Monday, January 04, 2010

Meeting with the P&AR Secretary

Mr.Arasu (Anti Corruption Movement), Mr.Ranganathan (Transparency International) and I were part of the meeting with the P&AR secretary on 14th December 2009. We started the meeting with a follow-up based on a letter that AKV had sent to the Chief Secretary after a meeting with him.

We asked the P&AR secretary about a regular review by the Heads of Departments regarding RTI. He said he will consider it and if necessary pass necessary instructions to the various Heads of Departments.

On the issue of lack of awareness regarding Section 4 within the Government, he said that after the previous meeting with the Chief Secretary, an instruction had already been sent to all the secretariat heads of departments asking them to update their website regarding Section 4 disclosures. He also read aloud the instructions that went out to all of us, and also showed us the file having some acknowledgments some compliance reports etc.

When the issue of different departments not replying to RTI applications in time, and giving vague and incorrect replies, he said that he could not do anything about replies coming from other departments. When asked about training, he said that trainings are being given regularly through Anna Institute of Management.

As for the annual report to be placed before the Assembly, he said that the P&AR department had called for the report from the Commission during each of the last four years but the SIC did not submit the report.

Then we also pointed out that there was no procedure at the Information Commission for disposal of appeals, he said that it was upto the Commission to decide on such a procedure. Then Mr.Arasu pointed out that the Central Government had drafted a procedure, he asked Mr.Arasu to show him the relevant parts, which Mr.Arasu did. He seemed a bit surprised at this and said he would consider it.

Then we raised the issue of understaffing of the State Information Commission. I showed him a document given by the P&AR under RTI regarding the staff situation of the Commission. After looking at that, he said that he remembered sending some letter in this regard and immediately called up one of his juniors and asked him to look into the vacancies. He also told us that there are people available with him and that he can send these people to fill in the vacancies. I also showed him a press release where CIC was given 116 additional staff recently. For this he said that if the Information Commission needed more staff, they need to prepare a detailed justification saying something like, since so many appeals come in daily, 1 person can register so many appeals and thereby working out the staff requirement. Once a detailed requirement comes to them, he said he would consider it.

As for recovery of Penalties imposed by the State Information Commission (which, as per my memory, was agreed upon as the responsibility of the State Government at the previous meeting with the Chief Secretary. This was denied by the P&AR secretary) he said that the Government was not responsible and it was for the Information Commission to follow up on that.

On the whole, we could also see his unhappiness with the State Information Commission passing (in his opinion)strict orders against the Information Commission and also refused to comment anything about the Commission. He also said that the Commission was doing other people's work instead of just enquiring into appeals.

Vijayanand who arrived a bit late, could not join the meeting since the officers outside did not let them in, since the meeting had already started.

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