₹299/- Online RTI Application for Corona Virus information by RTI Act 2005
Background of Corona virus
Corona virus outbreak which started from China’s province of Wuhan is now a global pandemic. Millions have lost their livelihood and millions have perished because of this disease. Many people prefer to call Corona virus disease as Chinese virus or Wuhan virus. There is lockdown all over India and the world and movement of people is under strict control. School and college going children are forced to study from home on their own. Governments all over the world are deprived of their tax revenues and struggling to revive their respective economies. There is enormous stress on health care systems and scientists are under great pressure to come out with its cure and vaccine at record short time. Health authorities are also wondering how to approve the medicines which are yet to be thoroughly studied.
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RTI Applications have revealed that in earlier days of pandemic only 19% of the international passenger coming to India were screened for Chinese virus or Covid-19. Between 15 January to 23 March 2020 only 15 lakh passengers were screened. On 23rd March, India had stopped air travel. Had there been universal screening from the beginning numerous cases could have been averted. Even this limited screening was also for people coming from China and Hong Kong. Many Indian students coming from United Kingdom and China took overdoses of Paracetamol at time of landing to supress any signs of high body temperature. There are reports saying there were waves of infected people coming from Gulf and European countries.
Extent of damage
National Security Advisor of United States calls Corona virus outbreak as Chernobyl disaster of China. Those who are unaware should know that there was a disaster in 1986 at Chernobyl nuclear plant in place called in USSR now Ukraine. Till date no one knows how many people died and were injured in that disaster. Entire city was evacuated and many parts of Eastern Europe were also exposed to nuclear radiation. After effects continued even in upcoming generations. This is the worst documented nuclear disaster in the history of mankind where not only one country but people of many countries suffered.
India is now facing its unique set of problems. Lockdown was imposed by our respected Prime Minister without any notice. Trains and buses were stopped from plying and interstate movement was in complete halt. India is country where millions of people live below poverty line and great proportion of population is illiterate. Millions die of disease, hunger and misery. Clever Netas know how to manipulate numbers to show fake progress of the country. People working as daily wagers in the cities like Delhi, Mumbai etc., all of a sudden had no means to buy their two square meals. They were desperate to return to their home town and villages but no trains or buses are available.
Hype around performance of governments
We boast of our welfare minded governments, democracy and free press but despite all this, there are millions who are walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their villages. On empty stomachs, they are bearing load of their kids and belongings on their shoulders. What arrangements had government made for migrants to reach their villages before announcing lockdown? What measures government took to make them comfortable at the place they currently were? What was the reason that lockdown was declared without giving even 24 hours of notice?
Instead of government providing money to the needy it is making appeals to make donation to PM CARES fund. Millions have not received their salaries or incomes and they are being appealed to make donations. It matches the old saying ‘hungry begging those without clothes’. RTI applications were filed with Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to know who all have contributed to PM CARES fund and the amount collected so far. However, applications were rejected citing earlier court rulings that information asked is covering too many subjects. There was ruling by Supreme Court in 2011 that “indiscriminate and impractical” demands are counterproductive and effect efficiency of administration of the departments because of non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information. Information was also denied citing Central Information Commission’s order of 2009 that multiple information asked on single RTI Application is deniable. Reason for this is that government is deprived of application fee of Rs 10 or as the case be.
Prime Minister National Relief Fund (PMNRF) existed for decades and used by consecutive governments for benefit of people hit by disasters. Now, a new fund PM CARES has been launched, activists and opposition parties are raising questions about need to create a new fund.
Online RTI Application and Corona virus
In view of current Covid-19 situation, Central Information Commission has asked the central government that current time limit of 30 days available to Public Information Officers should be enhanced by more days. Similar relaxation is also sought for First Appellate and Second Appellate Authorities. Since, government offices are shut or are working with limited resources, it is difficult for concerned officers to meet the said deadline.
However, activists are of the view that since, RTI Act is a law been passed by the parliament, any changes to it would require amendment being passed by the parliament itself. Hence, the request of increasing the time limits is not tenable. Also, there are calls that these are the times when expectations are high from the government The current Covid-19 situation has brought up the need of greater transparency regarding what it is doing for betterment of poorest of the society, health preparations, food distribution, spending by exchequer and restart of the economy. And way to transparency goes through stronger following and adherence of RTI Act.
Pendency of RTI Applications
Some 34000 appeals were lying pending with Chief Information Commission (CIC). Similarly, several lakhs are pending with Public Information Officers and First Appellate authorities. Ever since lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Shri Narender Modi on 25th March, hearings were suspended at CIC. In this way situation will only aggravate and pendency increase to all time high.
However, these days, Central Information Commission has started conducting meetings digitally that is through Video conferencing. It has found this way of meetings by video as highly encouraging. Currently, meetings are being conducted between CIC and state commissions. In future it may start conducting hearings for the appeals filed by applicants digitally. Benefit of digital hearing is that the applicant can attend hearing sitting at his home and simultaneously, social distancing norms will also get followed. This may be way forward in near future too. In these corona virus times, there is more need of transparency and appeals may lie pending in view of shut down of functioning of CIC but use of digital technology will give it a new ray of hope.