RTI turns 16, but TN continues to 'customise' portal
Till today, the portal's main page says it is "under customisation" and a user cannot file a petition to any other department other than that addressed to the Human Resources Management department.
CHENNAI: October is a month to rejoice for information activists across the country; the Right To Information Act came into force this month almost 16 years ago. But for those in Tamil Nadu, it is the time to roll up their sleeves and reiterate the demand for making the government's online RTI portal fully functional. It (https://rtionline.tn.gov.in) continues to remain in the same state, as said in a Government Order on April 29 last year.
The order issued by S Swarna, the then Secretary of the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms (P & AR), said a "trial run of the software for filing petitions will be conducted in the P & AR department." It further said, "after ascertaining the performance, a pilot run will be conducted in a major department."
However, till today, the portal's main page says it is "under customisation" and a user cannot file a petition to any other department other than that addressed to the Human Resources Management department (the rechristened name of P & AR department).
A latest policy note stated the HRM Department has made provision for filing petitions and first appeals on the portal with effect from June 25. It also says the "facility is to be adopted by all departments of the secretariat in a phased manner." An official from the department confirmed to TNIE about the directions issued to other departments in July-August this year but said no deadline has been set on this. "Our instruction was for them to adopt it immediately," he said, adding that Public Information Officers (PIOs) of concerned departments have to make efforts separately for the portal to become fully operational.
Petitions were filed before the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court seeking directions to State governments, including Tamil Nadu, to set up online portals. However, the apex court expressed displeasure after some States, allegedly including Tamil Nadu, did not respond to its notices. A Delhi-based NGO Pravasi Legal Cell was the petitioner before the top court.
Speaking to TNIE, a counsel for the petitioner (Pravasi Legal Cell) Advocate Jose Abraham said Tamil Nadu claims it is a literate and a virtual State but it does not have a portal for online RTIs. "Till now, only 14 States have replied to the court. Eight of them now have full-fledged online portals. The remaining six are working on their portals. But the rest, including Tamil Nadu, are yet to respond despite repeated requests by the apex court," Abraham alleged.
However, the HRM department official said a response has been sent only once. "Another affidavit would be filed in the matter soon," he said and refused to share a copy of the first response of the government.
K Hakkim of Makkal Vizippunarvu Arakattalai, a Madurai-based organisation engaged in raising awareness on RTIs, alleged the State government has been unwilling to make progress on this issue. "Hope, the new government will take real efforts," he said.
A Chennai-based RTI Activist, Gopalakrishnan V, said he had to face hurdles in filing a petition even in the existing set up (before the HRM department). "Other than Rupay card, none of the other debit cards are accepted. Besides, charges for choosing a payment gateway, other than SBI, is `6. Using a credit card would cost `12," he said, adding the charge for filing a petition is only `10.