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No beating about the bush.
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])