A year since the office of the executive engineer of the Public Works Department (PWD) for Pune North opened its office for inspection of official records by the general public under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, it has received just two visitors.
Under the RTI Act, public authorities are supposed to make suo motu declaration of information listed in the Section 4 of the Act. Also, offices are encouraged to open access to information by specifying time and date for inspection of official records.
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For instance, in Pune, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) allows people to inspect its records every Monday evening. This helps in reducing the burden of RTI applications and allow more transparency in the working of the office.
When Newsline inspected the RTI register of the PWD office, it revealed that in 2014, the office received 196 RTI applications while there were 146 such applications in 2015. This year, there were nine applications in January and eight in February. As mentioned above, only two visitors turned up for inspection of official records after it was allowed early last year. The office opens all its records for public inspection every Friday from 4-5 pm.
Another interesting aspect reflected in the RTI records register was that the majority of RTI applicants were from Ahmednagar district while the office only deals with works undertaken in the talukas of Maval, Khed, Ambegaon and Junnar of Pune district. The office deals with construction of public buildings like schools, hospitals and laying of roads in these areas.
Also, in more than 80 per cent of the cases, the applicants asked to deposit fees to collect information did not come back. The RTI Act levies a fee of Rs 2 per page on applicants to collect information. It was seen that in cases where the fees was more than Rs 150, the applicants failed to respond to letters sent by the office asking them to deposit the fees and collect the information.
While officials remained tight-lipped about the matter, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, while welcoming the decision to allow inspection of official records by the general public, said, “The prevalence of applicants from a single geographical area smells of an active gang of blackmailers.”
Vivek Velankar, also an RTI activist, said this was clearly a case of misuse of the Act.