Tuesday, April 08, 2008

RTI Project Updates - 18

Last week I conducted awareness sessions in 2 places. One in a village near Minjur and another one in a village in Tiruthani (B.R.Palli). Here are a couple of snaps of the Minjur session

The awareness session at Minjur happened on Monday (31st March) was a part of the local women's group function for Women's day. There would have been about 25 women in the session, and the issues that were at the top of their list was roads. Land ownership and rations were their other problems. No applications were filed on this day. Though I have told them that I will come back to help them file applications for their issues. After coming back I even talked to Richard (he is an AID India full timer, who arranged for this session) telling him to talk to Ms.Valli (the leader of the women's group) to offer help with issues like rations. He is yet to get back to me.

The other session at Tiruthani happened this sunday (6-Apr-2008). This should have happened last sunday but was postponed, since I couldnt go. Hence the Panchayat leader was not very happy. So before starting the session, I apologised to him, and then went on with the session. There were about 15 males in this session and about 5 females. The rest were kids. People listened with interest, and at the end of the session I filed two RTI applications. A volunteer with AID India, Nagaraj, who runs a library and a tuition centre in that village was very enthusiastic and told me that he will help people there with their RTI applications. His number is 9786230310.

The BIG FM program happened this week too and looks like it will go on for some more weeks. We took two callers this time, one had problems with their ration card and another one with their land documents. The time I get on this program is very little. I hardly get 15 seconds to reply to a query. So it is tough to answer the question completely but I do my best. At the end of the program the helpline number is announced so that people can call up during weekdays for any doubts on RTI.

I also went to Doordarshan again this week, to meet Ms.Hemalatha Venkatraman. She told me that DD had already done lots of programs on RTI with the commissioners, but that none happened recently. She said neither yes nor no but told me that the SIC has funds for publicity and if those could be utilised a program can be done on DD. I told her that I will talk to the Commissioner about this and get back in a week.

Working with the Commission

Last week I could find time for looking at only one more month's decisions to find out penalties imposed. When I started looking at these decisions some time ago, I noticed that not all the decisions have all the basic details. Some decisions did not have the date of RTI applications. Some did not have the date of second appeal. Some did not even give an idea of what information was asked for. At that time I was wondering if a format for decisions would help. Nity too suggested this when we were preparing the Implementation report. So I decided to take this up with the commissioner. I told him that a format while giving decisions would ensure that no important details are missed. He told me that he had always felt that the documentation of TNSIC was weak (a point he has told me many times before), and that he wanted to change it. He wanted to change it in such a way that both the parties bring copies of all their communication in a chronological order. I pointed out that though that may take time, a format to be used by the commissioners can be done immediately. He still went back to that point. ThenI again I asked him when the uploading of decisions will start and he said that his request for staff has run into problems. He said that he was expecting around 4 clerical staff, but now it looked like it is gonna take some more time. Meanwhile Mr.Dhandapani also joined us. I told them that I am ready to get a volunteer to do that work (scanning and uploading) for them. They went back to their old argument that they had to correct the orders, and hence needed to get all the orders keyed in again, one by one and then upload them. I suggested that they can scan it and just put it up as it is, but meanwhile the commissioner said that there are line scanners which is a hand held decide that needs to be run over each line in the document and that it will be converted to text on the computer. Mr.Dhandapani again said that all those things were not possible, and that I need to have patience. I pointed out to him that I have been asking this for the past 1 year, and with that the conversation ended.

After coming out, I talked to Raj sundar a volunteer, asking him if there are softwares which convert scanned documents to text. He was not sure and felt that it would be expensive. But after a few minutes he called back saying Microsoft Office Document Imaging has such a feature. Excitedly I tried it out on some document and it worked. I need to try this out on one of the orders of the commission and then show it to the commissioner. Let me see how that goes in the next week.

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