ‘RTI Advice’ app has seven members as experts whose expertise comes from a wide range of areas. These include former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, veteran journalist Vijay Kumbhar, senior RTI activists Anil Galgali, Bhaskar Prabhu, Samir Zaveri, RTI columnist for Moneylife, Vinita Deshmukh, and Moneylife’s in-house expert Yogesh Sapkale. All these experts not only guide on RTI related issues, but are ardent users of RTI themselves. The app also facilitates RTI experts to build their own network through quick interactions with users.
The ‘RTI Advice’ app is an on-going effort from Moneylife Foundation’s RTI Centre and will be updated with more experts on a frequent basis as the need for queries to be answered grows.
The app also allows for a supporting document to be attached along with the question so that the expert is made aware of all relevant details pertaining to the question. Once a question is submitted on the app, the expert that is chosen by the user, receives a notification on his or her smartphone, seeking reply from them. The RTI experts can then easily open the app, see the question and reply within minutes either in text or video format, and also attach any document if necessary.
Any question or reply that is given on the app, remains part of the database and users can easily search for previously asked questions using simple keywords. All questions and replies are also readily visible under the ‘Discover’ tab on the app.
Here is also a short ‘How-to’ video published by Moneylife Foundation, which explains how a user can use the app.
(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”.)