The Hindu, April 20, 2007

Special Correspondent
JAIPUR: The Central Information Commission has asked the Prime Minister’s Office to direct Government departments to prepare inter-active websites for the benefit of information seekers under the Right to Information Act. There should be a format on the websites of the Central departments which the information seekers could fill in and send so that they could get a reply without going through the present set of procedures, it has said.

“It is a government programme to computerise the relevant records with all the departments. We have asked the Government to keep in mind the RTI aspect while doing this,” said Central Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah here on Wednesday. “NIC has already made a format for seeking and providing information on the websites,” he said, adding that the PMO had taken note of his suggestion.

Mr. Habibullah was delivering the inaugural address here at the launch of a new project, “Combating corruption in Rajasthan by applying the RTI Act as a tool”. The project is being carried out by CUTS Centre for Consumer Action Research and Training (CUTS CART) in collaboration with Partnership for Transparency Fund for the next one year.

“Ever since Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister introduced computers, the country has made rapid progress in this sector. Yet the advantage of computer application is not fully utilised for bringing in transparency in governance,” Mr. Habibullah observed. While asserting that despite initial hiccups the RTI Act, passed in October 2005, was well in place, he said: “It is working smoothly now. Situations may differ from State to State but things have started working.” “There is no need to treat the RTI Act as a weapon,” he said. “The law is not a stick to beat those in Government. It is a useful tool and should be used for the benefit of the public.”

The CIC, he added, was not happy to penalise erring persons though it had imposed penalties in 27 cases so far. Speaking on the occasion, the Chief Information Commissioner of Andhra Pradesh, C.D.Arah, described the RTI Act as an epoch-making legislation. “There is no pro-forma for applying for information. Also there are no questions asked about the information seeker or the intent. The only question asked is the address to which the sought information could be sent,” he noted. Talking about the track record of the Andhra Pradesh State Information Commission, Mr. Arah said there continued problems with both demand and supply.

There was a big urban-rural divide in Andhra Pradesh when it came to the RTI Act with urban centres accounting for 88.8 per cent of the applications. A maximum of 39.7 per cent of the information seekers were from the media while social workers comprised the next biggest chunk (17.8 per cent).