Ram Mehar Singh,a resident of Mehda village,Dadri II block,Bhiwani,had to shell out more than Rs 50,000 for information,provided under the RTI Act regarding developmental activities in his village carried out in the last three years,which,he says,is totally irrelevant to the issue.
The village sarpanch,who,under the Panchayati Raj Act,is also the Public Information Officer (PIO),charged him Rs 52,220 for the information and that too,after the expiry of the maximum period of 30 days,as stipulated under
Ram Mehar has complained to the State Information Commission (SIC) and asked for refund of the money and the correct information.
He has approached some NGOs as well,including the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and Sanjha Kadam.
Talking to The Indian Express,Ram Mehar said he had asked for details of the income and expenditure of the Mehda village panchayat fund accounts and other schemes,such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,for the period from April 2005 to October 2008. The sarpanch,Manjit Kaur,who is guided by her husband Surender Singh,got a resolution passed in the proceeding book of the Gram Panchayat in November that the information sought by me contained as many as 5222 pages and,at the rate of Rs 10 per page for the information,I was required to pay Rs 52,220, he said.
Being unaware of the RTI rule that after 30 days,he was supposed to get the information free of cost,he paid the entire amount on December 16,2008 and was asked to collect the information after seven days,which he failed to get.
After he reported the matter to the BDPO,Dadri II,on December 22,he was handed bundles of papers on January 15 in the name of information.
It (the bundle of papers) contained 800 pages of BPL application forms of the villages,800 applications for a job card under NREGA,vouchers,quotations,several receipts that were more than 2500 pages,505 pages of panchayat proceedings,apart from other papers that had no relevance, he rued.
Condemning the sarpanchs action,Ajit Tomar,a social activist from the region,said the sarpanch should be punished under the provision of the RTI Act,2005 and the amount of Rs 52,220 must be returned to Ram Mehar immediately.
Krishan Tyagi from PRIA said such incidents were common in villages,especially where villagers dared to ask questions about the functioning of the panchayats.
When contacted,G Madhavan,Chief Information Commissioner,Haryana,said Ram Mehar has been asked to file the first appeal with proof of depositing the prescribed fee before the first appellate authority BDO,Charkhi Dadri-II before filing a second appeal with the Commission.