While most information commissioners and Central and state chief information commissioners are hanging on to the government babu system of functioning, journalist turned information commissioner of Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Singh is creating waves as he interacts with appellants of second appeals as well as RTI applicants in general, through Twitter and WhatsApp ever since his appointment in February 2019.
For example, that is on 28th November, an RTI applicant Sudhir Singh Baghel through his Twitter handle @sudhirsinghbag6 tweeted that: “I submitted RTI in Govt HS school Jhabua to give my father's attendance information but the Principal refused to give information.”
He tagged Rahul Singh’s Twitter handle @rahulreports.
Promptly, he received a Twitter reply from the information commissioner.
On 27th November, one Rahul Pandey, RTI applicant tweeted that, `` Sir please help me Mujhe bhi Suchna nhi diii gyi Sbse pehle mene SDM office sirmour me unse patra ki suchna mangi toh unhone 3 month pe jabab diya aur bola dene ka prabdhan nhi h Firr Appeal ki toh wha se bhi nhi mili please help me sir appliciant ( Shivkumar pandey) Rewa MP’’ (I also have not been given the information.Translated it means: First I asked the SDM officer of Sirmour for some information which he did not give up to three months and then said there is no provision to supply me with the information. First Appellate Authority too declined the information.)
Here is the reply, he received from the information commissioner…
Rahul Singh’s Twitter handle is @rahulreports (old habits die hard!) and though he has only 3,517 followers as of now, his active interaction through it, is a novel and soothing experience for RTI applicants, who Singh believes are often distressed due to the dereliction in duty by many public information officers (PIOs).
Known to be a credible bi-lingual television journalist with two decades of experience, he has indeed taken his job of information commissioner sincerely and seriously as did Vijay Kuvalekar, former Pune information commissioner and a senior journalist of Maharashtra. While Mr Kuvalekar brought in orders with intelligent interpretations of the RTI Act that benefited the common man, journalist Singh has moved out from the physical space of his office by entering/interacting through cyberspace and making RTI applicants aware of the rules of the RTI Act.
Rahul Singh is the former assistant executive editor and national editor of News 18 regional channel network in Delhi. He also did stints in India Today- Aaj Tak, Times Now, Zee News, Sahara Samay, ETV-News18, Free Press Journal.
One of the news reports states that, ``he is one of few journalists in India who has expertise and experience in handling national as well regional news channel content across the country. He comes with multi-state experience across Delhi-NCR, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka, Assam & Northeast states.”
Mr Singh is not new to the RTI subject as he has been using it extensively in his journalism career, one of them being the 2005 Padarvada mass grave story from Gujarat for Sahara Samay.
Recently, he issued a show cause notice to the forest department of MP when RTI applicant Virendra Singh Parihar’s request for information way back in January 2017 on details of plantations of 50 lakh saplings amongst other related information, was not answered. In the show cause notice, he asked as to why a Rs25,000 penalty should not be slammed on the forest department.
With the trend of information commissioners coming from the field of bureaucracy, who are used to red tapism, officers like Rahul Singh and Vijay Kuvlekar from the media have shown vision with their understanding of quickness of addressing RTI applications.
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central information commissioner, who came from a law background was asked in an interview to Moneylife: “What according to you should be the ratio of retired government officers becoming CIC and independent private individuals?”
He had replied, “My suggestion is you just act according to the law. What does the RTI Act say? Look up Section 12(5). It gives eight fields of social life. Appoint one from each field and the remaining you may please appoint as per your choice. There should not be more than one bureaucrat whether it is Central or state commission.”
“I am not opposing the appointment of former government officers; they must be appointed as they are experienced and they know how the administration runs. If they are committed to people then they can do wonders; if they are committed to the government, then they will do blunders. They have to choose, whether they want to create wonders or make blunders.”
“If the government appoints majority of information commissioners from the field of the people which is the intention of the RTI Act, which is also the intention of the people who wrote the draft and NGOs who struggled and organized movements for that purpose; the government must implement it and see the wonders of RTI. And so long as you do not do so, you'll face blunders. That’s what we are facing,’’ Prof Acharyulu had said.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and 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