Monday, February 13, 2012

RTI Act: How to milk the right information - Money - DNA

RTI Act: How to milk the right information - Money - DNA:

'via Blog this' DNA / Yogini Joglekar

The Right to Information Act (RTI Act), barring certain exceptions, can be used to get information about decisions taken by public authorities, details of public expenditure, status of projects and many other administrative issues. RTI is also used as an effective tool to prevent corruption, and hence, it is essential that citizens use this Act regularly to keep a check on public authorities.

In order to get accurate responses, citizens are expected to file the RTI request appropriately. It is very essential to know how to formulate specific queries and the correct format and method for applying for it.

At a recent workshop, Ashok Ravat, a social activist and the honorary secretary of All-India Bank Depositors Association (Mumbai), gave an insight on how citizens should get themselves acquainted and understand more about the RTI Act.

“More citizens should get involved in the RTI movement, and the goal must be to pressurise the authorities to disclose information voluntarily. The RTI Act and grievance redressal go hand in hand. All activists should be aware of the redressal mechanisms, so they can force authorities to rectify these irregularities,” says Ashok Ravat.

The link mentioned below will help you draft your RTI application in the appropriate manner. The formats can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/RTI-Application-Formats. It will give you a guideline to file for RTI accurately. They have proformas for filing RTI application for various subjects like officer’s appointment, promotion or transfers, prisons and undertrials, implementation of court orders by police, road digging, passport inquiries, etc.

When a person makes an RTI application, he should have a plan of action ready at his disposal. For instance, if a person submits an application to one particular PIO (public information officer), but the PIO wishes to pass a part or whole of that query to another department, then in such a case he cannot ask the person to go to that department. Under the RTI Act, it is his duty to transfer that query to the other department.

Normally, a query should be answered within 30 (calendar) days, but if the query has to be transferred to another department, then 5 grace days are given in such a case. So, after 35 days one should get the response and if one doesn’t receive the replies in time, then, he has two avenues to choose from. First, he can make an appeal to the officer who is within that public authority’s domain, and the second alternative is to make an appeal or complaint directly to the state commissioner.

If the person doesn’t receive a reply, he has 30 more days to make an appeal. And if he gets a response within this period, then has another 30 days to make his first appeal, if he finds the reply unsatisfactory. If the applicant is still not satisfied with the response to his appeal, then within 90 (calendar) days he can go for the second appeal/complaint, which is to the state commissioner.

If the responses received by the applicant are not satisfactory, or suppose, the authorities say the files are missing, then, in that case also he can make an appeal.

For filing an application one has to pay Rs10 and for an appeal (first or second) ¤20. In Maharashtra, one can pay this fees through court fee stamps, demand draft or bank cheque.

“Information given by them may be inadequate, but not necessarily be misleading. Therefore, after receiving replies, one must reserve his right to inspect the documents which will help him verify the same,” says Milind Mulye, a RTI activist.

In many cases, the PIO might give the excuse that the file cannot be found, simply to dodge your RTI query. Remember, he cannot get away so lightly, for a “missing” document is government property and department officials are answerable for its disappearance.

“For complaints, the rights are specified in section 18 of the Act, and the PIO can also be penalised for Rs250 per day or a maximum of Rs25,000 for not helping the applicants proactively. Since this a deterrent, it works for the applicants’ benefit,” added Mulye.

There is no provision by which the applicant can protect his identity, because name, contact details and address have to be provided with the application. The applicant doesn’t have to give any identification proofs, but since the responses will come to a given address, one cannot afford to give wrong contact details.

One needs to understand that seeking information is not equivalent to complaining. Think of filing appeals and complaints with higher authorities only if the information you got is unsatisfactory.

RTI Act users should keep their queries crisp, specific, and limited to one particular aspect, which falls under the domain of the particular PIO because if you ask questions which fall under more than one PIOs, then, things will get complicated and the information may be delayed, advises Ravat.

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