When the Right to Information Act came into force in Rajasthan in 2000, and nationally in 2005, there was a flush of stories for years about citizens and activists using the new law to expose corruption. That road built only on paper, the money released on files that never reached the public, and so on.
It’s déjà vu in Rajasthan. A fresh spate of such stories is appearing across the state, thanks to a new government website. It’s called the Jan Soochna portal, which has put out a massive load of information about government schemes and their beneficiaries. For a lot of things people don’t need to file an RTI application anymore. They just need to go to https://jansoochna.rajasthan.gov.in. There’s a mobile app too.
People can now go and look up their own names and the status of their welfare benefits. If an old man wanted to know ‘why have I stopped getting pension?’, ordinarily, he would have had to do the rounds of government offices for days, or file an RTI application, which the bureaucracy would have stonewalled and he would have got to know many weeks later that he’s been marked dead in the system. But thanks to the Jan Soochna portal, an activist of the Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey-led Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) was able to discover the reason instantly and challenge the decision. The activism of MKSS, which was behind the RTI movement, is also largely responsible for Jan Soochna becoming a reality.
Mother of RTI
From the status of your application for a tourism project to your farm loan waiver request, it’s all in the Jan Soochna portal. There are 82 different request options for 32 schemes across 13 departments. Most of the information is provided in two ways. First, you could enter any given code (such as the PDS shop number) or your Aadhaar number and see the status of a particular person or centre. Another way is to trawl the data across the state. If you want to know how many students in your village have been given a government scholarship, you will find it easily.
Reporting about the Jan Soochna portal from Rajasthan, Priscilla Jebraj in The Hindu has the story of a woman in Rajsamand district who was fleeced by a private hospital, which simultaneously claimed her government insurance. But the Jan Soochna website had the information about her insurance money having been released, so the hospital had to stop lying and return her money.
From forest rights to disability pensions, from crop loans to loan waivers, the information range is wide. This is the mother of RTI. In fact, it even has RTI under its purview. You can find out the status of an RTI application, and even see what information others are seeking and the answers they are getting under the RTI Act. There are teething troubles, but it’s less than three months old.
One problem still to be solved here is of the digital divide. The unlettered, the ones without a smartphone and internet, are also the most in need of the power of public information at a click. The government’s eMitras aren’t as helpful as they are supposed to be. There’s also lack of publicity by the Rajasthan government about the revolutionary website. Jebraj found that there are people benefiting from the portal but still haven’t heard the name “Jan Soochna”. (Just imagine the publicity if the Narendra Modi government had launched a site like this.)
Yet it’s the sort of thing that is bound to spread by word of mouth. A silent revolution has begun, whether or not the government of chief minister Ashok Gehlot will be able to take credit for it. The silent revolution will inevitably spread across Rajasthan, and every PDS shop that sells subsidised foodgrains, every official who hides behinds the secrecy of files to steal people’s money, will now face a tough time for corruption.
Many government websites have been putting out piecemeal information in Excel sheets or bulky PDFs. What Jan Soochna does differently is that it brings key information on how public money is spent under a single, search-friendly portal. On many schemes, the status of things is known in a manner we have come to take granted from the private sector. As the files move, the status should reflect on the site in real time. Just enter your registration number and check.
Views are personal.