Friday, September 28, 2007

RTI on awareness sessions conducted by Personnel dept

Sec 26(1) of the Right To Information act, 2005 says the following.

26. (1) The appropriate Government may, to the extent of availability of financial and other resources,—
(a) develop and organise educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, in particular of disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights contemplated under this Act;
(b) encourage public authorities to participate in the development and organisation of programmes referred to in clause (a) and to undertake such programmes themselves;
(c) promote timely and effective dissemination of accurate information by public authorities about their activities; and
(d) train Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers, as the case may be, of public authorities and produce relevant training materials for use by the public authorities themselves.

To see how far this has been done, I filed an RTI application with the PIO of the Personnel and Administrative Reforms Department asking for details of training, awareness camps and the like that they had conducted to fulfil the requirements of this section. The information I received can be viewed here.
One look at the sheet says there have been no awareness programs for the public AT ALL. That means, if not for NGOs or activists working on RTI, people would have had to find their own way around. Even as a formality, the department has not conducted any programs for the public. This shows how much the department wants people to use the act.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fines imposed for Traffic Violations - RTI application

On July 23rd 2007, I had filed an RTI application with the Home department (Which looks at transport too) asking for details of Fines collected from the public in Chennai for various kinds of traffic violations. There was a prompt response to this, and a traffic constable had come to our apartments on 12-Aug-2007 to personally give me the information. Since none of us were home, he told our watchman that he had come looking for me. This was in the evening. After my mom returned from her evening walk, the watchman told here that a policeman had come looking for me. My mom got worried. The problem was that the watchman didnt tell my mom that it was a traffic policeman. So when I returned home, though she was not upset or anything, she asked me why I was involving myself in such things that leads to a policeman to come looking for me. I told her that there is nothing to worry just because a policeman had come to my house (even I didnt know it was a traffic policeman). So when that guy came at 9.30 PM and gave me the info, only then my mom was happy. :-)

I have published the information received here in this link for anybody who might want to look at it.

My first RTI success

About 6 months back, Chandrika (who used to work with me in AID India) had gone to a village called Vada Iluppai in Vembakkam block of Thiruvannamalai district. There she met a widow who was had to get her widow pension but till then had not, for various reasons. She also told Chandrika that she had already given an application to the VAO (Village Administrative Officer) after giving him some money but nothing has happened yet. Then the second time, I had also gone there with Chandrika and we were discussing what was to be done. We always had RTI at the back of our minds, but we thought let us file a fresh application. So we got a new one purchased, filled up necessary details after consulting with an official in Vembakkam BDO (Block Development Office). We had taken the signature of the Panchayat leader, which was necessary, took a medical certificate and a photo and then went to the Cheyyar Taluka Office (Widow Pension Applications are dealt only at Taluka offices). While we were doing this another woman approached us for the same help and so we decided to help both of them. We filed the applications and we were promised that this application would be looked at in one month and would be acted upon suitably. Then started the repeated trips to the taluka office. After a month, there was no news. The procedure for sanctioning would involve a visit for checking the validity of the application and whether the person deserves it. Even this had not happened in one month. We went back but things did not move. After that Chandrika moved to Rajasthan. I visited them a couple of times. In between the official changed. So this new official blamed the old official and again told me that he would complete the procedure within two weeks. Again nothing happened. I visited again. This time he gave me the contact number of the Revenue Inspector (who actually does the checking) and asked me to contact her. By this time I had decided, that I must use RTI. So I came back to Chennai and sent an RTI application. They refused to accept the courier and it returned. So I went again. I wanted to find out why it was returned. I was told by the person in despatch, that But I had mis-typed Cheyyar as Seiyar and hence it was returned. They told me that this looked like Seiyur (which is another Taluka). But I explained to them that Cheyyar is in Thiruvannamalai district, but Seiyur is in Kanchipuram district. And I had clearly mentioned the district name. If that was not sufficient, I had also given the phone number of the office correctly. The person there couldnt answer much. Then I personally filed the RTI on that day and got an acknowledgment. And this was on 29th Aug 2007. I received a phone call on 26th Sep 2007 from the Tahsildar himself, to tell me that both the people were found deserving and hence Pension has been sanctioned and that they will receive their first pension on Oct 1st 2007. He was very courteous and asked me about what I was doing. And that it was very good that the NGO I was working in is working in Education etc etc. Today I received a letter saying the pensions have been sanctioned. This is within one month of filing the RTI.

As RTI has always been meant to bring about a change, I count this as my first success with RTI. I have received information before from Public Authorities, but this is the first time there is a direct visible benefit of RTI.

In another village, while I was doing an RTI awareness session in a village, I had helped a person file an RTI on his ration card applicatin. It has been 2 months since then. I need to follow up on that next.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An RTI article

Here is an article I wrote for a magazine. This was written in the first week of July. I am posting it here, more because it serves as a report of what I had done till then on RTI.
Some abbreviations used in the article
RTI - Right To Information
PA - Public Authority
PIO - Public Information Officer
SIC - State Information Commission
AA - Appellate Authority
NREGA - National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

When I started off working on RTI I had an opinion that since the details of the act will take time to percolate to the rural areas, the cities' public authorities will be doing much better that the rural areas. But in my experience the city has been doing worse than the rural areas.

In Thiruvannamalai district, I had filed a few applications. Among them there were a couple of NREGA related applications asking for Muster Rolls. I also filed an application with the collectorate asking for details of Indira Awaas Yojana beneficiaries in 8 panchayats. For all of these I received pretty good response. They were prompt in sending me the replies.

It is only in Chennai that getting information is becoming a problem. Here again I filed 4 applications, one was in the last year and 3 more in recent months. Out of these three, two did not evoke very good response. I have talked about these 2 in detail here.


I had filed an application with the PMO on 18th May 2007 asking for the details of schemes implemented under MPLADS by the 3 MPs of Chennai North, Chennai South and Chennai Central constituencies. The PMO's office forwarded the application to the Ministry of statistics and Program Implementation on 24th May. This ministry sent me a letter saying that the exact details of these MPs' MPLADS scheme is available only with the Chennai Corporation and hence forwarded the Application to the Corporation on 5th June. Today is 11th July. And not a single word has come from the Chennai corporation.

Illegal Hoardings RTI

I had filed an RTI application with the Chennai corporation on 20th Apr 2007. The application was regarding the action taken by the illegal hoardings put up by various political parties on a 3 KM stretch on Arcot Road from Laskshmi Nagar bus stop to Virugambakkam and also some general questions on the procedure and penalty for putting up such illegal hoardings.

30 days passed without and i filed a first appeal with the Corporation commissioner on 21st May 2007. On 30th May, I received a letter saying my application has been forwarded to PIO Zone-VIII. On 11th June 2007, I received a letter from Revenue officer, Chennai corporation, saying that the information I had asked for can only be got from the Chennai Collectorate and so I must contact them for information.

Experience with the State Information commission

Since this was a clear violation of the act I filed a second appeal with the Information Commission. For that I met the registrar of the Information commission. In the second appeal I had appealed for an order to provide the information and to impose suitable penalty. While talking to him, he started telling me that I cannot ask the SIC to impose penalty. I tried to explain to him, that I have every right to "appeal" for a penalty, but it is up to the commission to actually impose it. He then asked me whether my intention was only to get the information. I said my intention is both to get the information and also get the RTI system working smoothly, which will need proper orders by the SIC, so that the corporation doesnt repeat these mistakes.

Then he went on to tell me about how in one or two cases where they had imposed penalties, recovery was a problem. And that those Public Authorities had gone to court against the imposition of penalties. So I generally tried to check with him as to how many appeals come to the SIC daily on an average. He told me that he doesnt count appeals separately but only along with the regular RTI applications that come to him. I wanted to get an idea of the 2nd appeal disposal rate so that we can look at whether there will be backlog of cases pending with the SIC thereby leading to a situation in SIC similar to that of the courts, but I could get no concrete information.

Moreover, 3 months back I talked to the same person about uploading SIC decisions on some website where anybody can look at the decisions. This will help activists to fight against wrong decisions, so that precedents are not set. At that time, I was told that it would take 2 more months. When I checked about that now I was told that it has not yet happened owing to lack of manpower.

And about the second appeal regarding the Illegal Hoardings, I did file a second appeal, and he said suitable orders will be passed. But a week later what I got was a copy of the letter sent to the chennai collectorate asking them to send me the information that i had asked for. But no order has been passed to the chennai corporation for flagrant violation of the RTI act on two counts.

1. Not providing info within 30 days.
2. Failing to forward the application to the PIO concerned.

Neither did the SIC pass an order to chennai corporation to forward the application, or impose a penalty on them. So I went to the Information Commission to ask them why no orders have been passed. He told me that orders would be passed after I receive the information from teh Chennai collectorate. I dont see any reason why they need to wait till the information is received, since the corporation has already violated rules. Moreover, it is not the job of the information commission to forward applications. They should have just ordered the chennai corporation to forward the application. The tussle will continue.

The SIC is the backbone of the act, since their decisions are the only deterrent and the only pushing factor for PAs to give information. If the SIC is seen as lenient, the PAs will happily violate the act knowing fully well, that no action will be taken. But if the SIC acts strictly, PAs will be forced to give answers. Thereby leading to a better implementation of the act. But the process to a transparent and accountable administration wont end there. But one hurdle would have been overcome then.