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Thread: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?

  1. #1

    What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    This issue has arisen in the context of a particular RTI effort but I think a more general discussion of this matter could be useful.

    In seeking data from a public authority, one issue arises. The authority uses legacy systems, has limited computer staff and must give priority to ongoing operations, so its ability to service "back-end queries" such as the ones sometimes needed to respond to RTI requests is more constrained.

    While the RTI Act imposes time limits on meeting data requests, if there is a genuine difficulty these time limits have less meaning. Yet it is also possible for the PA to simply use this as an excuse to string one out. There are also more narrow nitty-gritty issues related to this. My own computer experience is not enough to tell for sure if the PA is making an excuse or expressing a genuine difficulty.

    Someone else must have also encountered a similar setting. What is a reasonable strategy to adopt in such circumstances, to lower the likelihood of being taken for a ride, while yet being sensitive to possibly genuine difficulties a PA faces because its tech support is smaller and more limited. What avenues (if any) are available to try and protect oneself in these circumstances? Ultimately I am interested in the data, not in rubbing the nose of the CPIO.

    I don't see any easy answers. (What I have done is to ask for some data fast, and the rest in batches, and stating that my expectation is that the overall effort may extend over weeks, maybe months, but not years. No reply yet.) But I would appreciate ideas, comments, suggestions. Thanks. Best,

    Murgie



  2. #2
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    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    Dear Mr.murgie,
    I could not fully grasp your point. The public authority or PIO from whom you had asked the information can only perform within his limitations. If one want them to perform more efficiently, RTI has nothing to do with it. It is the duty of the government. The time limit laid down in the RTI Act is more than adequate considering the present style of functioning of public servants. In case the information you had asked for 'concerns the life or liberty of a person, proviso toSection 7(1) of theRTI Act stipulate that the information should be provided within 48 hours of the receipt of the request. What more you need ? You can't expect the PIO to function as per your personal requirement outside the ambit of the RTI Act.
    Last edited by colnrkurup; 25-10-07 at 02:19 PM.

  3. #3

    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    Dear Colonel Kurup: Let me try and explain. After my initial RTI request (for data for academic research) was denied (grounds: "we just don't have the data"), I appealed (grounds: "a public report you create simply cannot be prepared unless you have this data"). The Appellate Authority accepted one point I made, that I be given an opportunity to discuss my requirement with someone who knows the data. Preliminary discussions have confirmed that the data exists, in fact even for a longer period than I realized. But some part of it is archived and is in some form that my contact felt some work is involved.

    At this point it is not clear whether "some work" means "wait a little bit" or "wait forever." I suspect that my contact himself honestly doesn't know, because he has never been faced with this kind of request before. At this point I do believe that everything is proceeding in good faith. I just wanted to be prepared (if I could ... maybe there just isn't any way) in case the delays become big. Is there any history of people successfully complaining about delay in receiving data, even when some slightly abstruse argument about 'old computer system, limited technical staff' is made? Or without complaining to the CIC have people tried or identified any other strategy for persuading a PA to deliver more promptly? Best,

    Murgie

  4. #4
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    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?



    I don't think so. In such a cituation it is better to resort to inspection of records under RTI Act and ask for copies of specific pages. You should remember Section 7(9) of the Act which says that ....unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the records in question. I don't think going to CIC will save time. At the present rate you can conveniently add 9 months to get a decision

  5. #5
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    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    murgie,

    As per Section 4(1)(a):
    <table style="line-height: 2;" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody><tr style="vertical-align: baseline;"><td style="width: 15px;">1.</td><td>Every public authority shall— </td></tr></tbody></table><table style="line-height: 2;" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody><tr style="vertical-align: baseline;"><td style="width: 15px;">a.</td><td>maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated;

    But, this will take "time"....I really do not know whether "wait a liitle bit" or "wait for ever".
    </td></tr></tbody></table>

  6. #6

    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    Dear Karira:

    This is very useful. It never registered with me that there is also some positive obligation on a large PA to computerize and put things in a form where it is easy to service RTI requests. My contact did say that they had plans to migrate to a more helpful computer setup, and had even begun in a small bits and pieces, but his tone suggested that he wasn't sure how long the full process would take.

    I suppose if some official inside the PA wants to be more helpful he could use the RTI section you quoted to try and persuade the amorphous powers-that-be within his PA to dedicate some more resources to the task. At least I will certainly bring to his attention the RTI section you've quoted at an opportune moment. Thanks again. Best,

    Murgie

  7. #7
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    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    Murgie,

    Congratulations !

    Please see:

    http://cic.gov.in/CIC-Orders/AT-22042008-01.pdf

    Regarding the point of legacy systems in RBI, why didn't you use the information in my post #5 above in your counter arguments ?

    Or is it that you gave that argument but it is not covered in the decision/order of the CIC ?

    Maybe Oracle will get more business from RBI , thanks to Murgie !

    By the way what happened to the SEBI matter ? Any news ?
    Twitter: @cjkarira

  8. #8

    Re: What if a public authority uses legacy systems?


    Dear Karira:

    I attended the CIC hearings on April 21 for two different requests -- to SEBI and RBI -- both relating to historical-archival scrip-wise daily FII data for academic research.

    Am still a little groggy after a short hectic trip. But the hearings and final rulings -- while heartwarming in many respects -- are far from the last word on these matters.

    The positive aspect was that the CIC quickly disposed of various excuses made by the PAs to invoke statutory exceptions, and forced the PAs to become a little more precise. He also noted that I had never been given an opportunity to participate in a prior hearing despite begging for a chance. Unlike the PAs who were strictly unconcerned about academic research, the CIC seemed very receptive to the idea that academic research was very much a part of "public interest." The CIC also heard carefully my argument that accepting a claim that "disproportionate resources will be diverted" without carefully vetting that claim, simply opens an elephant-sized loophole for all PAs to escape. A mere claim should not be given the same credibility as if it were an established fact.

    The tricky part in the RBI hearing was that there was, and still is, more than a little confusion and ambiguity relating to what is feasible. Because the CIC has insisted that I continue to be given a hearing, this time around I may get an opportunity to examine the purely technical IT arguments given with some knowledgeable IT person who speaks for me (am still trying to find someone in Bombay who will have the time, interest and willingness to help). At least one claim made by them seemed clearly illogical, but became a technicality-laden argument between them and me, that I think the CIC decided it was necessary to give it separate consideration again outside of the hearing. The CIC also imposed sharp time-limits on various steps. It also helped me I think that it became palpably clear that the RBI CPIO and AA basically admitted that they did not understand anything, and just went with an IT official inside the bank claimed.

    At the SEBI hearing, I was impressed even more by how quickly and bluntly the CIC cut through all the Section 8 nonsense they were claiming. But SEBI brought up a brand new difficulty, that it needed to get help from third parties ("custodian institutions") in the matter. I am banking on at least some of them being helpful.

    So overall the CIC rulings in these matters are positive to the extent that they reject excuses that these PAs have got away with on many previous occasions. But actually getting the data is still some way away.

    If there are experienced IT (database) folks located in Bombay who would be willing to help, I would be very grateful to hear from them. I'm a college professor and it is hard for me to afford more than one trip to India in a year. Thanks for your interest. Best,

    Murgie Krishnan

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