New Delhi, March 22: Washington-based Arun Gopalan wanted to file an RTI query for seven years. The wait ended today for him and other Indians abroad.
The software engineer was among the first to file a Right to Information (RTI) application today, hours after the government launched a system for online purchase of postal orders required to pay the fee in RTI applications.
“It was difficult to purchase Indian postal orders (IPO) or a demand draft in rupees abroad. Now all we have to do is log on to the department of posts website and click on the ePost Office link,” the 33-year-old said over phone from Washington, soon after buying one of the postal orders, called eIPOs, and filing his plea.
The facility is open to NRIs with Indian passports and to residents of India who are abroad on trips or travelling. Supporting documents, such as passport, visa and residency papers for those settled abroad, have to be attached.
But while Gopalan, who has been living in the US for nine years and said his query related to the Narmada project, could click his way to the RTI application, the government is yet to cross the digital divide — the replies will be sent by post, like they are to Indian residents.
Still, Gopalan is delighted, spying in the new system a chance to slice through the infinite layers of bureaucracy and red tape.
“When we filed RTIs earlier at the Indian embassy here, the officials would often refuse to forward the pleas to the department concerned in India despite provisions in the RTI Act saying so. Also, we couldn’t pay the fee of Rs 10 for each plea because of the difficulty in getting postal orders and demand drafts in rupees.”
Those who wish to use the facility need to register at the ePost Office link on the department of posts’ site. After that, they have to select the ministry or department from which the information is being sought. The eIPO must be mailed as an attachment with the RTI application.
Gopalan could send a thank you note to Lokesh Batra in India. The retired commodore and RTI activist has been running a campaign since 2006 to ensure that Indians abroad secure the right.
Batra described today as a “historic day for RTI activists”. “It has been a dream for millions of Indians abroad to use this great transparency tool (RTI). The eIPO will allow them to enjoy the same rights as those living in the country.”
It was four years ago that Batra, on a holiday in the US, met people like Gopalan and other Indians. “During the two months I was there, I tried to file RTI pleas myself but discovered it was very difficult to buy IPOs or even a demand draft abroad in rupees.”
Batra then launched an online petition seeking to make it easier for overseas Indians, even residents abroad on a day’s visit, to file RTI pleas. He also moved the Central Information Commission, which in 2010 had ordered a system for Indians abroad.
“This (RTI) is not just for personal use but for society as a whole. It is easier to file RTIs to get information than to pay bribes for the same thing,” said Batra, adding he had a list of 25 RTIs he would shoot off one after the other.