Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RTI Project Updates - 26

About two weeks back, a caller, MuthuLakshmi, from Madurai, called up on a sunday saying that she had applied for passport a year back and had not yet got her passport. This was the situtation even after a lot of appeals from her. She learnt that her application was lost there. At one point she met some grievance redressal officer on some day and he promised that she will get her passport in 2 days. Even that did not happen. So she called me up. She told me that she wanted her passport within a week and hence contacted me. I asked her to file an RTI application and I dictated the application to her. I asked her to take a blank postal order and go meet the Public Information Officer (PIO). Since she wanted a passport within a week, I told her to be assertive with the PIO. I told her that the PIO will most probably refuse to take the application saying the problem will be resolved quickly. So I asked her not to agree to such arguments. She should either get her passport or the PIO should take the application. I asked her not to settle for anything less. She called me up on tuesday to tell me that she got her passport. It seems that when they had gone to file an RTI, they requested her to wait and gave her the passport the same day.

This is another case where just an RTI threat did the trick. Sometime back I had conducted an awareness session in Tiruthani, where there was a volunteer Nagaraj. He was having trouble getting his ration card. So I asked him to file an RTI application. I asked him what happened. He said that when he went with the RTI application they said that there was no need for any RTI application and that his application will be processed soon. So he returned. And within days there were officials at his place to do an inspection (as part of the procedure to give him his ration card).

In April I conducted an awareness session in Koovathur for staff of Grassroots foundation. It was a very enthusiastic group. I called up the director of the NGO to find out what happened after the session. He said that at least 10 applications were filed by various people in the group.

Section 4 Implementation by the government
In my earlier post I had mentioned that I visited the secretariat to meet the PIO of CM's Public Relief Fund. After all the explaining I did to the PIO, Mr.J.Venkatesan, I received a letter from another lady Ms.Susheela, saying I had to affix court fee stamps with the application. So I decided to go and meet her personally. I tried explaining to her that she should disclose these items as part of their section 4 disclosures but she did not agree. She insisted that I had to send her court fee stamps. I tried showing her the act but she did not budge. She started going through some other file while I was talking. I told her that if she reads something else when I am talking then she wont be able to listen to me. She agreed that she was not ready to even listen to me. I told her that in that case, I have no option but to complain to the State Information Commission. To that she said ok, you can do that. So later I came back to office and filed a complaint with the TN SIC.

I also went to the health department, to meet the PIO. I had earlier sent them a letter on 17th June intimating that I would be coming to inspect the section 4 disclosures of the department. Here again he had no idea of section 4 and hence I showed him the act. He asked me how I can expect to come and look at the files in just 5 mins, to which I replied that I was ready to wait for 2 hours. Then he asked me to wait for some days and that he would call me by the end of this week and give me a time when I can inspect the files. He said ok and so I left.

On wednesday I went to the SIC along with Rupesh to attend a hearing on behalf of Nity. Nity had asked for some information from the TNPCB as part of section 4, which related to the environmental clearances given to various companies all over Tamil Nadu. For this TNPCB replied saying that, it will require huge amounts of efforts. So Nity replied saying that let him start the process with uploading information of just one district, the Nilgiris. This was done about 6 months back. Since there was no reply from TNPCB, NIty filed a complaint with the Commission. On the day of the commission the PIO failed to turn up and hence the case was psotponed.

All this shows a serious lack of training on RTI to the PIOs and AAs. There is no way that the implementation can improve by just passing GOs. A complete training plan is needed for section 4 to become a reality.

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