By 2020, Kerala wants to be a fully ‘digitally-literate’ state in India. An ambitious policy framework, envisaged by the previous Congress-led government, involved several key objectives such as making digital infrastructure of the government accessible to the public and sustaining economic growth through digital knowledge initiatives. The present Left government has continued on that path by launching a unified governance app called ‘m-Kerala’ and making efforts to turn government schools digital.
However, sadly, Kerala still does not have an online facility through which the public can file Right to Information (RTI) applications. Only a few states in India such as Maharashtra and Odisha have set up portals to accept RTI inquiries apart from the nodal website that takes in queries regarding departments and ministeries under the central government. Since 2005, when the RTI came into effect, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) of the Centre has sent circulars to state governments to set up individual portals to accept RTI queries.
A website with the domain, rti.kerala.gov.in, that looked like it’s managed by the Kerala government, displayed the message, “This site is currently under maintenance. We should be back shortly.”
Indianexpress.com spoke with at least 10 officials of general administration, information and public relations and the state information commission to inquire whether the website belonged to the government and if yes, why it was down. Not a single official could say who managed the website.
An official, who did not want to be named, posed a guess, “Maybe the website is not live yet, which is why it’s showing the error message. The main website of the Kerala government is being revised and works are in progress. Maybe it will go live along with the main website.”
Currently, the closest to a digital version of RTI is a recently-introduced system by the State Information Commission (SIC) through which, according to a November 26 order, complaints are received through e-mail where they are subsequently filed and recorded. According to Section 19 (3) of the RTI Act, the complainant can go for a second appeal through the state/central information commission.
“People don’t know about this. It should have been issued through a newspaper. It’s all kept secret somehow,” DB Binu, a prominent RTI activist-lawyer, said.
“The fact is that 13 years after RTI came in, Kerala still runs a primitive method of RTI implementation. On some government websites, you can still see the photo of the former chief minister. There’s no updation,” he added.
Dhanuraj, another activist, said, “It’s not like Kerala can’t do it. They are purposely choosing not to do it. I think it’s clear that they are scared of questions.”
Ironically, the Institute of Management in Government (IMG), a Thiruvananthapuram-based training institute of the Kerala government, offers 10-day free online courses to educate the public about the RTI Act and the ways in which one could file an application to scour for information from the government. An IMG official said the course, which has nine modules, has been designed for laymen and has no eligibility criteria. It is conducted up to 12 times in a year and involves examinations. At the successful completion of the course, a participant receives a certificate.