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.

1 comment:

Indian said...

Did you get any response at all?