The ECI does not respond to RTI applications filed through the RTI Online portal. The DoPT said that the ECI is not willing to entertain any application through the RTI Online portal despite reminders sent by them. DoPT advised citizens that a complaint be filed with the CIC against the ECI.
The RTI Online portal of the Government of India was launched in August 2013 by the then UPA government to facilitate filing of Right to Information applications online. The Election Commission of India (ECI) though included as a public authority in the portal, does not respond to any such RTI applications filed through the portal for some strange reason. When Factly enquired, it is learnt that the ECI is not willing to entertain any application filed through the RTI Online portal.
The RTI Online Portal
The RTI Online portal is a good initiative aimed at reducing the physical need to file paper based RTI applications. From just 96 public authorities of the Central Government in 2013-14, the portal has now been extended to 1840 public authorities (including independent organizations) of the central government as of March 2017. The number of online RTI applications filed has increased from 87831 in 2013-14 to 231688 in 2015-16. In 2015-16, the proportion of RTI applications filed through the online portal reached 24% of all the applications filed with public authorities of the central government.
The ECI is also listed as one of the 1840 public authorities on the portal to whom RTI applications can be filed through the portal.
Though the ECI is listed as one of the public authorities on the portal, it does not respond to any of applications filed through the portal. It hasn’t responded to even a single application filed by this author since January 2017.
DoPT says ECI is not willing to entertain online applications
Factly filed a grievance about this issue on the PGPORTAL to the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), the nodal agency for implementation of the RTI act. RTI Online is also an initiative of the DoPT. It was asked why the ECI was listed on the portal when it does not accept online applications. In response, the DoPT said, ‘EC is online to the portal. However, they are not responding to online RTI. DoPT has written a letter to EC but it seems they are not willing to entertain any RTI online application. It is advised to file a complaint with CIC.
The DoPT maintains that though the EC is online to the portal, they are not willing to entertain any RTI applications. In fact, the DoPT went a step further and advised us to file a complaint with the Central Information Commission (CIC).
ECI’s response not convincing
Factly reached out to the ECI to understand if what the DoPT mentioned was true. Mr. K N Bhar, Principal Secretary in the ECI confirmed that they are not accepting RTI applications online and that they have communicated the same to DoPT. He also said that they requested DoPT to remove ECI from the list of public authorities on the RTI Online portal.
But the reasons given by the ECI official were not convincing. He said that most of the RTI applications received were related to the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of states and that they are not on RTI online making it difficult to transfer the applications to them. While it is true that the RTI Online portal currently lists only the ECI and not the state CEOs, they can easily be added as public authorities on the portal. Many central government ministries/departments have state level offices and in such cases the state level offices are also listed as public authorities on the portal (the example of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs is given below). The same can be followed for the ECI. This reason stated by the ECI is not convincing enough. In fact, it looks silly at one level.
ECI to have its own online portal for RTI application filing
The official also said that the ECI is developing its own application for online filing of RTI applications with the ECI. While the timelines for the release of such an application are not known, this is simply reinventing the wheel and wasting public money when there is no need. At least now, the ECI should accept applications through the RTI Online portal instead of developing another application.