Sunday, March 24, 2013

RTI applications for NRIs simplified

The Government of India took a major step forward in enabling Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to file applications under the Right to Information Act this week, announcing that it has launched a service called “elPO,” or Electronic Indian Postal Order. Using this, NRIs across the world may now be in a position to file RTI applications conveniently via direct payment of fees for the same. According to an Office Memorandum put out on Friday by the government’s Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, the Department of Posts service will permit NRIs to purchase an Indian Postal Order electronically by paying a fee on-line through e-Post Office Portal i.e. It could also be accessed through India Post website, the memorandum explained. Lokesh Batra, a retired commodore and an RTI activist who was said to be one of the principal campaigners behind the move, said, “At last eIPO launched today. Indian Citizens Abroad can now file RTIs and participate in Nation Building. The Journey that started for me in October 2008 in the U.S. (Boston) 54 months ago has reached its destination today.” He was also quoted as saying that the eIPO would allow Indians abroad to enjoy the same rights as those living in the country." According to reports it was his frustration with the difficulties in filing an RTI application from the U.S. during a two-month visit there to see his daughter four years ago that led Mr Batra to start an online petition to make it easier for to buy IPOs or demand drafts in Indian rupees. He was said to have moved the Central Information Commission which in 2010 reportedly ordered that a system be put in place to make it possible for Indians living abroad to file RTIs. The Ministry’s note clarified that at present the facility was provided only for Indian citizens abroad across the globe to facilitate them to seek information from the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) under the RTI Act, 2005, and debit and credit cards could be used to purchase the elPO. In terms of process users are required to get themselves registered at the website, select the Ministry or Department from whom they desire the information under the RTI Act and then elPO so generated can be used to seek information from that Ministry or Department only. Further, the memorandum explained, a printout of the elPO is required to be attached with the RTI application, or if the RTI application was being filed electronically, the elPO must be attached. As a caveat it should be noted that all the requirements for filing an RTI application as well as other provisions regarding eligibility, time limit and exemptions, as provided in the RTI Act, 2005 will continue to apply. CPIOs are required to maintain a record of the elPOs so received from Indian citizens abroad, but eIPO details can be verified from the website of India Post. In emailed comments to The Hindu, Somu Kumar, a volunteer with the AID NGO based in Washington said that an activist, Vishal Kudchadkar, conducted the first transaction using the ePIO facility and filed an RTI immediately. Regarding his experience on using the system Mr. Kudchadkar said, “The ePIO system was very simple and straightforward. It will be nice to have all PIO email IDs also in the list so that we can easily mail the RTI application along with ePIO transaction.”

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