The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), which is the first public authority in India to initiate the ‘open day’ every Monday since 2009 for citizens to freely access information by inspecting files under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, is hurdled due to a lack of knowledge or indifference by the officers and diminishing of enthusiasm of citizens.
Any citizen can visit the PMC between 3pm and 5pm on Mondays to instantly procure documents under Section 4 of the RTI Act and do away with the long-drawn process of filing an application under Section 6 and waiting for 30 days to get the information. Inspection of files does not require any application to be written by the citizen and the public information officer (PIO) is bound by the Act to promptly provide a copy of the documents requested by the citizen after he or she goes through the files.
However, early this week, a Pune resident, Prince Chaudhuri, who visited the building department for a plan of a particular commercial institution, was asked to submit a written application and ridiculously made to put a court fee stamp of Rs5. Incidentally, even under Section 6 of the RTI Act, you are required to fix a Rs10 court fee stamp. Where did this idea of a Rs5 court fee stamp come for the officer? Thereafter, he was directed to go to another office to procure the document and the rounds are still going on.
Several citizens are facing the same problem with the PIOs in the PMC insisting that an RTI application is mandatory even if the applicant wants information under Section 4. Even after doing so, information is not provided immediately which defies the power given to citizens under this sunshine law.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who was the first individual in the country to inspect files way back in 2005, states that “The citizen should immediately file a complaint to the information commissioner with a copy to the municipal commissioner and also ask the PIO to give it in writing that an application is required to inspect files under Section 4.”
Several months back, a group of Boat Club residents made several trips to the PMC to procure copies of documents pertaining to the coming up of a huge commercial centre amidst their quiet neighbourhood. They were continuously denied information by the officer under the excuse that the file cannot be found. It was only after this author accompanied them and insisted that the officer put it down on paper that the files are missing, that suddenly they were brought to the table and the copies were xeroxed and provided.
Ever since the open day was established in 2009, the municipal commissioners, over the years, have directed that all department heads must be available for citizens between 3pm and 5pm. However, it is noticed that some of them are not in their seats and the citizen has to make another trip.
To make the functioning of the PMC more accountable, deputy commissioner Sanjay Ranjane issued a circular in September 2018 to all the department heads, that every 1st January and 1st July, information under Section 4 of the RTI Act should be voluntarily uploaded to minimise the number of RTI applications and for citizens to procure information at the click of the mouse. However, the circular is hardly adhered to.
Presently, Pune residents are spearheading vociferous citizen campaigns on two major issues – the controversial River Front Development (RFD) and the Balbharati-Paud Link Road that will go through the verdant Vetal Tekdi Hill. However, information regarding the proposals, decisions, copies of expert committee reports and so on are just not available on the website www.pmc.gov.in
Sushma Date, the citizen who is spearheading the Vetal Tekdi conservation campaign, states that “In the absence of documents on the website, we have worked hard during the entire COVID-19 pandemic period to procure all documents under RTI through Section 6. The PMC has had to provide them.”
With these multiple documents in hand, she—along with several citizens (who are not seasoned activists)—is creating a stir in Pune and pinning down the civic authorities with their own certified copies which they have provided under the RTI.
Besides the lackadaisical attitude of the PMC authorities, Mr Kumbhar says that very few citizens come forward to take advantage of the open day. According to him, “The lack of enthusiasm of citizens to physically come to the municipal corporation office is disappointing. With so many civic problems that every neighbourhood in Pune faces, it is time the residents move out of their WhatsApp group dialogues and get documents pertaining to their problems. If large numbers of citizens come to inspect files, there would be pressure on the PMC to deliver the public utilities in a proper fashion.”
It may be recalled, on 26 November 2018, the general administration department (GAD) of Maharashtra had issued a government resolution (GR) to all public authorities in Maharashtra ordering them to allow inspection of files under Section 4 disclosures of the RTI Act, once a week, giving the PMC as an example. That has fallen on deaf ears.
This author appeals to Pune residents to take advantage of the open day on Mondays, particularly when Pune is caving under slipshod facilities delivered by the PMC, be it roads, water supply, garbage disposal, harsh construction activity and severe air pollution. Similarly, the PMC departments must abide by the GR of 2018 to update and upload information that falls under Section 4 suo motu disclosures every 1st January and 1st July.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)