Monday, June 08, 2009

Inspection at Public(Protocol) Department

I sent an intimation of inspection of records at the Public(Protocol) Department. Last week too I went for inspection at Chennai Corporation, but I guess that will have to wait for another blog, since that story has not yet reached the climax.

I went at about 11.00 AM to the secretariat. But there was a looong queue at the entrance. Normally before entering the gate, one has to give his name, age and address. But you dont need to show any id card. So I really dont understand why there is this procedure at all, since you can always give imaginary addresses and get away with it. But since this procedure is followed, allowing each person in takes about 30 seconds to 1 minute. And this queue had more than 100 people. Not wanting to wait for such a long time, I returned to office and went back at 1.30 in the afternoon.

There I went to the Public(protocol) Department and met the Under secretary. Usually, at the secretariat, Under secretaries are the PIOs of their respective sections, in this case, the protocol section of the Public department. I had asked to inspect records related to Emergency quota release for air and train tickets. I had this vague idea from hearsay, that this quota was for public who had last minute emergencies like health issues. But I really had no idea what the emergency quota was actually for. And like all other powers given to bureaucrats, I was expecting the politicians to use them to their full advantage. Whether that really happened, I am yet to find out. But when I went to his room and showed the PIO a copy of my letter. He went through it, and was not convinced that I had a right to inspect the records. He felt offended at the word "Inspection". He told me that he can inspect the work of people working under him, but did not understand how the public can inspect the records. I told him that I was not trying to be dominating but that I was only using the word that was given in the act.

He also went on to tell me how he worked extremely hard from morning 10 to evening 8 without having time even to go to the toilet or have lunch. And how even all the staff under him worked till 8 PM. Then he showed me two mobile phones, one a personal one and another an official one. He told me that everbody in this country, including the Prime Minister, President, Ministers, have his mobile number and keep calling him up at all the hours of the day.

And then he asked me what the motive of my inspection was. I told him I want to check whether the procedure for release of these emergency train and air tickets was being followed properly. Then he told me that he cannot allow me to sit in his room and insect the records, since that will greatly affect his work. I replied that normally the PIO asks one of the section officers to give me the records for inspection and as I go through the files, the section officer carries on with his work. This he said he cannot allow, since if the records are damaged even a little bit, he will be responsible and action would have to be taken against him. I told him, that I have done inspections at many other departments like Finance, P&AR etc but nobody claimed such things.

Then he went on to explain to me something about the quota. He said that the mere fact that his department has issued an emergency letter does not mean that the person gets the ticket. This was news to me. He also went on to say that it is usually MLAs, MPs and other IAS officers who request for tickets. There are also recommendations from

Anyway, finally he called up one of his section officers. And that is when the fun started.

The way he talked over phone was very comical. He was, as a matter of fact, talking to me, with the pretext of talking over phone to some other officer. This is how the conversation went. I have tried to imagine what the person at the other end would have said, but as you can see, anybody would have guessed that.

PIO: There is this person Madhav, who wants to inspect the records related to emergency quota.
Jun.Officer: ok...
PIO: But we cannot allow him for inspection right?
Jun.Officer: Yeah
PIO: He needs to get the permission of the establishment section to inspect the records, right?
Jun.Officer: Yeah
PIO: I think he has to meet the undersecretary of the establishment section.
Jun.Officer: ok
PIO: Ok, I will tell him that.
Jun.Officer: ok.

So this PIO was looking for an excuse to avoid me from inspecting. So, he asked me to meet the Establishment, under secretary. I wondered, why in the world would an officer of one section give permission for inspection of records in a different section. But I anyway went. That guy, who looked like new to his post, was totally lost. He was not sure why the other officer sent me here. When he tried to call up the PIO, the phone was not answered. So I went back to the PIO's room and he had left for lunch. So I waited for another 20 minutes, and then when the PIO returned to his room, I went back to the Establishment, under secretary and told him that the PIO has returned. He then called the PIO up and they discussed it over phone and decided that the Joint Secretary of the Establishment department, was the person I had to meet. So I went to the Joint Secretary's room. He was clearly laughing at this issued. He got a bit irritated that the PIO was making me run around, and told me as much. He immediately called up the PIO, and told him, in clear terms, that it was upto him to take a decision as to whether to let me inspect the records or not. So I went back to the PIO's room.

Now the PIO's pretence of cordiality began to wither away. He kept telling me that I am disturbing his work greatly, and that I was acting in a childish manner not realising the seriousness of the department. He repeated this 2-3 times. He also told me that he has heard from officers of the other departments that one gentleman was going aroung the secretariat seeking to inspect documents. Then he said that he was not convinced that he had to allow me to inspect the records. Then I showed him the act where it was clearly mentioned that "disseminated includes inspection of offices of the Public Authority". He then called up another person and checked with him whether such inspection has to be allowed. I couldnt, of course, know what the other person told him. But after the phone call, he told me that he has to get permission from his Joint Secretary for the inspection and that he would immediately put up a file to him and once the Joint Secretary gives him the permission, he would allow me access. I tried explaining to him that it is the PIO's authority to take a decision on this, and that there was no point in passing the buck to the higher authority. I also told him that, if that is the case, then the Joint secretary could pass the file to the Secretary of the Public department, who in turn could pass it on to the Chief Secretary and that the whole process would be meaningless. Then he got wild and told me that I cannot talk like that, and that since he wants to be safe, and so he wants the permission of the Joint Secretary. And then came out the truth.

What I did not recollect was, that I had previously filed an RTI application with the Public Department, which came to the same PIO. He refused information on some grounds, and so I had filed an appeal with the appellate authority pointing out how the PIO has erred. All through our conversation, I had no idea that this was that PIO, though I should have known. But all along it hurt him that I had complained to his senior that the PIO's contention was wrong. He then told me that when I had the right to go to the appeallate authority, then he has a right to go too. Only after this I realised the reason for his antagonism towards me. Or at least that was part of the reason.

Then I asked him, by what date would I be allowed to inspect. He did not give me a direct reply and again repeated that he would pass a file to the Joint Secretary and after he takes a decision, he would let me know. So I decided to leave. Tomorrow again, I have an inspection with the Public department (Establishment section). This was the same section to which this PIO sent me to. Let me see what happens tomorrow. But I also intend to meet the Joint Secretary of the Public (Protocol) Department, and complain to him about the PIO. There will be more on this.

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