Bengaluru’s civic body – Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike – popularly known for never meeting deadlines and its numerous hare-brained schemes, has now managed to shock Bengaluru residents once more. BBMP has now shut down its RTI Cell.
The reason for this move is even more bizarre – BBMP is aiming at “fast processing” of RTI applications.
The RTI Cell in the BBMP’s office premises was set up in 2006. These RTI cells were created to help citizens file RTI applications easily, without having to run around from one department to another. On November 23, 2017, the Palike’s Commissioner announced that the RTI Cell would be shut down, for “fast processing of information sought.”
RTI activists in Bengaluru have expressed their displeasure over the BBMP’s decision and have called the move an attempt to hide information from the public.
“The RTI Cells were set up for one purpose only – convenience. If the pubic want to file queries, then it becomes very difficult for them without the cell. The RTI Cell transfers the application to the concerned department. If any information is to be obtained from another department, then the application must be transferred from one department to another and the RTI Cell helped with this. Now no one will pass on the information and requests will take forever to process,” said Amaresh, a Bengaluru-based RTI Activist.
According to a senior official with the BBMP, the RTI Cells were shut down as they were short staffed. The official also said that the RTI Cells were not able to process requests because of the shortage in personnel, which had resulted in a pile-up of these requests.
“RTI Cells take 4-5 days to process an application. This means it takes 4-5 days before an application reaches the concerned department. Besides, the RTI Cell barely had any staff, which resulted in further delay. We had also received complaints that the cell was not functioning properly. Hence, it was shut down,” the official added.
However, activists disagreed with the Palike’s reasoning and said that it was only an attempt to conceal information from the public.
“If you see most of the RTI applications, they are about bye law violations. The BBMP does not want people to find out that their own engineers were responsible for these violations. If a BBMP engineer does not approve a building plan, the construction cannot go on. They obviously have a hand in the building by law violations. Besides, if they are short staffed, what is the harm in hiring more people?” questioned Vikram Simha, another RTI Activist.
BBMP’s Joint Commissioner for Administration, Rushabendra Murthy said that the RTI Cell was shut down based on the orders received from the State Information Commission. However, officials at the SIC said that no such order was issued and that the decision to either establish or shut down an RTI Cell was entirely dependent on the BBMP’s administrative department.
RTI Activists have now approached the Karnataka government and has submitted a memorandum to revive the RTI Cells.
“In April, BDA shut down its RTI Cell. At least BDA has put up information about the PIOs on its website. The BBMP has not done that as well. How will people file RTIs now. The BBMP does not even check online RTI applications, let alone the hard copies. We will fight for the RTI Cells to come up again,” Vikram Simha added.
With the RTI Cells shut down, citizens must now approach the concerned Public Information Officers in order to file an application. Activists say that it was easier for the public to approach the RTI Cell than the PIOs as there is no information about these officers in the public domain.
The BBMP has 502 PIOs and 145 Appellate Authorities. The addresses and contact numbers of the PIOs and AAs have not been updated on the BBMP’s website as required, and citizens are currently facing difficulty in filing RTI applications.
“See, this is a tactic to avoid giving people information. I wanted information about the money allocated to the Nagarottana scheme. The government had set aside Rs 7,300 crore for this project and I wanted to know how much money has been spent on what project. But now I am not able to do so because there is no information about whom we should send the application to. Besides, the BBMP website has not given information about the PIOs which in turn violates the RTI Act,” Amaresh added.