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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])
On 23rd May, Moneylife wrote on how a Kerala citizen was denied access to Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEP). The Central Information Commission and the Delhi High Court ordered the ministry to make it public. It has now been uploaded on its site
Just when one wondered whether the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) would turn to the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court on 17th May, upheld the order of the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) to make the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEP) public, it came as a pleasant surprise that the RTI (Right to Information) route taken by a Kerala citizen to access this report bore fruit when the ministry promptly uploaded it on the website.
However, perhaps to keep the political bosses happy, the MoEF authorities have put a disclaimer on its website www.moef.nic.in stating: “The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report has not been formally accepted by the ministry and that the report is still being analyzed and considered by the ministry.” The reason is obvious: The WGEEP report submitted by the 13-member panel headed by noted Pune-based ecological expert Madhav Gadgil has damned the construction of big dams; the ongoing mining activities; the devastation of chemical industries on the fragile environment of Western Ghats that comprise 1,29,000 odd km stretching over six states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.).
What’s going to hurt the powerful developmental lobbies are the stringent recommendations made by the WGEEP in terms of making all the 142 talukas that come under the Western Ghats, into Environmental Sensitive Zones (ESZs) of three categories—ESZ I, ESZ II and ESZ III as per order of fragility. This translates into: “Regions of highest sensitivity or Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1); Regions of high sensitivity or ESZ2; and Regions of moderate sensitivity or ESZ3... A number of specific proposals received by the panel from individual Gram Panchayats as well as NGOs from different parts of the Western Ghats are referred to as Ecologically Sensitive Localities (ESL).”
WGEEP recommends that no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 as defined by the panel. Thus, the controversial Athirappilly and Gundia Hydel Project of Kerala and Karnataka respectively fall into the most sensitive ESZI category and WGEEP has recommended that the projects “should not be accorded environmental clearance.”
Similarly, for Goa, the WGEEP recommends “an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, phasing out of mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 by 2016 and continuation of existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an effective system of social audit.”
The WGEEP has also cautioned about the environmental stress due to mining and chemical industries on the coastal plains of Maharashtra’s districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg which fall outside the purview of the Western Ghats but were partially studied by the team. On the basis of this, it recommends that the mining, power production and polluting industries in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts should have “appropriate course of further development.”
For these districts, the panel recommends “an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, phasing out of mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 by 2016 and continuation of existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an effective system of social audit.”
“It also recommends that in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, no new polluting (red and orange category) industries, which would include coal-based power plants, should be permitted to be established; the existing red and orange category industries should be asked to switch to zero pollution by 2016, again with an effective system of social audit.”
The WGEEP suggests that the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa should ‘immediately’ undertake the study of “various development activities in these tracts, ideally in conjunction with Raigad district of Maharashtra and the state of Goa.”
The discomfort factor for powers that be across the six states is that, for all these three ESZs, the WGEEP has sternly recommended “large scale public consultations” before any project is undertaken. The panel report states: “In these zones, the panel recommends that development activity needs to be decided through a participatory process involving the gram sabhas” and broad guidelines have been also given to “extensive consultations with officials, experts, civil society groups and citizens at large.”
Noting a severe lacuna in the “deficit in environmental governance all over the Western Ghats tract” the WGEEP panel states it is very impressed with participation of locals, citizens and citizen groups in helping to preserve the Western Ghats environment in various places. The report observes: “The panel is impressed both by levels of environmental awareness and commitment of citizens towards the cause of the environment, and their helplessness in the face of their marginalization in the current system of governance. The panel urges the ministry of environment and forests to take a number of critical steps to involve citizens.”
Hence it suggests that: “The panel urges the ministry of environment and forests to take a number of critical steps to involve citizens. These would include: pro-active and sympathetic implementation of the provisions of the Community Forest Resources of the Forest Rights Act, establishment of fully empowered Biodiversity Management Committees in all local bodies” and various commendable programmes undertaken by different local self governments.
Predictably, the WGEEP report is not to the liking of the political and bureaucratic bosses as most of the times the so-called developmental projects are aimed towards an ‘influential’ instead for the good of the people at large.
The MoEF has invited the suggestions/objections of stakeholders’ comments/views are invited within 45 days from today (23rd March) on the following emails: [email protected], [email protected]. The comments/views may also be sent by fax/mail.
These issues with the approval of the Competent Authority.
(Dr. Amit Love)
Email: [email protected]
For the background of how this report went public, read the 23rd May story in MoneyLife http://www.moneylife.in/article/make-western-ghats-ecology-status-report-public-cic-hc-direct-govt/25853.html.
(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])
A RTI reply from the Navy Headquarters to Delhi-based activist Subhash Agrawal has revealed that more than Rs23 crore was spend on the event which took place on 20 December 2011
The President’s Fleet Review (PFR) 2011, held off the Mumbai coastline, cost the Navy whopping Rs23.24 crore, a Right to Information (RTI) application has revealed.
As the president of India is the supreme commander of the armed forces, he/she is entitled to inspect his/her fleet. PFR is a traditional assembly of ships, submarines and naval aircraft (in a fly past) at anchorage, according to India Strategic. It is held once during the five year tenure of the president.
Delhi-based activists Subhash Agrawal had filed a RTI application with Navy Headquarters seeking total expenditure for the PFR 2011. It was revealed that more than Rs23 crore was spend on the event. This included expenditure under various heads such as repair of submarines, hiring of vessels, transport and casual labour; maintenance of marine assets, repair and refits of aircraft related stores, etc.
Mr Agrawal also sought information on places renovated and/or newly built for PFR 2011 along with budgetary allocation and cost involved on each of such project renovated and/or newly built.
In reply to this RTI query, Navy HQ furnished the list of such long-term infrastructure development which together cost Rs11.67 crore. Some this includes Rs1.32 crore spent on external painting of buildings and rooftops and repair of buildings;
Rs1.2 crore spent on relaying roads; Rs41 lakh on the special repairs to the road from Afghan Church to RC Church (near Navy area); Rs27 lakh for the special repair to heritage wall at INS Angre; Rs8 lakh on display board on main roads; Rs49 lakh spent on special repairs to external services and rain beating wall of certain at VIP roads and procurement of light fittings and cable, refurbishment of tower, street and security lights among others.
The RTI reply also stated that Rs26.96 lakh was spent to buy new furniture, including 30 dining tables and 60 dining chairs, furniture for VIP lounge and for cabin staff. To the question on how much cost was involved in catering for the people involved in the fleet review along with tendering process followed in providing contract for catering, it was revealed that together Rs19.68 lakh was spent on the catering. Of this, Rs17.57 lakh was spent on the catering for presidential banquet involving 960 people while Rs2.11 lakh on catering for the presidential yacht/ship involving 750 people.
According to PTI, President Pratibha Patil, undertook the fleet review on 20 December 2011, in which she took salute from a flotilla of 81 ships, including four submarines and 44 aircraft of the Navy and the Indian Coast Guard.