(This is the 1st of a series of exposures being brought to you by Veteran Major P M Ravindran, Kalpathy who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTIA) is the only pro-democracy and citizen-friendly law in the country as on date. But the way it has been subverted blatantly and with impunity by the public servants of every hue, paints a very bleak and horrifying picture for posterity. For those who still believe in the rule of law and would like to perform the role of responsible citizens the only option now seems to be to use this law to expose the idiots and traitors amoung those who are euphemistically referred to as public servants. Idiots, to my mind, are those who expose their ignorance of their job of which the knowledge of the RTIA is an important one especially for the heads of the public authorities as defined in the RTIA and the public information officers (PIOs) and first appellate authorities (FAAs) designated by them. Traitors are those who by the very nature of the offices they hold and the drain they cause to the public exchequer cannot be considered to be idiots but prove incompetent or indifferent in discharging their responsibilities. In the matter of RTIA the task of the head of any public authority would be as simple as designating the right people as PIOs and FAAs. The task of the PIOs is itself as simple as providing available information or routing the application to those who are most likely to hold it. The task of the FAA is also as simple as ensuring that deficiencies, if any, in the task performed by the PIO is corrected before the matter goes to the information commissioners who are bound to punish the PIOs for such deficiencies. This citizen friendly law also provides for assistant public information officers (APIOs) to be designated by certain public authorities to just help citizens by collecting applications, fees, 1st appeals and 2nd appeals and forwarding them to the concerned public servants. While this is explicitly stated in Sec 5 of the RTIA, it has to be accepted in the spirit of the law that the collection of cost demanded by the PIOs also should be collected by the APIOs and forwarded to them. Suffice to say that the violation of law by public servants stands exposed as starkly as can be expected, through the RTIA. It is to be reiterated that it is not only information that have been brought into public domain by this law but more viciously, arbitrarily and illegally held back/denied that puts this law on the pedestal or makes it the whetstone for differentiating the idiots and traitors amoung and from the public servants. Yes, there have to be some who are still worthy of being endearingly called public servants but as far as my experience goes it seems to be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack!
The revenue department is acknowledged as one of the most corrupt departments of the government. The harassment that a citizen has to suffer even at the Village Office level can be considered to be the substance of which horror stories can be made! Carrying on the legacy of colonial times a public servant responsible for the management of revenue services continues to be the head of administration of districts! So let us begin our exposures of idiots and traitors amoung public servants from the public authority that is the office of a District Collector.
The following two cases should help the reader to slot the head and the PIOs/FAAs in the office of the District Collector, Palakkad.
Case 1: Here is one complaint I had submitted to the District Collector on 5/11/2013 and the responses received.
COMPLAINT: NON-COMPLAINCE OF SEC 5 OF THE RTI ACT AND DENIAL OF LAWFULLY ENTITLED SERVICES
1. Please refer Sec 5 of the Right to Information Act and Government of Kerala orders on issuing receipt to citizens
2. On 04 Nov 2013 I had approached the Tapal Sec of the O/o The DC, Palakkad to hand over the 2nd appeal under the RTI Act in the matter of Palakkad Indoor Stadium Society and some touch screen/info kiosks installed in the Collectorate. However, I was told that it has to be sent directly. But when asked to give it in writing I was told that there was a letter directing that when applicants/ appellants know the address where the application/appeal has to be sent to he has to send it directly. But since the clerk handling the file was not available the appeal was accepted but a receipt was given only on my file copy of the appeal. This is also against the orders on the subject. In fact the Govt of Kerala order not only directs public servants to issue receipts but there is even a format prescribed for it. Also both the fact that receipts will be issued and the format is required to be displayed in all the public offices. This has also not been implemented even in the Collectorate.
3. You are requested to take cognisance of the willful non-compliance of law by public servants and take necessary deterrent action against the public servants and also take necessary steps to prevent recurrence of such incidences in future.
Before going to the reply received almost after 4 months this is what Sec 5(2) of the RTIA states as the duty of the APIO:
(2) Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (1), every public authority shall designate an officer, within one hundred days of the enactment of this Act, at each sub-divisional level or other sub-district level as a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, to receive the applications for information or appeals under this Act for forwarding the same forthwith to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or senior officer specified under sub-section (1) of section 19 or the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be:
Provided that where an application for information or appeal is given to a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, a period of five days shall be added in computing the period for response specified under sub-section (1) of section 7.
This is also in consonance with the task of the APIO explained in para 5 of Govt of Kerala, Circular I, No 77000/Cdn5/06/GAD dated 30 Oct 2006.
And now read this para 13 of the DoPT OM No 1/8/2007-IR dated 8 Nov 2007:
A citizen who desires to obtain any information under the Act, should make an application to the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the concerned public authority in English or Hindi or the official language of the area in which the application is being made. The applicant can send the application by post or through electronic means or can deliver it personally in the office of the public authority. The application can also be sent through the Central Assistant Public Information Officer appointed by the Department of Post at sub-divisional level or other sub-district level
On 7/3/2014 I received a letter, in Malayalam, signed by the Huzur Shiristadar (now, what's that? Reminds you of colonial times? Never mind for now!) on behalf of the District Collector which when translated would read like this:
Subject: Complaint regarding RTIA, 2005
Reference: Your complaint dated 5/11/2013 (RTI/dc pkd-sec5-comp-13105)
A perusal of your complaint shows that you had given a petition addressed to the Hon'ble State Information Commission. You are required to submit petitions addressed to other offices directly to those offices. Complaints regarding RTIA should be submitted to the Hon'ble State Information Commission.
In fact even the District Collector, writing to the Secretary, State Information Commission, Kerala (vide his letter PGR3-2012/86164/9 dated 7/11/2012) had begun by stating as follows:
Applications and appeals related to information held with other public authorities received in this office are duly forwarded to those offices and intimated to the applicant.
Worse, even the Lower Division Clerk in the office of the District Collector on 12/10/12 while writing a noting had stated:
State Assistant Public Information Officer is to receive the RTI applications and appeals and forward the same to the concerned within 5 days.
The only grouse of this LDC, performing the duties of the APIO and Tapal (Dak) Clerk was that it burdens the Tapal Clerk who is handling about 300 documents per day and it causes unnecessary expenses to the Govt! (Apparently the clerk is under the impression that the only necessary expenses of the Govt are to pay them salaries and provide them perks!)
Case 2: on UID and computerisation of land records.
Here is the info sought through an application dated 14/07/2011 submitted to the PIO, O/o the District Collector, Palakkad and the follow up.
1. It has been reported in the media that activities in connection with UID (Adhaar) have commenced in the district. In this context please provide the following information:
1.1. What is the purpose of issuing this UID?
1.2. Is providing information voluntary or mandatory?
1.3. What will be the consequences if a citizen refuses to provide the data?
1.4. Who are the persons who are authorised to collect, compile, store and manage the data? Are they permanent government employees, casual employees or private agencies? How is the cost being met?
1.5. What are the precautions taken to ensure the integrity and security of the data?
1.6. Is there any provision for compensating the citizen if s/he gets into problems due to misuse/abuse of the data by those handling it or due to their negligence?
2. Also, in the context of GO(RT) No 3737/97/RD dated 23(or25?) /10/1997 regarding computerisation of land records, please provide the following information:
2.1. What all actions have been taken by your office in respect of paras 3 and 8 of the order?
2.2. What is the status of computerisation of land records in the district? Provide data in the form: completely computerised- village offices, 25 pc completed- village offices, 50 pc completed- village offices and 75 pc completed- village offices.
2.3. If the computerisation is not complete, what all have been the impediments encountered?
On 16/7/11, the PIO wrote to me stating that the application has been forwarded to the District Project Office of Akshaya regarding UID.
On 12/8/11 another PIO in the same public authority (The office of the District Collector, Palakkad) wrote to me asking me to contact the various tehsildars for the information required!
There was no response from the District Project Office of Akshaya and since Sec 6(3) of the RTIA had not been complied with by the PIO regarding computerization of land records the matter went up on 2nd appeal. The 2nd appeal submitted to the Kerala State Information Commission (KSIC) on 11/10/2011 was disposed of on 02/03/2013. The only correct thing in this order was a direction to provide all available information about UID within 10 days of the order. However, on 21/11/2012, the PIO had provided copies of two letters on UID: one, a letter by the Cabinet Secretary to the State Chief Secretaries dated 4/4/2011 and two, a Kerala Govt Order dated 26/2/2011 whereby the District Collector had been designated as the Working Chairperson of the District UID Implementing and Monitoring Committee! (Please note that my application was submitted on 14/7/2011, almost 5 months after this GO had been issued!) On 21/03/2013, the PIO, District Project Office of Akshaya, also provided a copy of their letter dated 16/8/2011 addressed to the District Collector! (The point to note is that this PIO instead of writing to the applicant directly and endorsing a copy to the District Collector had replied to the District Collector only and worse, the District Collector had slept over it! Wonderful manner of implementation of the RTIA even after 6 years of it having come into force, isn’t it?) For the record, the then District Collector who had attended a hearing at the KSIC had shamelessly stated that the GOs had not been available with his office as on the date of receipt of the application! Now whether it is the GO of 1997 quoted in para 2 of the application or the GO of 26/2/2011 mentioned above is not clear. And worse, inspite of the PIO, District Project Office of Akshaya writing to the District Collector on 16/8/2011 itself, the KSIC order states that there had been no response from the PIO, District Project Office of Akshaya either to the applicant or the District Collector!