Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Right to information stonewalled in Tamil Nadu

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 19, 2006

Right to information stonewalled in Tamil Nadu
Chennai | June 19, 2006 9:15:02 AM IST


It's been a year since the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into effect to supposedly empower citizens with a potent tool – but the people of Tamil Nadu still cannot obtain even basic information, NGOs here say.

Applications to seek information from the Chennai Municipal Corporation or the Public Works Department on who has granted permission to dig a road or who monitors if the road is restored after repairs or the progress of the work on a new bridge have elicited little response, according to the Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign.

The campaign, part of a Drive Against Bribe that works towards creating more public awareness about the RTI Act – which came into effect in June 2005, is a common platform of about half a dozen NGOs working in the state.

The Corporate Accountability Desk, an NGO part of the campaign, made repeated requests to the state secretariat on civil and road works in the coastal Pattinapakkam area that was hit by tsunami in December 2004.

The secretariat however obfuscated, saying its public information officer (PIO) who was responsible for furnishing the information had retired. In some cases, the applicant was asked to go to a post office to file the information request.

"A lot of difficulties were faced while filing the application. The government staff was oblivious of the RTI and was unable to direct us to the PIO," the NGO said.

The silence is even more deafening when uncomfortable questions are asked, for example, about steps taken by the city's civic body to dispose of medical waste or the amount of computer waste being let into the country from Chennai port.

"The central PIO replied that the requested information 'concerned a third a party', thus masking the information. The officer did not provide information on screening facilities at the port either," another NGO said.

When the Department of Cooperation, Food and Consumer Protection was requested for information on the constitution and processes of the State Consumer Protection Council, its PIO went into "procedural roundabouts" which were "highly perplexing as there seems to be a lack of uniformity in the requisite procedures laid down in the RTI act," said another NGO.

"The implementation of the RTI Act in Tamil Nadu leaves much to be desired by civil society. Procedural uncertainties, lack of knowledge on the act among the PIOs and inadequate infrastructure has caused unnecessary delays and frustration amongst citizens," say the Chennai RTI and the Citizen Consumer Action and Civic Action Group (CAG).

"In fact, these reasons deter citizens from using this powerful tool in order to address their day-to-day difficulties and organisations from accessing public documents lying with the government," the NGOs have said.

The review singles out the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Department of Environment and Forests as among the "big violators of the RTI".

When corporate watchdog NGOs sought details about allegedly illegal copper smelting in Tuticorin district and expansion of a chemical plant in Cuddalore, only incomplete information was provided by the board and the department, and that too months later – compared with the 30-day period the act provides for.



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