Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sit-in at the Information Commission

As a follow up to the letter asking for reasons for passing a two line order mentioned here, I along with Mr.Rajkumar (who are previously working with 5th Pillar) went to meet the PIO yesterday. The PIO tried to explain to us things like they dont come under section 4(1) of the act and that there is no time limit etc. The discussion at some stages bordered on the insane, like saying that the Information Commission is not a Public Authority, and at other times saying that the department is not the Public Authority but the head of the department who was the Public Authority. I really did not have the patience to argue with him. At the end when I demanded a reply to my letter, he just asked me to meet the Chief Commissioner. When I met him he rudely told me that reasons will not be given. When I pressed that some form of reply needs to be given to my letter, he said that I might or might not get it. At this I went back to the PIO and sat in front of him and told him that I will not leave the seat till I get the reasons properly explained. He kept telling us to leave and that he will send a reply soon. When I asked him when the reply would come, he refused to commit to anything. So I told him that we are not leaving. He tried to cajole us, and he also tried to threaten us. We just asked him to do what he can, and that we wont leave. We sat there for an hour. Then the PIO left for lunch. We were still sitting there. But since it was a cabin sort of thing, not many people knew that this kind of a sit in was happening. The PIO also kept telling us that if at all we wanted to sit we had to sit in the cabin near the reception where there is place for visitors to sit, since our sitting in his cabin means listening to what all orders he was passing etc, which according to him, we are not supposed to know. I used this opportunity to move out of his cabin and sat right next to the reception on the floor.
And this did the trick.

The office assistants kept asking us why we were sitting on the floor. We explained to them the whole issue. Then the officers started coming to us. First the assistant registrar, with whom I had been in regular contact. He was surprised at the sit-in. He said that he didnt expect us to do such a thing. But to him too we explained the whole thing. And soon the whole commission knew that something like this was happening. All through this I kept Nityanand informed, so that in case were arrested, we will need help. He was not in town but he had informed his colleague about us just in case something happened.

Mr.Retnapandian, who is an RTI activist, had coincidentally come to the commission and met the Cheif Commissioner, who told him that we were sitting on a dharna outside. He came and met us. He asked me not to do such things and told me that this was liable to be arrested and could be brought out only on bail. I knew this well. Sometime back I had checked this with Nity and the general procedure is this. If you do a protest OUTSIDE the premises of any orgn without permission you will be arrested and let out in the evening. But if you do it inside the premises, you would be arrested but not let out in the evening, but it will be a proper arrest, needing a bail to be let out. I told him that I knew that, but told him that I have been patient for two years and that I cannot wait any longer. He said that he too was anguished at the way the commission was functioning, and that he planned to file a writ in the high court. I told him that I will support that too, but that does not mean I have to give this up. Eventually even after a lot of discussion I refused to leave. He finally told me that he felt that we should not be doing it and left.

Then we sat there till about 5.45 PM. Close to 5 hours. At the end of it the Under secretary (adiministration) came and asked us to come and talk to the Chief Commissioner. We refused. We explained to him the whole issue and told him that our deamands were that Show Cause Notices for penalties should go out in the summons itself (Here I showed a copy of the Maharashtra Information Commissions' summons where such a practice is being followed) and also in the interim directions that are passed. I talked with him for about 15 mins at the end of which he requested me to come and talk to the Commissioner and that he would also accompany us. Finally I relented and both of us along with the official went into the Chief Commissioner's room. Here he told me that I should chose whether I wanted to be treated the way I was till sometime back or that I wanted to do it the dharna way. I was about to say that I dont mind being treated anyway, and that if needed I will use any tactics for achieveing my goals, but before I completed my sentence he moved on to soemthing else. There he discussed how not havin enough staff cripplied the commission's functioning and we also had discussion on some legal points of issuing Show Cause Notices for penalty in the summons itself. At one point, when I showed him the Maharashtra Information Commission's summons, he told me that it was not a Show Cause Notice. His argument was that the summons did not have the words "Show Cause Why", but I told him that it was indeed a show cause notice. To this he asked his official who was with us to give his opinion since he was a lawyer. This official, a very meek person, said that if the Chief said it was not, then it was not. I could not control my laughing at it. That he did not confidently say that it was not a show cause notice was a dead giveaway that it was indeed a show cause notice. But the Chief refused to agree. I told him that he had given so many promises so far but have not fulfilled them, to which he replied with statistics of how the TN commission had the most number of appeals even higher than the CIC and that he was able to handle those appeals with very few staff. But he said that he will consider this suggestion of issuing show cause notices in summons. I told him that I wanted something in written in a month as to how the suggestion was considered and if not implemented why it was not implemented. He said he will do it in a month. Since the other official was also there, I agreed to it and decided to wait for a month. If he does this it will be a very important move. Let us see. And hope.


Sahasi Padyatri said...

Very happy to read this, Madhav. More power to you and outspoken activists like you! Warm Regards, Krish

Anonymous said...

it is not just a drop in ocean ; indeed a marvolous deed. Saying "Vandae Madaram" is not merely for a piece of land. It is a prourd Salute to the persons Like You. "Vantae Madharam"