So blogspot was off limits for people of India for a few days. I am not frustrated or irritated, but surprised about how much incompetence we have in our internet infrastructure industry and the government bodies that regulate it.
First thing, DoT wanted some sub-domains blocked and ISPs take the decision to block the entire domain. Did they not know the difference between a domain and sub-domain?
And then let's come to the regulatory bodies - DoT et al. Now, most people who use the internet know that blocking a website has little effect. There are many ways to find work-around on it, and the people at DoT, if they at least have a faint level of intelligence, should know this. Besides, if you block a website, another one can spring up in a day. If you block blogspot, there are 1000s of other ways to continue blogging. Instead of blocking the sites, it is much easier to trace the people who are updating the malicious content and bring them to book. In fact it is an opportunity to catch bad people. It is amazing that the regulators do not think in these terms and instead take a useless approach. They are just looking to temporarily escape from the problem only to see it resurface, instead of trying to resolve the issue. Well...!
A couple of days ago I had called up Standard Chartered bank to get my credit card statement details. After giving me the details, the customer service operator gently reminded me that I have subscribed to an internet account, and can get all these details by logging in.
In fact, I had subscribed to an internet account long ago, and was frustrated to see that it allows the passwords to be only numbers and no alphabets or special characters - a serious security issue. So I had stopped using it altogether, and eventually forgot the password too.
This time when the operator reminded me of it, I asked her to de-activate it. I am not sure about the kind of policies that the genius managers at StanChart make, I got a surprising answer that an activated internet account can't be de-activated! I smiled and said 'thank you', and we ended the conversation.
I then switched on the computer, logged into StanChart's website and tried to login to my account with some random numbers for password. Some 3-4 attempts, and bingo, I got the message saying that my internet account is disabled, as the maximum allowed retries exceeded!!!
An email I received yesterday. Please feel free to reproduce this text in your blog or anywhere.
Drive Against Bribe
In the last few years, Right to Information (RTI) has emerged as a very powerful tool in the hands of a common citizen to hold governments accountable. People have used it in various ways ranging from addressing issues related to their daily interface with government authorities to influencing major government policies. For instance,
q Uday is a software engineer. He saw that the Outer Ring Road from IIT flyover to Panchsheel flyover was made last February and it came off within 10 days. He applied for inspection of files, inspection of road and sample of material used in the road. Two days before he was called for inspection, the entire road was relaid.
q Shailesh Gandhi was able to reduce the extent of political interference in transfer postings in Mumbai Police using RTI.
q Vijay Kumbhar applied for a refill of his empty gas cylinder. He did not get a refill for more than a month. Everyday, someone would come to his colony to sell gas in black. Obviously, his gas dealer was not providing refills to the people and was diverting them to the black market. When Vijay applied under RTI, he got his refill within a few hours.
One area where RTI has been most successful is - if you have a legitimate work pending in any Government Department and if they are not doing it for either expectation of bribe or due to simple bureaucratic delay, then use RTI and it gets done very fast. There are hundreds of such examples like
q Nannu applied for a duplicate ration card in January 2004. Though his card should have been made in 10 days according to the rules, it wasn't done despite several visits. Three months later, when he applied under RTI, the card was made within four days.
q Ashok Gupta was demanded Rs 5000 bribe for a new electricity connection in the year 2000. Connection was denied to him when he refused to pay. Two years later, when he applied under RTI, he got his connection within 10 days.
q Prem Sharma applied for a passport. It should be made in 45 days according to the rules. However, he kept running for six months. When he took his application under RTI to the Regional Passport Officer, the passport was done within 7 days.
Though RTI has such a huge potential, it hasn't been able to make a big difference so far because not many people are using it. Because they are either not aware of it or of its potential. Earlier, RTI was available only in a few states like Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka. But with the passage of the Right to Information Act 2005 by the Parliament of India, now it is available to all citizens against all public authorities in India.
Broadly, the use of RTI has been of two types:
q To get your legitimate individual work done in a Government department like getting a ration card, getting a passport, getting widow pension, getting PF etc without paying bribe and without facing harassment.
q To use it for wider public interest like getting roads repaired, exposing corruption in government expenditure, influencing government policies etc.
A massive nationwide awareness-cum-assistance program is being launched. Awareness about RTI would be created through mainstream media. Assistance would be provided to those who wish to use RTI but do not know how to use it through website, phone, direct physical assistance and letters.
The campaign is divided into two parts:
1. 1st July to 15th July: During these 15 days, people would be encouraged not to pay bribes for their personal works like getting your ration card, getting passport etc. Rather they should use RTI. This campaign would be called "Drive Against Bribe". During this 15 day period, interesting on following lines would be promoted by partner TV Channels, newspapers and radio stations:
"Now you don't need to pay bribes in India. Use Right to Information. Often, it works faster than bribes."
The media partners would create awareness during these 15 days by Advertisement space/ Time for promoting the awareness about RTI and its processes, telling success stories, explaining the process of filing RTI applications, daily coverage of public response to the campaign.
During these 15 days, various citizens' groups and NGOs will set up camps in several cities across the country. People would be provided assistance at these camps in preparing and filing RTI applications. Such arrangements have already been made in more than 48 cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Sangli, Gorakhpur, Faizabad, Lucknow, Shillong, Bhubaneswar, Ranchi, Patna, Ahmedabad, Indore and several cities in Chattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand etc
Citizens would also be provided assistance through e-mails, letters and a phone helpline. Since it would be promoted by several prominent media houses, large number of people are likely to respond either to use RTI or to volunteer their services or to simply express their solidarity. The campaign would inspire confidence amongst people that now they could actually get their work done without bribes. It would be a big blow to bribery.
2. Post 15th July: After 15th July, it develops into a full RTI campaign. The issues would no more be confined to individual issues but would cover all aspects of governance. Media partners would be expected to publish success stories and to guide their readers/ viewers/ listeners on how to address various issues of governance using RTI. Camps at various cities would stop after 15 days, but assistance through e-mails, phone helpline and letters would continue. People who sign up as volunteers during 15 days would be expected to use RTI related to their city problems and other issues of governance. Their experiences would feed as stories for media partners.
Partners in the campaign:
Though initiated by two Delhi based NGOs namely, Parivartan and Kabir, large number of civil society groups from across the country have joined in as partners. The campaign would finally be run by several citizens, NGOs, businesses, media houses, government departments etc. coming together. The campaign is being promoted by several media houses including NDTV, Hindustan Times group, Hindu newspaper, Prabhat Khabar, Andhra Jyoti (Telugu), Lokonnati (Marathi), Loksatta (Marathi), Doritri (Oriya) etc. The Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Mr Shankar has already committed his support to this campaign. The Central Government has issued an order to all Central Ministries and Departments to make adequate preparations for the campaign.
The main objective of the campaign is to inspire and enable people to influence governance by actively participating in it rather than just criticizing it. Earlier, it was not possible. Now, it is possible to do through RTI.
Did you ever think India and only India would have politicians of the Laloo type? Or did you ever think Bush would be the only guy who is 'that smart' in Washington. I bumped into this story on wired.com where an Alaskan senator explains what the internet is. Some excerpts:
"And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes"
"I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially."