MUMBAI: The Right to Information Act has come to the rescue of hundreds of IIT research scholars who were unable to get their research grants on time due to an accounting problem.
The application software cell of IIT Powai has now developed an accounting software to streamline the system after a research scholar used the RTI Act to find out the reason behind the delay in getting his stipend on time.
Amit Jariwala, an MTech mechanical engineering student at IIT Powai, almost never got his monthly research stipend on time.
"At times it was delayed by almost a month. When we inquired with the accounts department, we were told that they did not get the attendance sheets on time. They also said that since many did not submit the attendance sheet on a particular day, the calculation became a time-consuming exercise,"Jariwala said.
There are around 1,200 research scholars affiliated to the institution who avail of stipends ranging from Rs 5,000-6,000.
Many students who come from middle-class families subsist on this monthly stipend and if it gets delayed they find the going tough for the rest of the month.
Jariwala, under the guidance of his head of the department, Professor S K Maiti, eventually decided to file an RTI query. In his RTI query, he asked the procedure laid down by the institute for the payment of the stipend.
"We got a reply which gave administrative details, but it did not have a time limit set for disbursing the grant,"Jariwala said.
This, he says, was a systemic lacuna. "We then approached the dean and the registrar to find a solution to the problem."
In the meantime, research students also checked accounting methods used by other institutions. "We found that while IIT Kanpur used to give an advance stipend, the Industrial Research and Consultancy Center (IRCC) had computerised their accounting system. We submitted both the models to the institute,"Jariwala said.
After this, the deputy registrar sent a circular to the accounting department to look into the matter. A proposal was then sent to the application software cell to design a 'time bound software'.
"The ASC is now giving finishing touches to the software and it will be implemented in the coming months,"Jariwala said.
RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi, an IIT alumnus, said that the premier institution acted proactively to the RTI query.
"The department should be commended for taking the query in the positive spirit and acting on the systemic loophole,"Gandhi said.
This is very positive use of RTI where it was used to improve the system. In government setup it happens many times because of mind set and attitude people are unable to think out of box solution. In such situation RTI is wonderful tool to get the procedural information and suggest a better model to the public authority and help them deliver better service.
IIT Powai has shown an exemplary use of RTI.