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. http://www.hindu.com/2008/07/17/stories/2008071754000500.htm

Sometime back, I filed an RTI with the Southern Railways (http://adropinanocean.blogspot.com/2008/06/rti-project-updates-2324.html). That was recently covered in the Times of India here. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Chennai/Rly_asks_man_to_pay_for_RTI_information/articleshow/3216494.cms

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 (http://www.newindpress.com/NewsItems.asp?ID=IE920080127011603). 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.

Awareness
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.

1 comment:

GLEN said...

It is indeed a coicidence that I too have a blog in the same name but the only difference is that in Ocean I have two C's. My blog is titled "A Drop In An Occean"

I am based in Dubai and I started my blog last year. When I tried to sign in on my blog I accidently saw yours.

Cheers

Glen