Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mega Event of the year - Filing 500 RTIs targetting a single section - 4(1)(b)

We are imperfect. We cannot expect perfect government. ~ William Howard.

but, the Loksatta Sanjeevani Team did not leave that thought at that. It began a journey to change the so called 'imperfect' to 'perfect' and the 'idle' to 'working'. The attempts never cease, the spirits never flag. In the continuing sequence of activities, Loksatta Sanjeevani has successfully launched a new campaign. This is one is slightly different.....and significantly better. Targeting a single section of RTI law, it has forged ahead to file an unprecedented 500 RTI applications.

Unbelievable ? Wait a minute ..We have taken enough time to come up with stats and photos of the event to make you believe the power of RTI and perhaps, a healthy team..Wanna know more?...You surely can..!Read on..!!

The campaign:

On the eve of the 5th anniversary of the enactment of the RTI Act (October 12, 2010), the Loksatta Sanjeevani team has taken up a massive campaign of filing 500 RTI applications. These applications have been filed with ALL state and secretariat heads of departments and some Nalgonda, Rangareddy and Hyderabad district offices. Significantly, all 500 applications are based on a single section of the RTI law - Section 4(1)(b).

What is special about Section 4(1)(b)?

This section stipulates that each department provide to the public a handbook which includes at least 17 prescribed items of information both online, on the department website, and as hard copies in the offices. A sample of these information items is as follows: details of the department's organization, functions and duties, employee powers and responsibilities, the directory of all employees, procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability, monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, budget allocations, with details of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made. This information is expected to be updated regularly and as necessary. This mandatory information is the key to transparency in the system -preventing obscurity and the accompanying corruption and ultimately, empowering citizens to make officials accountable.

The Loksatta Sanjeevani team observed that even after 5 years, very few Government offices have actually implemented this important RTI law. Starting with a training session on September 25th, 12 team members have been filing the 500 applications.

Loksatta Sanjeevani's vision and effort:

Implementing Section 4(1)(b) will make all the critical information necessary for making government efficient, benefiting both the citizens and officials. Also, it can be expected to reduce the number of RTI applications by half, since the basic information is available beforehand. It has been a great learning experience for Sanjeevani team members, who now have an in-depth awareness about several departments, and are working hard to disseminate the same to the wider public.
Everything takes money, and the team has spent about Rs. 16,000 of their personal funds in this effort.

Team members :
Election - Santosh – Bharat – Avanish - Uday Bhaskar - Narasimha - Madhu - Pradeep - Srinivas - Savan - Subbu - Azeez


Official Response:


Every Department office has a designated Public Information Officer (PIO) who is responsible for providing the requested handbook. As per the RTI Act, the response should be immediate, as these documents should have been prepared by Oct 12th 2005. However, we have received only 83 replies in one month, out of which only 23 replies have provided us Sec. 4(1)(b) manuals .We are expecting that most responses will arrive only after a second appeal. A positive response was received from the Dept. for Labour Welfare, Andhra Pradesh, who first provided the handbook/manual and then made it available online. A small number of offices have responded with the correct and complete information. Some PIOs have confessed a complete lack of awareness of the requirement of Section 4(1)(b) and made phone calls requesting Sanjeevani members to visit their office and provide directions for preparing the handbook. Surprisingly, several officials have demanded money (upto Rs 5000) for CDs, postage, translation etc. A few offices flatly refused to provide the necessary information. The majority do not have information in Telugu. We have also received several weird replies. A few local offices informed us that this information is not available at local level and asked us to contact the respective head offices. The head offices, on the other hand, asked us to contact local offices, as they can't maintain information related to all offices.

Loksatta Sanjeevani's follow-up to response:

The team’s experience has been that on being confronted with the exact provisions of the RTI Act and making it clear that denial and intimidation will not work, many PIOs quickly change their attitude. The team will be filing first and second appeals for the requested information. And in tandem, we are planning to file complaints directly with the Information Commission under Section 18 of RTI.

Sanjeevani promises to follow-up with a detailed report and analysis of the responses received and the actions being taken based on them.

Warm Regards,
Loksatta Sanjeevani Team

For regular updates on our activities, please follow us on Twitter @ LSPSanjeevani.

If you would like to contribute in any way to this group, please write to Abdul Azeez Shaik (abdulazeez1984@gmail.com) or Sundeep Pattem (pattem@gmail.com).

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