Friday, November 30, 2007

Court fee stamps

Every RTI application has to be accompanied with a fee (unless you are a BPL person, in which case there is no application fee at all). In Tamil Nadu it is 10 rupees. According to the act, this can be paid as cash, dd, cheque or postal orders. But all of these had problems. Govt departments refused to accept cash. To give a DD or a cheque one needs to find out the name in which the instrument has to be drawn, which would mean a visit to the department (since they dont give much response on the phone), which in turn means you are made to run from this bench to that bench. Then came in a rule saying, court fee stamps can be used to pay the application fee. This made a huge difference (at least to me). Since then filing RTI applications has been a breeze. Just write out a letter. Affix court fee stamps worth Rs.10. And courier it. Governments cant refuse court fee stamps, no need to find out the name of the officer in whose name cheque or DD has to be drawn. Just stick those stamps and send it.

But court fee stamps had to be purchased from vendors. I had initially bought some stamps. I was asked for a commission of 2 Rs for evey 10 rupees stamp. I didnt realise it at that time, though after that it somehow dawned on me that the commission was illegal. After all, while buying a normal postal stamp, we dont pay 6 rupees to get a 5 Rs. stamp. So the next time I visited a taluka office, I tried to find out the place where I can get court fee stamps without commission. They directed me to a person from whom I bought the stamps without commission. After some days, yesterday, I wanted to buy more stamps. I didnt want to go the first vendor again, and so I decided to get it directly from somebody in a court. So I went to the Saidapet court. There again there was a dealer. I asked for stamps but was made to wait. I waited there patiently for a few minutes, all the while, seeing lawyers who came after me, buying what they wanted and going away. I got irritated. I raised my voice and asked her to give me my stamps first since I came in earlier. She asked me how many I wanted. I said, I wanted twenty 10 rupee stamps. She asked me for 220 rupees. I told her I wont give any commission. Instantly she put the stamps back in its compartment in the table and continued selling things to other people who had come. I came out, of that vendor's place. Tried to find out whom to complain to about this. Then started my merry-go-round.

I talked to a couple of people in the administrative office there. I explained to them that I was being asked for commission, where I need not pay any. I was asked to go the area's registrar's office which was a couple of kilo metres away. So I went there. In that building, again when I asked for the officer with whom I can complain about this, I was told that they dont have any authority on court fee stamps and only the treasury issues them. So I was asked to go to the treasury (which was within the court compound). So I had to go back to the court, this time to the treasury office. There they told me, that though they issue court fee stamps, the vendor licenses were issued by the the Registrar's office. I explained that I was just back from the Registrar's office where I was told to go to the treasury. But I was again told, that I had to meet meet the AIG officer (whatever AIG stood for) in the registrar's office. So I went back to the same office where I had previously enquired, and I was told that, that particular officer will be in Chennai only on Mondays. But I asked the next senior officer that I wanted to give a complaint against the vendor in the Saidapet court. She asked me for the name of the vendor. I said I didnt know the name, but isnt the fact that she is the vendor in the Saidapet court, enough to identify her. She told me that licenses are not issued to addresses within saidapet court, so I had to get the name. By this time I had already spent a lot of time, and so decided to get the stamps and leave the place. At least, I had found out the place to complain against vendors who charge commission illegally.

Just outside this Registrar's building there was a vendor. I went to him. I told him that I needed court fee stamps worth Rs. 200. He said he wanted 210 rupees. I told him that I wont pay any commission. He looked at me for a couple of seconds. Then asked me why I needed the stamps. I told him that I dont need to tell him why I needed the stamps. He must have been irritated. He made me wait for 10 mins while he was issuing stamps papers to another customer. After 10 mins, I asked him if he is going to give me the stamps. He gave me the stamps. I gave him 200 rupees. He look at it, and asked if there was anything else. I said no, and left.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How the Tamil Nadu SIC deals with an RTI application?

I had recently filed an RTI application with the Information commission itself and I received a reply only after 30 days. For the moment, let us forget about the violation of time limit and look at the application itself. The application, which can be viewed here, was filed to get details on

1. Compliance of the commission with the reporting requirements given in Section 25(1) of the RTI Act
2. Status of their website development.
3. Statistics on the number of appeals, complaints, and also details of pending appeals etc.
4. Section 4 disclosure of the commission.

And this is the reply I got. Questions 1 and 4 are completely ignored. Question 2 was answered by giving the link of the website they have got. Question 3 was answered giving the following statistics as on 31.10.2007.

No. of Petitions General Tappals received - 26,317
No. of petitions general tappals on which have been acted upon - 25,737
Under Examination - 364
No. of cases posted for enquiry (Date to be notified) - 216

And these statistics are only for the details of I-VII of Question 3. For section VIII-XIV No information was given. As for the penalties imposed, I got a reply saying that the act specifies that the erring PAs need to be given an opportunity of being heard. And so explanations were sought from the PAs, but decisions are pending on those explanations. It also goes on to say that no analysis of data has been done to give me information in the manner I have sought since there is a shortage of manpower.

The exact reply can be seen here.

1. It is a good thing that their website has come up. Though it is a very half baked one. In fact, most of the links lead to pages which just say "Under Construction". This is not a very bad sign, as we can assume things will happen soon, and so the website will be much better. But they used to have a set of pages on the TN Govt website ( That has data about PIOs, AAs etc. Atleast these should be moved to the new website.

2. One striking thing about the reply is that, out of 4 questions asked, replies were attempted only for 2 questions. 2 questions were completely ignored. Out of that, the 3rd question has been answered only to a very little extent. That is furnishing incomplete information which is clearly in violation of the act (Section 18(1)(e)).

3. In their reply they also say that, they dont differentiate between appeals, complaints and other letters that they get. This is very disturbing since that prevents them giving any kind of report asked for under section 25(1). Moreover, this has been the case for quite sometime. They have never kept track of the number of second appeals and complaints they have received.

4. No information is given regarding section 4 disclosures of the State Information Commission indicating that no such disclosure has been made so far. This is again a clear violation of the act. Section 4(b).

The state information commission is the body which should make sure all PAs implement the act properly. They are the ones bestowed with the power of penalising PAs who dont implement the act. And when you file an RTI applicaiton with the State Information Commission, this is how they reply. Reminds me of the song Chingari koi bhadke...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Government General Hospital - II (On the day of surgery)

Finally Manjula's surgery happened. It happened on Tuesday, Nov 6 2007. That is more than 2.5 months after she was admitted. Now she is in the ICU. The operation theatre was on the 7th floor. While we were waiting outside the operation theatre (sitting on the steps), and during the surgery we were given Manjula's blood sample and were asked to take it to a testing lab in a different building and get a report. It seems this facility is available in the fifth floor of the same building, but there they told us that this will not be done here and hence we had to go to that different building only. This happened the first time were asked for a blood test, and the second time, the people doing the surgery again asked us to go to the fifth floor. We told them they were not doing the test, and they responded "Tell them the HOD wants it done". This was absolutely stupid. If they themselves dont have any coordination with their colleagues, how will they listen to us. The second time too a blood test was refused in the 5th floor, and we had to go to the different building. The third time we jut directly went to the different building. This was not the case just with us. An other patient was also being operated upon, and their relatives also had to go thrice to get a blood test in that different building. I have a doubt if getting a blood test during the surgery is the responsibility of the helpers during the surgery and they conveniently push it on to the patients' relatives.
And then the question of blood requirement during the surgery. We were not informed about that before the surgery. But in the middle of the surgery a lady comes out of the operation theatre and asks us about the blood, and whether we have the required number of donors. We told her we were not told about this at all. She asked us "How is this possible?", I was swearing within myself. I wanted to say, "Hey that is a question we should be asking". But then she said that it was ok, we just have to donate some blood to the blood bank within a week of the surgery, and they also said that it was not mandatory. So that was not much of a problem, though I wonder why we werent informed about it before hand.

After we got them the xerox copies of the blood donation request forms, the lady came back and asked for 50 rupees saying they had to give this for blood donation. Just imagine this. In the middle of the surgery the helpers to the surgery come out and ask for 50 rupees. How can they think of this fifty rupees when the surgery is going on. We, of course, had to pay this amount.

And now an even more ridiculous thing. For this blood request they had to place a request to the blood bank. And for that request they have a request form. They had two forms in hand, which was sufficient for two patients, but we were given the forms asking us to take copies since they had run out of forms. I thought this was an outrageous thing. Just asking people to take xerox of the forms that they are supposed to print and use within the hospital. I could have even understood it to an extent, if they had asked for just one copy. Both of us (me and the other patient's relative) had to get 20 copies each. Why should we spend money and get copies for their use with some other patients. And the way they do it is really cheap. They understand very well, that if you come out of the operation theatre in the middle of a surgery and ask for something, the relatives will not refuse. They could have even asked for ice creams. We wouldnt have had an option.

After the surgery was done, we shifted her to the ICU. Where four people asked us for money. 50 rupees each. They are people who work in the ICU and hence they were asking us money. I tried to explain them that money was not the concern for me and it was more the principle that was important. I asked them why they were asking money for something that they had to do anyway. They did not have an answer. Then I pointed out only very poor people come to the GH and hence it was not fair on their part to ask money for them. Then they said that they dont ask money from poor people. I was pleasantly surprised, and before I could be a little happy, they followed up. "They themselves give it to us, sir". I was irritated. Prabha who was with me, pointed out that everywhere in the GH it has been written that bribes should not be taken and complaint numbers were given. Then they said, yes sir, but please keep it a secret. We eventually did give them the 200 rupees they asked for, for fear of what they would do (or not do) to Manjula if we refused. There is more, we still have to give money to the people at the ward where Manjula had been staying for the past 2.5 months. They will find us the next time we go to the GH. And when she is moved to the post operative ward, we will again have to shell out some money. But we have some ideas ...