Friday, July 18, 2008

RTI Project updates - 28 (7th July - 20th July 2008)

Implementation by the Government
The last two weeks I spent most of my time running around government offices. I visited the Chennai collectorate to find out what happened to the letter I sent them detailing my visits to the Mylapore and Nungambakkam taluka offices where no section 4 disclosures were done. I was told to meet the Enforcement tahsildar, who was on leave that day. So again the following week I went and met the Tahsildar, he just told me that Anna Institute of Management will call for training and then the training will be given. I pointed out that it is they who have to ask AIM for training. He said, that it was AIM who will cal for training and hence I thought there was no point arguing without knowing the data. Hence I thought I can talk to AIM first and then talk to him. Anyway, I have sought an RTI inspection with AIM next week. So I can get answers to my queries there.

There was no progress on the attempt to look at files with the Health & Family Welfare department. It was covered in The Hindu, thanks to Shyam, which can be seen at this link.

Sometime back, I filed an RTI with the Southern Railways ( That was recently covered in the Times of India here.

I had sought time for inspection of files related to the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission at the P&AR department. I was given the time as 3.30 PM on 7th July. So I went there and was shown the files. I looked at the files relating to the appointment of 4 new Information Commissioners, but there did not seem to be any basis for the appointment. The GO says that since there is more workload, they are appointing new commissioners. But funnily, no new staff are appointed along with the commissioners. And it is close to 3 months since the new commissioners were sworn in. Wonder how the department thought, how appointing just new commissioners, will solve problems without apponting the support staff. Then I started looking at any requests that have come from the TN Information Commission. They said that there was a request and that the files was with the CM's office. It was already 5.30 by then, and hence I told them, that my inspection was not yet complete and that they have to be give another day. The Section Officer there said, that she will call back within a day and so I left.

For the next 2-3 days I tried calling up the number gave me, but nobody answered the phone,
so on Thursday I went back and asked her what happened. She again said she will call back in a day after getting permission. My repeated arguments that permission is not needed since this is just a continuation of the inspection I started doing, fell on deaf ears. I said ok and came back. Again nothing happened. So I called back. This time the section officer answered and told me that she will call back in 1 hour. Again nothing happened. So on the following monday I called up and told them that I was on their way to office to inspect the files. The person who answered, Suresh, said ok. So I went there. But when I went there he told me that the Under Secretary was in some training and will come out only by 2.30 and that only then can the permission be had. So I strongly told them that they were not responding properly, and were making me run around like this. Suresh promised me that he would call back. And finally they did call me back and asked me to come on Thursday evening at 3.00.

This time Shyam also accompanied me. So we both went for the inspection. There we asked for any pending requests with the P&AR department, to which the Under Secretary(US) Mr.Chandrasekaran replied that he would not show us any pending files. When I pointed out that no such thing is present in the act, he said that though the act does not say anything, there have been many cases in which it has been held that open files will not be shown. And one by one he started taking out book after book, journal after journal and started saying that he should not think that only we have read the act. He brought out even real fat books as if to imply that he has read all of those books. But he still did not show us any decision. Then Shyam felt that right now we will see what he is showing and then later discuss the open files issue. We tried to bring up the issue of the Registrar of the Information Commission, whose post the government has not yet sanctioned. After looking at the records, we learnt that there was a post of under secretary which was vacant, and the posts of 3 Asst. Section Officers. The SIC wants the government to consider Mr.Dhandapani as the person for the post. But the department does not agree to this. And this post has been vacant for the past two years. The govt has not appointed anybody. When asked why he said, there is staff shortage. So here is the P&AR department, which neither accepts the existing officer for its under secretary post, nor does it appoint its own person citing people shortage. It might be argued that the commissioner should not have appointed people on his own, but then all the other staff in the SIC were also appointed by the commissioner, but those decisions have been agreed upon, except for that of Mr.Dhandapani. Surely there is more than what meets our eye. At 5'o clock, Shyam had to leave. After he left, I asked the US to give me in writing that he will not disclose open files. At this he flared up. He asked me how I can ask for anything in writing. I told him, that in my request I had asked for ALL files related to the TNSIC, but he has refused to show me the open files, and hence I asked him to give it to me in writing. He asked me how I knew that there were open files. I said I dont know it, and that he was the one who told me that he will not show any open files. But I said that in that case, let him write and give me that there are no other files, other than what he has shown to me. This too he refused. After this exchange, he got really angry and told me that I was only trying to aggravate him. I calmly pointed out that I had no such intention, but was only asking him to give it to me in writing whatever he was telling me verbally. Moreover, he also knew that I had some media contacts, since as soon as I entered his room, he told his subordinates, that I was some popular figure and that he read about me in Times of India regarding the Southern Railways issue. I didnt bother to reply to that comment, but I wonder whether it was that, which put him on the defensive. Moreover, throughout our inspection, he felt that we were sent here by the commission. His animosity with the Information Commission was very evident. He felt that since both were part of the government, the SIC should not have gone to the media on the staffing issue. He was possibly referring to an article in the Indian Express in Jan 2008 ( He also kept averring that whatever the SIC had asked they have given.

Finally when he refused to give it in writing, I told him that as PIO it was his responsibility. Then he said that he was not the PIO. Till then I thought he was the PIO. So I told him that I wanted to meet the PIO. So I met the PIO, Mr.T.Chelladurai, and told him that I wanted in writing that the open files cannot be disclosed. He said that he was not saying that they wont be disclosed, but that it needs to be discussed with other officials and hence wanted me to give a request and that he will consider it. I tried arguing with him, but he too refused to give me anything in writing. Finally, I gave him a written request, saying I want to look at open files and walked away.

Last week I gave a presentation on RTI at IFMR, where about 30 students had turned up. They seemed pretty interested. Many had heard about RTI and were eager to know its details. Hope at least some of them go on to use RTI and spread its usage.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

RTI Project Updates - 27

Section 4 inspections
My wife, Prabha, and I went to the Health & Family welfare department at the Secretariat again on Monday. This time along with a reporter from The Hindu, Shyam. When he had contacted me some time back for my opinion on the SIC's functioning for a report in the newspaper ( I told him about the section 4 inspections that I am doing, and he wanted to accompany me on one of them. So I called him for the H&FW dept inspection on Monday. We went to the PIO's room Mr.Shanmuga Sundaram and asked him why there was no communication from him, as he promised the previous week. He could not give any good explanation. And so I told him that we wanted to look at the files. He tried to locate where my application was, and later where the file I asked for was. Then he called a lady who said the file has been sent to another officer, Mr.Thangamani. And from the conversation between the PIO and the lady, it looked like there was some retirement function on. The lady who had come in said that since the file has been sent to the other officer, it cannot be seen. Then I told her that I was ready to go to his place and see the file. She said she was not sure where the file would be now. Now, I pointed out to her, that there would be a register in which file movements are tracked and that can be used to find where the file is. Then she sheepishly admitted that it can be done. So the PIO asked the lady to take us to the other officer's place. She went out of the room and we followed her. By the time we came out of the room, the lady disappeared. This, when she was asked to guide us to the other officer's room. But we let that go, and went to that person's room. He said that he was busily going for a meeting and asked me to send a letter and then they would specify a date and time. I tried to reason it out with him, that section 4 doesnt require any such notice, he was not ready to listen. He was in a hurry to attend the same retirement farewell function. When we told him that we had already sent a notice 2 weeks back, and that the PIO asked us to come to him, he told us to bring the PIO along. When I asked him to call the PIO up on the phone, he refused to do so. In the meanwhile another person who was in the office, rudely told me that there was no where in the act, that we can come and inspect the files whenever we want. I offered to show him the act. He asked me to read it and started walking away. I asked him where he was going, when he asked me to read the act. And asked him to wait and listen to me reading the relevant part of the act. And I read it aloud to him section 4(1)(c) of the act which says "Every public authority shall publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public". At this he asked us if it was feasible to publish these things on the web so frequently. So, Shyam, politely explained that we did not ask them to publish it on the internet, but merely to show it to us. But then he again went back to his argument that as per his instructions we cannot walk in at any time and ask for disclosure of files. Saying that he walked off. We again went back to the PIO's room. By then he too had left for the function. And so we waited.

After close to an hour, the PIO came back to his room. Since Shyam had left to meet the secretary of the IT department, Prabha and I again went into the PIO's room. He asked me to wait for 2 days and that meanwhile I will get a communication as to when I can come and inspect the files. I pointed out to him, that this access was something due to us, but still we are forced to run around. While this was happening, the office assistant, who sits outside the PIO's room entered, and told the PIO "Sir, you have sent the file to the other officer and so you send these people also there, why do they keep asking you this". At this, I got wild and asked him, that he need not interfere when the PIO and I were talking. To this he replied, that he cannot stand us talking disrespectfully to his officer. I told him that we were not being disrespectful but were only asking for our rights. At this there were two other staff in the room, who also said that we cannot talk that way. I again told them back that they need not interfere. This started getting a lot of attention and outside our room close to 10-15 office assistants started gathering. Since the PIO realised that things were taking a bad turn he requested us to leave and that we will get a communication within 2 days about inspection. At this Prabha asked him why the OA was interfering, to which he did not reply and just requested us to leave. We were fed up and started walking out, when one of them asked us to leave in a disrespectful way. So I went back to the PIO's room and told him that I wanted to file a complaint against the OA who talked that way. The PIO again requested that we do not make the issue big and asked us to leave. So we left. The whole incident was so distressing. It just shows how the whole government set up is against anybody who comes asking for rights. Right from the PIO, to the other officer, to the person who asked us to read the act till the Office Assistants. They consider themselves kings and as if we all are there seeking alms.

Working with the commmission
I went to the commission on tuesday to meet the commissioner where I also met Nity and Rupesh who had come there for some hearing. Nity was informed that the hearing was in the afternoon, but the hearing had already taken place in the morning. So Nity wanted to meet the commissioner about this. We waited for close to 1.5 hours and then met him. The commissioner conducted a hearing in his room itself, since the PA was still present in the Commission. After that I raised the issue of uploading the decisions of the SIC to the website, which he promised quite a few times before. Nity even offered that some volunteers can be brought in to help with any work that needs to be done. The commissioner started explaining that there were some problems with teh connectivity and sending emails also was a problem. But he later said that he will do it quickly. But I wanted a date and so asked him if he could give us a date by which this will start and he committed to July 15th. Mr.Dhandapani was also there who also agreed to this, and so I hope to see some work done by July 15th.

I learnt about another success story this week. Senthil Manian was one of the first callers to the RTI helpline and he called up again this week to consult with me on another issue. When he called me now, he said that he had called sometime back regarding getting his ration card which he could not get for 2 years and that he got it after filing an RTI application.

Recently I talked to IFMR, to know if they would be interested in an RTI presentation so that it can help in spreading the word about RTI. They have a unit called CDF (Centre for Development Finance) which works on evaluating government schemes, creating databases on government schemes etc. So they thought it would be useful for them and hence we met and decided that the seminar will happen in the third week of July.