While public information officers (PIOs) are known to ignore requests of right to information (RTI) applicants or provide half-baked information, this one takes the cake. The deputy registrar of P ward in Kandivali east at Mumbai has instead, sought information from the RTI applicant to first show him the circular of the Maharashtra government dated 26 November 2018, which permits the inspection of files under Section 4, since the applicant had demanded information under that portion of the RTI Act!
Further, the deputy registrar SB Rokade is, therefore, unaware (since he does not know about the circular) that every public authority has to designate one day in the week as an open day between 3pm to 5pm for inspection of files by citizens under the RTI Act!
Taking guidance from the Moneylife article, which has tipped the reader on how to seek information under Section 4, Ms Sashivadana wrote to the deputy registrar that “As per the circular sankirn 2018/pra.kra. 45/ karya 6, dated 26/11/2018, the government of Maharashtra has allowed inspection of files in every department. Please note that as per Section 4 of the RTI Act and as per the said circular there is no need to give any intimation for inspection of files to any public authority. However, being a responsible citizen, we thought it preferable to intimate you beforehand. I exercise my right as a citizen to inspect the documents. I will visit your office on Monday, 29th July.”
While her letter was received with a stamp, she sent an email to me stating, “The deputy registrar told me to share a copy of the circular dated 26 November 2018 and then only he will allow the inspection of the documents. Kindly share the same.”
I have emailed a copy of the order to her.
It is, indeed, shocking and callous of the deputy registrar to be ignorant of the circular of the Maharashtra government for which he works. As a PIO, he should be aware of the basics of the RTI Act as well as be updated about circulars and government resolutions (GR). Incidentally, YASHADA in Pune undertakes training on the RTI Act to Maharashtra’s officials at all levels.
As per YASHADA’s annual report of 2019-2020, it has spent close to Rs60 crore for such training, (Rs594,46,731 to be precise) in that one financial year. Despite this, we have many PIOs who, without sufficient knowledge of the RTI Act and without any application of mind, do not disseminate information as requested or provide insufficient information.
The circular of 26 November 2018, released from the general administration department (GAD) of the Maharashtra government states that, since there are too many RTI applications being filed under Section 6, it orders that citizens should be allowed inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act. This would reduce the number of RTI applications and would facilitate citizens to get information instantly.
Further, stating that based on the model of the Pune municipal corporation (PMC), which has an open day every Monday from 3pm to 5pm for inspection of files, all zilla parishads and every other public authority in Maharashtra should host the open day on Monday from 3pm to 5pm or any other day suitable to the public authority.
In fact, many a time, even the heads of public authorities do not have much knowledge. In 2010, when I visited the secretary, environment at the Mantralaya for an inspection of files, he wouldn’t allow me the inspection, despite my having written an email and sent an SMS in advance. He said he would have to ask the legal department, after which he was good enough to show me all the files concerning Dow Chemicals and provided copies too.
More and more citizens should come forward to use Section 4 of the RTI Act. And if the PIOs and heads of public authorities find this too a nuisance, then they should proactively disclose information under Section 4 of the RTI Act!
(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”.)