October 30, 2017 4:27:37 am
TWELVE years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, came into being, Puneites continue to struggle when it comes to getting appropriate, relevant and to-the-point reply from government and civic departments. If RTI activists are to be believed, central government departments are a shade better than state government and civic departments when giving out information sought under the Act. State govt and civic departments, they alleged, were doing everything possible to either hide, delay or give completely irrelevant information “so that the applicant gets frustrated and does not dare to make another application”.
On Sunday, at the 200th “RTI Katta” or RTI Platform at Chitranjan Vatika in Model Colony, RTI activists marked 12 years of the Act with the hope that state government and civic departments will change their negative attitude towards RTI Act and provide accurate, complete and easy-to-understand information. “Currently, the state government and civic departments seems to have adopted a hard-hearted attitude towards RTI. They seem to be doing everything possible to stall giving out information sought by the RTI applicants,” said Vijay Kumbhar, the architect behind the ‘RTI Katta’ which guides RTI activists and citizens regarding the way to seek information from various government and civic departments.
Kumbhar alleged that the Public Information Officers (PIOs) are supposed to help out RTI applicants in making applications the right way. “But we have not come across a single case where PIOs are rushing forth to help the applicants and uphold the RTI Act,” he said.
Pointing out that only “seasoned RTI activists” are able to ferret out required information from government departments, Kumbhar said, “Those who are well-versed and are old hands at making applications know how to get information from the government departments. However, beginners and first-timers find it difficult to get the information. The officials are quick to realise this and then give out information in such a way that the RTI applicant gets thoroughly confused. No amount of arguments with the officials work which leads him to drop the idea of making another application or applications,” he says. “Be it PMC, PCMC, district collector, zilla parishad, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd (MSEDCL), police departments or education departments, they are all one and the same. RTI applicants have one grouse too many against them,” he said.
Shekhar Landge, an RTI activist, said he has been chasing the government’s tehsildar’s office (revenue) since 2005, seeking “panchnama” report of his farm wrecked by floods. “Initially, I wrote to top officials and even to the chief minister. Then, I made an RTI application in 2010. I got no information. I then appealed to the State Information Commission (SIC) which directed the tehsildar’s office to file the affidavit. Yet I did not get the information as the tehsildar’s office continues to claim that they don’t have the ‘panchnama’ report,” he said.
Citing another instance, Landge said he had sought the information regarding the action taken against those who smoke in hospital premises or close to the heart unit in YCM hospital. “I was merely given a copy of the circular issued by the central government and not the actual action taken…this is how they provide either irrelevant replies or incomplete information,” he said.
Vivek Velenkar, another activist, said, “Civic departments either ask RTI applicants to come and check the files themselves and make sense of what has been written or not written in them. Besides, they throw away the application if information is sought by asking questions. What is wrong in asking questions? Nowhere does the RTI Act say that questions cannot be asked,” he said.
Alleging that the civic departments are experts in passing the buck, Velenkar said, “RTI applications keep moving from one department to another…there is no central system where the application can go to the right department,” he said.
Despite repeated attempts, PMC commissioner Kunal Kumar was not available for comment.
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