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Friday, January 26, 2007

RTI : Bihar shows way

Helpline From January 29 Will Empower People, Bring In More Accountability
New Delhi: Bihar’s black marks can take a back seat for now. It is now a shining example to other states as it becomes the first state to introduce a helpline service for RTI applicants.
Now, instead of writing an application for seeking information under the RTI Act and submitting it to concerned departments, all one has to do is dial a specific number where an attendant processes the request and sends an application to the concerned official. A duplicate copy is forwarded to the district magistrate through email followed by a fax message. A copy of the application will be delivered at the caller’s address within three days. Plus, the caller will be given a special number for follow-up action, says A Subhani, secretary, personnel, Bihar. A Rs 10 RTI application fee will be added to the telephone call charge. This helpline will be launched in coordination with an NGO, Parivartan.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar says, ‘‘The RTI helpline will be launched to empower people and bring transparency as well as accountability in the administration. It will be operational from January 29 and all necessary arrangements are being completed. The phone number will be finalised in a day or two’’ The CM adds, ‘‘It was found that though many people wanted to file RTI applications, they weren’t able to do so due to the technicalities involved. While in some cases, officials were found unavailable, some offices were located in far away places. But the new call centre service will save the common man from the nitty-gritty problems of RTI application. It’s the responsibility of the call centre to redress the grievance.’’
Asked if launching this helpline would open a Pandora’s Box in a problematic state like Bihar, the CM says, ‘‘People have a right to know about the fate of ongoing projects, reasons for delay, amount spent, status of loan applications, etc. Besides, empowering the people, I hope the helpline acts as a deterrent against corruption.’’ The cost of this initiative, says Kumar, can’t be quantified as this is the first time it’s being done.
‘‘But whatever the cost, the government is ready to bear it.’’ The job has been outsourced to a call centre called Jankari which is provided with 12 parallel lines. ‘‘The decision to outsource the job was a conscious one.
This way, there’ll be no interference while receiving applications,’’ says Chanchal Kumar, special secretary to the CM. He is monitoring the helpline service. ‘‘As this is happening for the first time in the country, we are not taking any chances,’’ he says. ‘‘A massive training programme for all officials, including DMs, PIOs, APIOs, and senior officials is being carried out with the help of the NGO. Initially, the service will be available during office hours, but gradually we will increase the timing depending upon the response.’’
Arun Kumar Das | TNN, Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 21; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 11

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