Sunday, December 19, 2010

Section 4(1)(b) and the 500 RTIs Campaign

On the eve of the 5th anniversary of the enactment of the RTI Act, Loksatta Sanjeevani has filed an unprecedented 500 RTI applications as part of its latest campaign. These applications have been filed with all state and secretariat heads of departments of the Andhra Pradesh Government and some Nalgonda, Rangareddy and Hyderabad district offices. Significantly, all 500 applications target a single section of the RTI Act - Section 4(1)(b). The provisions of Section 4(1)(b) are key to transparency in the system - they help remove obscurity and the accompanying corruption and ultimately, empower citizens to make officials accountable.

The official response to these applications highlights a widespread laxity in complying with the requirements of this important section of the RTI Act. A detailed, tabulated report on the responses is being released to the public. The Sanjeevani team is filing more than 350 complaints on the violations and demanding that the Government and Information Commission take immediate action to ensure total compliance.


A full report, including statistics of department-wise responses, follows. 
 

Author: Sundeep Pattem

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

Section 4(1)(b) 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 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.

The provisions of Section 4(1)(b) are key to transparency in the system - they help remove obscurity and the accompanying corruption and ultimately, empower citizens to make officials accountable. For instance, citizens will know who exactly is responsible for addressing their particular problem or requirement. They can contact and question the relevant official directly, without being forced to go through a labyrinth. Also, since the basic information is available beforehand, it can be expected to reduce the number of RTI applications significantly, reducing the burden on officials.

Why this campaign? Sanjeevani’s motivations and effort.
In this way, compliance with Section 4(1)(b) is critical for making government transparent, efficient and effective, benefiting both citizens and officials. The Loksatta Sanjeevani team observed that even after 5 years, very few Government offices actually provide the correct and complete handbook. A novel and massive campaign was thus conceived, for highlighting the current status and helping enforce compliance - 500 RTI applications requesting the handbook from all state and secretariat heads of departments and some district offices of the Andhra Pradesh government.

The effort was led and managed by Abdul Azeez Shaik who began by collating the necessary information and training a keen team of Sanjeevani activists. Starting September 25th, 13 activists spent several days filing applications, following up with appeals, documenting the responses and filing complaints with the Information Commissioner. It has been a great learning experience for the team members, who now have an in-depth awareness about several departments, and are working on disseminating the same to the wider public.

Campaign Team
Election Reddy, Santosh Kumar Goutha, UPC Bharat, Avanish Joshi, G Uday Bhaskar, Narasimha Rao, Madhu, Pradeep Dandu, Srinivas Rao Ganji, Savan Bandu, Subrahmanyam Chandragiri, Abhilash Garlapati, Abdul Azeez Shaik.
Official Response
The overall response to these applications shows that, with honorable exceptions, most government offices have been terribly lax in complying with the requirements of Section 4(1(b). 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.

A small number of offices have responded with the correct and complete information, and made it available on their websites. The majority do not have the information in Telugu. Several offices have demanded money for CDs, postage, translation etc. A few offices flatly denied that this information needs to be provided. Some provided links to websites, where the information was nowhere to be found. Some PIOs confessed to a complete lack of awareness of the requirement of Section 4(1)(b). Some local offices replied that the information is not available at local level and advised that the respective head offices be contacted. The head offices, on the other hand, advised that the query be redirected to local offices, as they cannot maintain information related to all offices. Some offices sent copies of responses to earlier, unrelated applications, without even bothering to alter even the cover letter. 

The following tables I, II and III show statistics for applications filed with specific departments, and their responses.



 Table I: Secretariat and State Department HODs


 Table II: District Office HODs


Table III: Hyderabad Local Offices


Loksatta Sanjeevani follow-up to response
Given the small number and incompleteness of applications, Sanjeevani activists have followd up by filing more than 350 complaints with the Information Commission. Complaints have been filed under Sections 18(1) and 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act for every (i) non-response, (ii) demand of money, (ii) misleading tactic, and (iv) incomplete information. Extensive documentation on designated PIOs, their contact details, and statistics of responses, is being released to the public.

Demand for immediate action
Loksatta Sanjeevani demands that the Government and Information Commission take a serious view of the laxity in implementation of the stipulations of the RTI Act and take immediate action to ensure complete compliance. In this respect, the Central Information Commission has been able to ensure that offices and departments of Central government abide by the RTI Act in general, and Section 4(1)(b) in particular. The Andhra Pradesh Information Commission must follow the example set by enforcing compliance all offices in its jurisdiction. Any genuine logistics concerns of offices be addressed and spurious ones strictly condemned.
Sanjeevani exhorts citizens and activists all over to help enforce RTI compliance and realize its manifold benefits. For further information, please send email to Abdul Azeez Shaik (abdulazeez1984@gmail.com) and Sundeep Pattem (pattem@gmail.com).

5 comments:

  1. Excellent but only a team in Hyderabad is active. I tried to form such team in vizag. I also called the concerned persons, but no one responded in positive. I hope some day this type of team will be present in vizag also!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Ravi Shankar,

    Thank you very much for your valuble comments here. If you are willing to be a part of this team, please do write to us, at loksattasanjeevani@gmail.com

    We will get back to you.

    Regards,
    Team Sanjeevani

    ReplyDelete
  3. Incredible! Looks like I sure have good reasons to continue taking paid membership of Loksatta. Hope you guys keep up the great work. Hope to see more of it in all districts of AP and encourage you to open a special funding programme to scale up the process.

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  4. Another RTI success story:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/tv9telugu#p/u/12/L-r2yr2GDxU

    Collector's reluctance to provide info:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/tv9telugu#p/u/11/fX9zvigkCZM

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  5. It is so sad that most of the replied complaints got in english format not many in telugu format, i know how our orders and information will be lengthy and not in simple language and also when they are in english it is so hard for common people to understand. OUr state is with a population of almost 9 crores it is not a small number when compared to some countries. Every one should demand for all things to be printed in our mother tongue telugu.

    ReplyDelete