Why do ‘Digital Initiatives’ of the Government fail? Here is one example

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The CIC launched an online application to file appeals & complaints. But as this author finds out, this system is like new wine in old bottle and provides a perfect example as to why digital initiatives of the government fail. 

The Central Information Commission (CIC) who is the adjudicatory authority for appeals & complaints under the Right to Information (RTI) act launched its new web portal recently. A new online appeal & complaint system was also launched simultaneously  with much pomp & show. The online system is supposed to simplify the process of filing appeals & complaints to the CIC. But as the experience of this author shows, the less said the better about the new system. It is like new wine in old bottle. Nothing seems to have changed for the citizen.

Appeal & Complaint to the CIC

As per Sec 18 & 19 of the RTI act, a citizen can file a complaint or an appeal to the CIC when he/she has either not received any information to the RTI request or is not satisfied with the response. The appeal or complaint has to be filed in accordance with the rules notified in 2012. In general, an appeal to the CIC should be accompanied by the following documents

  • A copy of the application submitted to the Central Public Information Officer
  • A copy of the reply received, if any, from the Central Public Information Officer
  • A copy of the appeal made to the First Appellate Authority
  • A copy of the Order received, if any, from the First Appellate Authority
  • Copies of other documents relied upon by the appellant and referred to in his appeal
  • An index of the documents referred to in the appeal.

All these documents are relevant for a physical appeal. According to the CIC, to simplify this process, the CIC had introduced the online appeal & complaint process. It also has to be noted that an application under RTI to most central government departments can be filed via the RTI Online portal of the Government of India, which is being extensively used by citizens. In fact, the number of RTI applications filed through this portal has increased to 24% in 2015-16 from 11% in 2013-14. For applications filed using this portal, a physical copy of the application or an appeal do not exist.

‘Online’ – Only in the name?

One of the fundamental flaws with the new system is that it is not connected to RTI online. It prompts the user to enter a RTI registration number. But when it is entered, it throws a message saying the number is not found. This author tried with at least 10 valid RTI application registration numbers from the RTI online portal and the result was the same for all of them.

For eg., an application under RTI was filed online with the Central Electricity Authority in April, 2017 with registration number ‘CEATY/R/2017/50043.Online Appeals & Complaints to the CIC_1

This registration number was not be found in the online appeal application of the CIC. Same was the fate of at least 10 other registration numbers.Online Appeals & Complaints to the CIC (2)

For an online application, now generate pdf copies of all documents

When the RTI application itself was filed online, there is nothing like a physical copy with the applicant. But still the online appeal application prompts the citizen to mandatorily upload the pdf documents of the application, response and the first appeal. One wonders if this is what CIC meant by going digital.Online Appeals & Complaints to the CIC (6)This author took pains to convert his online application into pdf and uploaded all the required documents. The online appeal application also asks for an ID proof to ensure that no impersonation takes place.

Online Appeals & Complaints to the CIC 9

After going through all that is explained above, this author was elated reading these instructions once again, that no hard copy is required after the online appeal is submitted. But that elation was short lived.

Why didn’t you submit signed copies?

But looks like some employees in the CIC were unaware of these instructions.  A few days after such appeals were filed online, the author started receiving these letters from the CIC. The letter reads that there are deficiencies in the online application and certain documents were not enclosed and others were not duly signed. Please remember that the application does not allow a person to submit the appeal unless the relevant documents are uploaded. One wonders where did all the uploaded documents vanish.

Digital CIC a façade?

The entire process was just frustrating. One wonders how could the CIC ignore & overlook such basic issues when the online application was launched. Going digital looks like a façade than a step to simplify the process. And as an after thought, the CIC realized a few months after the application was launched that a signed copy should not be insisted upon. It issued a circular in April 2017 to this effect.

The online appeal application of the CIC is a perfect example of why digital initiatives of governments fail. Looks like common sense is not so common after all.

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