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 (http://www.thehindu.com/2008/06/30/stories/2008063059470800.htm) 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.

1 comment:

latelearneer said...

Well done Madhav. Keep it up. Fortunately Your wife is also brave like you. If possible you can record the conversations by a cellphone.
Best wishes.