On last sat, the RTI (Right to Information) session was conducted in Ittina Abby’s party hall, and thanks goes to initiative and arrangements made by J P Rao of Ittina Abby apartments. Following are the points from that discussion.
In case you have not read it before, following post gives the basic information on RTI concepts and usage as covered in first session so it is a required reading.
The additional points covered in 2nd and 3rd sessions are covered here: http://deveshwar.in/blog/2010/04/09/discussion-points-rti-sessions-3rd-4th-april-2010. Note that these sessions also relate to basic RTI usage, there are no advanced concepts covered yet like rejection of RTI, first appeal etc.
Now that we have basic knowledge of practical RTI usage, this post will cover new ground discussed in latest RTI session.
A new approach was tried in this session to do comparison of RTI as a problem solving technique with usual method of writing a complaint/ grievance letter to government authorities. The table below gives the relevant criteria which were discussed.
|Criteria||Complaint / Grievance Letter||RTI application|
|What is the need for action?||There is a personal or public problem which needs to be fixed||There is a personal or public problem which needs to be fixed|
|Which department is responsible?||Find the government authority which can solve the problem||Find the Public Authority (PA) to whom RTI can be addressed for this problem|
|Who to address?||Find designated officer in government department who has jurisdiction over the problem area||Find Public Information Officer (PIO) in Public Authority who has jurisdiction over the problem area|
|How to describe the problem?||Write a complaint stating about the problem and how it is affecting you as individual or public in general.||Write questions asking for information to uncover the causes of problem and also ask about specific plans to fix it|
|Any time limit on response by authorities?||Practically infinite; it really varies from one to other government department||30 days as per RTI Act, else you can appeal / complaint as applicable|
|Any payment required to be made to government?||No||Yes. Nominal fee of Rs 10 is the most common fee for most RTI applications. Cost may vary depending on amount of information asked. The PIO will inform of additional costs if any. People holding BPL (below poverty line) card do not need to pay.|
|Is there a single point of contact who is responsible?||No. Your grievance letter may be forwarded and kicked around in the bureaucratic jungle. Your personal visits may also be of no guarantee to ensure performance on part of government officials.||Yes. PIO is responsible to get the information from other officials and forward it to you. He/She is liable to penalty of Rs 250/day up to maximum of Rs 25,000 if information is delayed, denied, rejected on frivolous grounds, and so on.|
The concepts and importance of PIO and PA have been discussed in write up about first session with link given in beginning of this post. So we will not cover it again here.
RTI Act gives a time limit of 30 days for PIO to respond to the queries asked, so it sets a clear accountability on part of PIO to provide information. Also, PIO is the single point of contact in the government department, with liability of penalties; so he cannot put the blame on some other officials or other departments, and hope that it will be forgotten and forgiven. It may happen that some PIOs may use technical grounds to delay grant of information, but in practical experience of many users of RTI, they get the information they asked for and so is my experience, too.
Apart from these, there were some interesting questions and discussion among participants which are covered here:
- Can my name and address be kept private and not disclosed to anyone else except PIO? The real issue here seems to be the fear that asking for information may need to some kind of reprisal by government authority or some other corrupted people who are affected because of the information asked. The short answer is No, but don’t lose heart yet!. The RTI Act by itself does not say anything about this issue, and therefore the RTI application will be processed as any other work in the government department. It is no more or no less private than any request, file, letter inside government offices. So one need not worry unduly about it. If an RTI application could lead you into soup, then practically any dealing with government can!
- Some people have been given threats due to their filing of RTIs. Yes it has happened but the same people continue to file RTIs and demand their fundamental right to information about government’s functioning. Overall, the citizenry will be safer if more people used RTIs, so that the corrupt elements cannot target only the few RTI activists. When RTI awareness spreads to masses, the need for RTI itself will become minimal and government officials will start to work efficiently to avoid answering uncomfortable RTIs in future. Indeed there is improvement in responsiveness of many local and state government bodies in last few years. Besides, one has much more chance of getting killed by road accident in India than by filing an RTI. More than 100,000 people die every year due to road accidents in India.