Even as news of the Central Government seeking to amend the Right to Information Act 2005 has activists worried, a Tamil Nadu-based RTI activist has been asked to prove his Indian citizenship for a reply to his query.
Jayaraman Venkatesan had filed an RTI query with the Health Department, seeking answers on the attendance of housekeeping staff at Dharmapuri Medical College.
According to a Governance Now report in November 2017, there were reports of irregularities in the outsourcing of security and housekeeping services in as many as 37 government hospitals and 20 medical colleges affiliated to the Directorate of Medical Education.
Speaking to TNM, Jayaraman of Arappor Iyakkam, says, âI had filed an RTI with Dharmapuri Medical College regarding attendance of housekeeping and security staff. The PIO (Press Information Officer) replied saying that I have not attached proof of being an Indian citizen. Therefore he has returned the entire petition in full. It is not mandatory. The practice in the state is that you declare that youâre an Indian citizen. The law says you have to provide information to Indian citizens only. Only Indian citizens can access the information. As long as you declare that youâre an Indian citizen, the standard practise has been that the government provides the information. They do not reject on these flimsy grounds. Even if someone wants to technically say that proof must be attached, they must have asked for it. He should not have returned the entire petition in original, rejecting the application. That is unwarranted.â
Jayaraman says that this nitpicking, however, is not new, âWe have encountered this earlier as well and had taken up the issue with the Health Secretary who had said that he would make sure people donât reject information on such flimsy grounds. He did pass on the information to the PIOs telling them not to reject petitions on these grounds. In spite of it, they are basically finding innovative ways to reject information.â
He further went on to say, âLot of RTIs are being filed which are then being rejected on the basis of false technical reasons. For example, when we ask for purchase orders, they reject our request claiming âcommercial confidence and trade secretsâ. We are seeking purchase order of the government for which public money is being paid to the contractor to do public work. That is government record. In these ways they are finding different methods to delay information.â
Jayaraman blames the State Information Commission (SIC) for a lot of these delays. The SIC is tasked with ensuring the implementation of the RTI Act in the state. Making the SIC body independent would provide a solution to the issue, according to Jayaraman.
âThe State Information Commission is not working properly. It is biased; they donât want to share information. This is the difficulty we are facing. Even if the appeals and cases go to SIC, we have a very non functional body. Unless it is made functional and reasonably independent, nothing will change. The information of the applicant should not be shared with a third party. In one case of encroachment, the tehsildar gave the contact information of the applicant to the builders who then called us to enquire about whether we have filed RTI. The SIC needs to do its duty and monitor all of this,â he said.
He further added that public authorities are not maintaining duly catalogued and indexed records and posting them online, as per Section 4 of the RTI.
âOnce they voluntarily post it, the number of RTIs will decrease. They would not have the same amount of workload since different people may be asking for the same information.â