First session of RTI course for L B Shastri Nagar residents was conducted on Sat 20th March. Total 3 people participated due to many people being busy for BBMP election related activities.
This is a practical course focused on using RTI to solve your personal and public issues. So there is more focus on how to use RTI practically, like how to find where to file RTI, how to draft an RTI application etc.
Here is a summary of the session
What is RTI – Right to Information
Right to information flows from pressure built by public and NGOs to implement similar right to information in other countries, coupled with Supreme Court’s judgments which held that a citizen needs to have right to information about government’s functioning as part of right to life and liberty in the constitution.
What is information
it is any document, record, electronic record, CD, files etc related to government functioning.
An RTI application is like a letter stating the information required by citizen and addressed to PIO, Public Information Officer of the appropriate department.
Important things about RTI
RTI is applicable on any public authority as given below
1. Any central or state government department, ministry, institution etc. e.g. Income tax dept, finance ministry, passport office, municipality, police, courts etc
2. Any Public Sector Unit (PSU) like ONGC, HAL, BHEL, NTPC etc. Any Public Sector Bank (PSB) like SBI, etc
3. Any NGO or institution with substantial financial support from government. So this will cover NGO which get aid from government. e.g. BIAL, Bangalore International Airport Ltd was deemed to be a public authority since it had some funding from government too.
How information is provided to applicant under RTI
Usually the nature of information requested will determine in what form it is supplied. If it is few pages of a document, it will be given in paper form. In case it is voluminous information which is stored in electronic format, then a CD could be given. The cost of supplying information is charged on applicant if the information consists of lot of papers, or it is to be supplied in CD.
What is Public Information Officer (PIO)
PIO is the person responsible in a department for receiving RTI applications, and sending responses, or rejecting applications if applicable. PIO is liable for penalty of Rs 250 per day in case of delay beyond 30 days, or even disciplinary action if information is delayed or denied on no just grounds, or with malafide intention. This can happen only after appeal filed by applicant, which will be discussed in later sessions.
Constituents of an RTI application
1. Name and address of applicant.
2. Name and address of PIO
3. Particulars of information required
4. Postal order, draft, cash etc.
How to go about solving a problem using RTI
1. State a personal or public problem area which you need to solve.
2. Find the department responsible for that area.
3. Find the address of PIO responsible for that area.
4. Draft an RTI application addressed to PIO.
5. Enclose a postal order (of Rs 10 in most cases) addressed to PIO and send letter by registered or speed post to the PIO. Postal order is most convenient since it can be purchased in bulk at a post office, and then one can file RTIs one by one.
6. Wait for 30 days for response. If response is not received within 30 days or rejected, you can file appeal. (The details of appeal, complaint etc will be taken in later sessions).
Example of solving a personal problem using RTI
Income tax refund not received even after 2 years
1. 3 income tax refunds were pending from IT dept. A letter was given to IT dept and it was acknowledged, but no action was taken on it for 1.5 years.
2. It was decided to file RTIs to fix the issue.
3. It was found after search from google, rtiindia.org etc that the Income Tax Officer of the Ward under which one has filed Income tax return is also the PIO of the same ward.
4. So 3 RTI applications were filed on PIO for respective wards.
5. In one case, within 1 week a call was received from IT department to ask about some details of income tax return. Within another week the cheque was sent.
6. In another case, it was found that the original IT return was submitted in wrong ward. The IT officer rejected application saying that another ward has the jurisdiction for that PAN no. So a new RTI application was filed on the concerned PIO of ward, and the RTI reply was also enclosed with the new RTI application to give history of the RTI application to IT officer.
7. RTI reply is awaited on 1 of the 3 original RTIs, and the new RTI filed in response to RTI reply received.
Discussion of how to go about solving a public problem
1. The example problem discussed was that none of the speed breakers in L B Shastri Nagar or even on main approach road to LBS Nagar are painted, so they cannot be seen in night or from far away.
2. We discussed how to find the govt dept responsible for this. Highway authority cannot be responsible for city roads. It was decided that BBMP – Roads dept will be the responsible dept for this.
3. So the next step would be to find the PIO for BBMP, Roads dept.
4. The framing of information application is very important. It is discussed below. We will ask question like: "Pls state the budget for roads in L B Shastri Nagar area", "Pls state how much is spent on painting of speed breakers", "Pls state by when the speed breakers will be painted" and so on.
Participants were given an RTI form printed by Karnataka govt which is a half page form in both English and Kannada as reference to use to draft the RTI application.
Framing of questions in RTI application
Wrong way to frame questions
One must not ask general or open-ended questions which are liable to be rejected outright. One should not ask ‘reasons’ for a decision.
E.g. do not ask "Why are the speed breaker not painted?" Such a question cannot be answered in a single way and it could be answered in both a few lines or even few pages giving whole history of the particular road, area, budget, contractors, who did what and what not, why things did not happen the way they were supposed to be , and so on. Still that response may not be of any relevance to applicant and will waste time of PIO also.
Also, do not ask question like "What is the reason that speed breakers are not painted in L B Shastri Nagar?". It is again an open ended question. So one must avoid all questions which start with "Why xxx…" or "What is the reason for …".
Right way to frame questions
The questions should be framed asking for yes/no or a specific data record, number etc. E.g.
1. Is there a budget allocation for road repairs in FY 2011 for L B Shastri Nagar? This can be answered by a simple Yes/No.
2. How much is the budget for road repairs in FY 2011 for L B Shastri Nagar? This can be answered based on budget and finance data held with BBMP.
3. By when are road repairs planned if any? If road repairs are not planned, the PIO can answer it as NIL. If they are planned, the PIO has to give information about dates etc.
4. By when will tenders for road repairs be conducted? Again this can be answered based on data and records held by BBMP.
RTI Rules of government departments
There are general central and state rules regarding procedure, payment under RTI Act. Also a department can have specific rules of its own under RTI act.
1. E.g. the general rules for Karnataka state that Rs 10 is the fees for RTI applications.
2. Specific departments can have their own rules also. E.g. Karnataka High Court has its own rules regarding cost of supplying information per page. Also, it accepts fees only in cash so one has to go in person to file RTI.
3. One rule in Karnataka rules says that the RTI application has to be less than 300 words. Presumably it refers only to content part of the RTI application, i.e. the particulars of information required. Whether it is followed strictly by all departments or not is not clear. But it is important to note that citizens should protest against rules which curtail their right to information.
Best Practices for filing RTI application
File separate RTIs for different topics or category of problem
E.g. if I have problem regarding roads and water, then it is better to file 2 RTIs even if the overall agency is the same. It will also help to track the responses and help in tracking appeal if a particular RTI is rejected. E.g. the rtiindia website says that for different years of IT refunds, one should file different RTIs. It may have happened that people filed same RTI for different years and based on some technicalities, the RTI was rejected. Having one category of questions in one RTI will avoid such procedural confusion and make it very difficult for a PIO to reject RTI on some technical ground.
Limit the number of questions in one RTI
What is the appropriate number of question depends on the matter at hand, and judgment of person filing RTI, and also depends on department which receives the RTI.