Scuttling Transparency?  Election Commission does not respond to 2000 ‘RTI Online’ applications

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The Election Commission of India (ECI) despite being a progressive institution is unwilling to accept RTI applications filed through the RTI Online portal. Close to 2000 online applications were filed with the ECI in the last 12 months, but none of them was responded to.

Factly had earlier reported that the Election Commission of India (ECI) is not willing to accept RTI applications filed through the RTI Online portal. Data made available by DoPT to a RTI applicant reveals that 1951 RTI applications, addressed to the ECI were filed through the RTI Online portal as of 30th September 2017. And expectedly, not a single one of them has been responded to by the ECI.

Documents reveal that ECI officials were trained on RTI Online

Documents obtained under the RTI act by one Mr. Neeraj Sharma indicate that the ECI had actively communicated with the DoPT regarding training of officials on RTI Online and including ECI in the list of public authorities available on the portal.

In March 2016, Mr. S K Mishra from the ECI sent an email to RTI-PMU regarding linking of ECI with RTI Online portal. He also informed that Mr. Tapas Kumar from the ECI had been nominated as the nodal officer for RTI.

This was followed with a training session in May 2016 where 25 officials from the ECI were trained on the RTI Online portal. During the training, the ECI officials had even suggested that an option be introduced for the PIO to call for a supporting document.Following the training session, a letter was sent by the then Secretary of DoPT addressed to the Deputy Election Commissioner, Mr. Umesh Sinha in September 2016. The letter talks about one of the action points that emerged out of the presentations by the group of Secretaries made before the Prime Minister, to extend RTI Online to all the public authorities under the Central Government in a time bound manner by 30th June 2017.

Close to 2000 RTI applications waiting for a response from the ECI

Following these letters, the ECI was included as one of the public authorities on the RTI Online portal sometime after September 2016. Data shared by DoPT in response to a RTI application indicates that a total of 1951 RTI applications were filed with the ECI via the RTI Online portal till 30th September 2017. Not even a single application out of the 1951 have been responded to by the ECI. Further, 595 first appeals have also been filed with the ECI through the RTI Online portal and all of them are pending.

Going by the monthly returns available on the ECI portal, the ECI receives an average of more than 150 RTI applications (excluding the ones from the RTI Online portal) every month. Going by the numbers shared by DoPT, a similar number of applications are also being received online every month.

Nothing explains the reluctance of ECI

The ECI is looked up to as a progressive institution by citizens in the country. It is indeed an irony that such a progressive institution refuses to make it easy for citizens to exercise their Right to Information. As noted in our previous story,  ECI’s efforts to build another application for Online RTI is a sheer waste of resources and money when a suitable application already exists.

It is all the more surprising is that the ECI does not have any notice or information on its website informing citizens not to file applications via the RTI Online portal despite knowing that 100s of applications are being filed every month in the hope of getting a response from the ECI. Knowingly, the ECI is scuttling transparency.

PS: An email has been sent to the ECI to know their point of view on this issue. The story will be updated as and when a response is received.

Featured Image: Election Commission’s reluctance to RTI Online

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