Video conferencing way to clear backlog: RTI chief

By Mayank Aggarwal, IANS,

New Delhi : Decentralising the Central Information Commission (CIC) is not the way to clear the pending backlog of appeals and complaints, says India’s Right to Information (RTI) chief.

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“I don’t think decentralizing is the answer. Video conferencing is a better option and will work far better,” Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told IANS.

“If we decentralize, we will have to set up offices, arrange accommodation and other facilities like transport for the information commissioners and for that also a huge amount of money will have to be spent,” he added.

The Right To Information Act was passed by parliament in 2005 for promoting transparency and accountability in the system.

According to Habibullah, “decentralization would also lead to breakdown of coordination between Public Information officers.”

“The RTI Act emphasises the use of electronic means, and video conferencing is a revolutionary system of information technology. For RTI, the next step at CIC is the introduction of video conferencing, which is inexpensive and quite efficient,” he said.

“Earlier we were using the video conferencing facility at the National Informatics Centre. But it was not always available due to which a lot of our hearings were cancelled,” Habibullah explained.

He said that video conferencing facility was available now at one of the CIC offices.

“We have divided time between all information commissioners at the office to use that facility. I am slowly looking towards all information commissioners having their own video conferencing facility so that they don’t even have to use it by turn,” Habibullah added.

He further stated that whenever there is a huge backlog of cases at a particular place, the information commissioners travel to those places for a few days and hold hearings.

“Chandigarh and Puducherry are just some of the examples,” Habibullah added.

“The future step could be installation of video conferencing at all ministry offices so that they don’t even have to come to the office and instead they can attend the hearing while sitting in their offices.”

“In fact, the commission has already recommended to the government to provide video conferencing facility to all secretaries in their ministries which would save both time and resources,” another CIC official said.

Asked about applicants coming from faraway places to attend a hearing at the CIC office here, Habibullah said: “We have also taken care of that and asked them to attend hearings through video conferencing available at the district level”.

Agreeing with Habibullah’s views, Magsaysay award winner and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said: “I agree with Habibullah’s view about using technology for RTI in the country. However, video conferencing would still have its limitations, as infrastructure would be needed.

“Instead audio conferencing will ensure that public money is saved and it would also be easier for the appellants. Information commissioners like O.P. Kejriwal have started using audio conferencing.”

“In the case of video conferencing, applicants still have to travel to the nearby district headquarters. However, in case of audio conferencing they will have to just go to the nearby telephone booth,” Arvind Kejriwal said.

However, some RTI activists still feel that decentralization of CIC will help.

Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar told IANS: “Definitely, decentralisation will help. There is a lot of problems in video conferencing, as rural areas don’t have any such facility.”

Asked about the financial burden on the government in opening CIC offices at other places in the country, Kumbhar said: “I don’t think that there would be any financial burden on the government.”