In November 2015 NITI Ayog floated request for comments on setting up digital incubators called AIC or Atal Incubation Centers under Atal Innovation Mission (AIM).
In the requests for comments document it wanted to appoint India's Chief Information Officer to manage the Digital Platforms programs, among other things. The document looked to be aiming for an integrated systems of incubators which can be used to create an end to end digitally integrated system under a singular vision.
One specific clause caught our eyes was about digitization of government processes.
(B) Medium Term - Creating an Enabling Environment for Innovation
(i) Embracing the Platform Mindset: by (i) Creating digital platforms, similar to Aadhaar to inspire innovation & entrepreneurship (ii) Building sector-specific searchable digital platforms like: Health Care records, Pensions, Insurance, and Education; and (iii) Digitization of government processes. AIM may be empowered to appoint India’s Chief Information Officer to manage the Digital Platforms program.
Why this is important?
It was a good development from NITI Ayog on Information systems and developing a vision of Chief Information officer. They want to be empowered to appoint India’s
Chief Information Officer to manage the Digital Platforms program. If this works than the incubators setup under AIM can be used to digitize the whole of the Right to Information processes... (theoretically)
It would have been a welcome move on having a central policy making body like NITI Ayog with a stand on Information Commission or systems in India. A singular vision is what is lacking in current implementation or lack of it in our Right to Information system.
Above was part of Specific Recommendations of the expert committee on innovation and Entrepreneurship constituted by NITI Aayog, and would have changed the semantics of RTI 2005, which are disconnected at least from the legal entity point of view.
CIC or Chief information commission is under Indian president and State Information commissions are under respective governors. Which makes it very difficult for them to be tied up in accountability, or sharing information between states and center. Its always a turf war or sort, a loophole which can be exploited to deny information, specially on concurrent subjects, creating high information barrier only very motivated and anchored few can climb to get any reasonable information out.
This specific step on sharing the technology or having a singular vision on technology could have made all the difference. If someone can get information quickly, in a traceable way in time it makes it very easy to take next steps citing this information. e.g. our Right to Information request on Gomti Riverfront Development got deflected after going back and forth for 8 months. It needed calls, registered posts, there was no tracking mechanism to know whom to call, all at mercy of respective offices which don't pickup phones!
For an ordinary citizen its a very difficult process to actually wait for 8 months and then start the process again, or go for first and then a second appeal. A common citizen who is working 10 hours trying to make ends meet will simply give up and leave things at the mercy of destiny.
Isn't information delayed and not provided timely is actually information denied?
So it looked like NITI Aayog took a step in right direction right after we started sending letters and correspondence to the office about the dismal state of Right to Information in India as a whole with state systems really in shambles.
Update December 2016 -
As per latest information on Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) there is no mention of appointing a chief information officer to manage digitization of government processes. There are a total of 17 Atal Incubation centers selected with a mandate to.
AIM intends to establish ‘new’ incubation centers (Atal Incubation Centres) across India by providing them with financial support. AICs would further support and encourage start-ups to become successful enterprises. They would provide necessary and adequate infrastructure along with high quality assistance or services to start-ups in their early stages of growth.
AICs would be established in subject specific areas such as manufacturing, transport, energy, health, education, agriculture, water and sanitation etc. Each AIC would be required to choose at least one area for specialization.
It was interesting to know how the scope of AIM is curtailed now to only be specific to a decentralized innovations in limited area. They are funded right with about 10 crore each to setup operations and operate for 5 years, but now there is no mention of digitization of government process, or appointing an information officer to run it.
It might be a lost opportunity, or an administrative tussle but looks like planning document of AIM and what actually its shaping as, have a lot of differences.
What we were hoping from Atal Innovation Mission (AIM)?
We were hoping that AIM funds and its incubator model in different states, with an Information officer taking charge of digitizing government processes would have changed things for the Right to Information Systems in India. Which doesn't look like is happening. It might be too contentious to take on such a project, but if not NITI Aayog then where is the hope for getting a real, seamless, working right to information system in India and states.
We will keep sending representations to respective departments, if you support this initiative and want a seamless digital right to information system in India. Click Follow to register your support, this action group has a shared coordinator assigned right now. If we get reasonable number of followers for a research we will be able to attract a full time coordinator around this effort to take it forward in a speedy manner. So please don't forget to click follow button below, and spread the word so we can get more followers and get this initiative going with a transparent, shared effort.
Image courtesy - NITI Ayog Website - niti.gov.in.