Sunday, January 4, 2009

RTI - part 3 : my thoughts

Why did I attend that seminar and my thoughts about RTI:

After the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I had received a mail in which there was a mentioning about section 49-O of elections act. It allows us to specify that we do not want to vote for any of the candidates.

In the mail it was mentioned that if such "no-votes" count more than the votes of the elected candidate then there will re-elections. But as per wikipedia ( this is not the case. So I was wondering if I can get the help of RTI to clarify what is the reality. Just then I got to know about this seminar and thought of attending it.

After attending that seminar I got to know that there is already lot of information available on internet about RTI. So I thought I need to first look at it to find the answers to my questions. I spent almost 2-3 days just looking at the websites related to RTI. The information is tremendous in quantity. The typical info that you can find on these sites is: the RTI act (in different Indian languages), the standard process of application under RTI, FAQs that tell you what is meant by Information, Which info you can get and which you can't get etc.

In spite of all this mind boggling information I didn't get a straightforward answer to my question, where should I apply to get info about elections act. I mean, if someone wants to get some information about some department of government or other organization, where will he get the details where to apply? We need to know the postal address of the concerned PIO to send the application letter by post. And finding that information is indeed another trouble for a citizen(?) like me. [As per the RTI act its not compulsory to have an email id to provide information under RTI - as far as I know. Hey, but ... I've not seen a post box at a walking distance from my home. Where will I drop the letter then? I'll have to re-check.]

I really feel ashamed of this thing, but the fact is that I don't know exactly where to ask for the info. Also, at times there is a confusion about which government organisation or department is responsible for some activity. For eg- Couple of months back I had read in a newspaper that traffic signals are set up by RTO and controlled by traffic police. So if there is a question regarding traffic signals, where should we direct it to? As per RTI, if you have sent the application to wrong authority, the PIO over there is supposed to transfer your application to concerned authority and notify you about the same. But this adds a delay in getting the information. (Does that mean, I can send the question about traffic signal to PIO of the local post office and expect him to do the needful?? :-s ... well, I don't know.)

Moreover, just like any other act / law, this act is also full of jargons, that may not be understood by a newbie. I remember, in the seminar one person asked what is PIO (Public Information Officer - the person whom you are supposed to contact for getting the information). I know its unavoidable, but I think it is one of the main reasons why people stay away from such activities. Its a fast paced life and people doesn't seem to have enough time to understand all these details of any law and act / behave accordingly.

To help you in such cases, there are quite a few organizations which provide guidance for filing the application under RTI. One such organization is PCGT. They conduct a RTI Clinic every saturday (in Pune). One of the speakers at the seminar, Mr. Nitin Sonawane is RTI Prog Officer of PCGT. But the problem is that, not many people are aware about these organizations and their work.

I seriously feel that there is a need to spread awareness about such organizations as well as RTI. Though conducting seminars is a good way to do this, it may not be that much effective. I could attend the seminar this time, only because I was on leave. I wanted to know about RTI for long time but never got such a chance. Similarly, it may not be possible for many people to attend it due to their work or other responsibilities. It could be a reason why I had noticed quite a few senior citizens (couple of them were sleeping) during the seminar, and only a handful of young generation.

One way to spread awareness among the people who use emails (for personal or official use), is to put an animated image in the email signature that displays info about RTI and let others add the same signature in their emails. For example I use the following signature in my mail. It shows the latest posts on my blogs. Same thing can be used to spread RTI awareness.
[my email sign]
VNA in Capsule

[/my email sign]

When this idea came to my mind, I thought that we should have a blog where a knowledgable person (not me) will post some information about RTI every day (could be just a small piece of useful information) which will act as a daily dose of info. And it will spread through the email signature to millions of people, not immediately though. So I tried to register a blog having name RTI and its variants. I realized that most of the names are already taken by someone else. Many of these blogs are not at all related to RTI and the ones that are related to RTI are stale. There is no activity on such blogs since long time. Most of them are not updated since 2007. This was really irritating. I just managed to register 2 blog names: and . I've registered these blogs just to make sure that no one else wastes these. I'm ready to let any knowledgable person add information to these blogs, and I'll do the required settings to create email signature out of it.

Apart from this what I observed is, on most of the sites related to RTI, there isn't any option to search for a specific information on those sites. So its very difficult to find the required information from all the available information. If we have the information available on blog, people can browse through each post or we can tag the posts with specific labels which will make the browsing easy or even we can provide search facility as well. I hope this will be helpful in spreading the awareness.

Lets see if I can get some help from RTI experts to provide a daily dose of information on RTI blog.

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