Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Update of Inaugural Session of Tamilnadu Right to Information Campaign, Chennai

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 13, 2006

Update of Inaugural Session of Tamilnadu Right to Information Campaign, Chennai

12 July, 2006

Bharatiyar Memorial House, Triplicane, Chennai

By Karuna Muthiah, AID-TN for Tamilnadu Right to Information Campaign

The Chennai activities of the Tamilnadu Right to Information Campaign were commenced today at 10 a.m. in a function attended by about 100 people including from the press and TV. Highlights from the presentations of the key speakers, the training session and the RTI clinic are below.

Key Presentations

Mr. S. Ramakrishnan, The Chief Information Commissioner of Tamil Nadu, Mr. Sriram Panchu, Senior Advocate, Madras High Court, Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, AID-TN President, Ms. Sudha Ramalingam, PUCL were the invited guests who inaugrated the conference and addressed the audience. Activities in Madurai and Nagapattinam were kicked off on 10 July.

Short highlights from the speeches follow:

Mr. Sriram Panchu. He said that this act provides a good opportunity for people participate in democracy on a continous basis as opposed to just once in 5 years during elections. He said that 4 questions need to be addressed in the training sessions – what to ask? how to ask? whom to address? where to go for redressal?
The RTI act can be used to probe denial of personal entitlements like denial of a ration card or
to question concerns of wider social issues like – to what extent is the pollution here, who caused it, what action has been taken by the polluter, who laid this road, how much was paid, how many cinema theaters are in violation of fire-safety norms in this area etc. He appreciated the extent of this campaign – about 2500 individuals an 75 organisations working on this over the next 2 weeks in Tamil Nadu. He wanted all government departments to comply with section 4 of the act (see /WelcomeRTI.htm) – section which stipulates what different departments need to do to provide information to the public easily be complied with. He also wanted the state\n
information commission to include members from civil society and not just government officials.

Mr. S. Ramakrishnan, State Information Commissioner, Tamilnadu
A retired IAS officer, he has been functioning as the chief information commissioner for the last 6\n
months. He placed on record his experiences. More than 1000 appeals have come to his office and about 900 have been resolved. The rest are being worked on. This act can provide lots of benefits but people have not understood this act properly. Just like one medicine cannot be used to cure all diseases, this act cannot be used  to solve all problems – only information can be requested but no compensation or resolution of problem is possible. For example you can find\n
whether your neighbour has constructed his house according to sanctioned plans but you cannot do anything through this act if he has not. People should come to the state information commission only for appeal and not straight away – if they do so, their petition will get delayed by 5 days (Act says that government officials have to forward it to the right person within 5 days). If people address it to the wrong person, sometimes it might not go to anyone at all. This culture of\n
everything being open is new to government officials and it will take time for them to understand. He said that because this act was designed by activists who have lots of passion but little practical experience, it has it\’s limitations. 1000s of employees need to be trained, government officials do not know what to implement for section 4 etc. Any act will take some time to be fully implemented. For example it took about 8 years after passing before  the act was effectively implemented in Britain.  So, people should not lose heart if they are not able to get the information that they need. More information is not necessarily more knowledge. For instance someone wanted to know all the employees who have been provided work under the employment guarantee act in Tamil Nadu. Asking questions is tricky. Not all lawyers can do good cross-examination. About only government officers in the current commission, he said that this homogenity is indeed a problem but that only one snake will know another snake\’s legs (a tamil proverb) meaning only ex-government officials can be effective in this commission. He said the\n”,1] ); //–>http://persmin.nic.in/RTI/WelcomeRTI.htm) – section which stipulates what different departments need to do to provide information to the public easily be complied with. He also wanted the state
information commission to include members from civil society and not just government officials.

Mr. S. Ramakrishnan, State Information Commissioner, Tamilnadu
A retired IAS officer, he has been functioning as the chief information commissioner for the last 6
months. He placed on record his experiences. More than 1000 appeals have come to his office and about 900 have been resolved. The rest are being worked on. This act can provide lots of benefits but people have not understood this act properly. Just like one medicine cannot be used to cure all diseases, this act cannot be used  to solve all problems – only information can be requested but no compensation or resolution of problem is possible. For example you can find
whether your neighbour has constructed his house according to sanctioned plans but you cannot do anything through this act if he has not. People should come to the state information commission only for appeal and not straight away – if they do so, their petition will get delayed by 5 days (Act says that government officials have to forward it to the right person within 5 days). If people address it to the wrong person, sometimes it might not go to anyone at all. This culture of
everything being open is new to government officials and it will take time for them to understand. He said that because this act was designed by activists who have lots of passion but little practical experience, it has it’s limitations. 1000s of employees need to be trained, government officials do not know what to implement for section 4 etc. Any act will take some time to be fully implemented. For example it took about 8 years after passing before  the act was effectively implemented in Britain.  So, people should not lose heart if they are not able to get the information that they need. More information is not necessarily more knowledge. For instance someone wanted to know all the employees who have been provided work under the employment guarantee act in Tamil Nadu. Asking questions is tricky. Not all lawyers can do good cross-examination. About only government officers in the current commission, he said that this homogenity is indeed a problem but that only one snake will know another snake’s legs (a tamil proverb) meaning only ex-government officials can be effective in this commission. He said the
commission is not part of government machinery at least in the case of Tamil Nadu and that people have to be the monitors of this independence and effectiveness.

Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, Former chairperson, Tamilnadu Women’s Commission
Both Vasanthi and the next speaker Sudha disagreed in the strongest terms of most of      problems that the commissioner said and presented several suggestions to make the      commission’s work more effective. She said that the distance between people
especially the underprivileged and government is really huge and this act if implemented
effectively could reduce that. Even the middle class people are afraid to go talk to government
officials. Why have Public Information Officers not been appointed to all departments? Should it not be the responsibility of the commission? This information about PIOs should be put up on
websites, panchayat offices. The commission should take the campaign to the people. The     Commission should be a model department. How many people know that 1000 cases have
come before it? Has the commission levied fines on government officials or punished any official for neglecting to do his job? As an example of how this act is being used, she said someone from Vellore in Tamil Nadu has filed request before the central information commission seeking to make the correspondence between Vajpayee and KR Narayanan during the Gujarat communal riots and the commission is examining whether to give this information or not.

Ms. Sudha Ramalingam, Advocate and activist of People’s Union for Civil Liberties
She said that it’s really sad that the commissioner gave almost an identical speech explaining the limitations of government departments about a year ago during a seminar on RTI! This was even before he became the commissioner. Why have no fines been levied on any government official? It’s not like the activists framed the words and it got passed by the parliament. The law ministry and other government officials did play an important role and that they would have known the limitations of governments and would have ensured that what was passed was not impractical Training

\n

Nityanand Jayaraman and Venn, organised a training camp on the right to information act and how to make use of it for about 20 people. Some of these people might help out with the clinics that will be organised till the 25th of this month in different places in Chennai. Trainees included members of a Dalit Rights group, a Dalit unorganised workers union, Association for India\’s Development, an anti-corruption group etc.\n

\n

CLINIC

\n

The traffic today at the clinic was modest. Out of 15 people who came to the clinic, 10 people had applications written. The following were the departments to which RTI applications were drafted.

\n

1. TWAD — 1 application

\n

2. Insurance/LIC: 2 applications

\n

3. Pension: 1 applicaiton

\n

4. Tamilnadu Housing Board: 1 applicaiton

\n

5. RDO/Revenue Department: 2 application

\n

6. Collector: 1 application

\n

7. Tamilnadu Electricity Board: 1 application

\n

8. Education Department: 1 application

\n

\n

The traffic today was low but a 1 page flyer giving information about the campaign and clinic is being distributed to the general public. In addition due to media coverage, we can expect more people to attend the clinic over the next two weeks.\n”,1] ); //–>
to implement. It’s wrong to give the excuse that it took 8 years in Britain for the act to be implemented properly because now we are in a different time where with the growth of internet, things are happening much more rapidly.

They co-ordinating team produced an 8 page booklet that clearly explains how to use the RTI Act
that was given to every one, a 25 page trainers booklet that goes into greater detail about the act,
has case-studies, sample letters and information on how to train people etc and another booklet
detailing the list of public information officers, assistant public information officers and appellate
authority for different public authorities in TN. The last two booklets were given to organisations. These materials should make filing RTI letters really easy and will also help in widely publicizing and training people to use the RTI act.

Training

Nityanand Jayaraman and Venn, organised a training camp on the right to information act and how to make use of it for about 20 people. Some of these people might help out with the clinics that will be organised till the 25th of this month in different places in Chennai. Trainees included members of a Dalit Rights group, a Dalit unorganised workers union, Association for India’s Development, an anti-corruption group etc.
CLINIC

The traffic today at the clinic was modest. Out of 15 people who came to the clinic, 10 people had applications written. The following were the departments to which RTI applications were drafted.

1. TWAD — 1 application

2. Insurance/LIC: 2 applications

3. Pension: 1 applicaiton

4. Tamilnadu Housing Board: 1 applicaiton

5. RDO/Revenue Department: 2 application

6. Collector: 1 application

7. Tamilnadu Electricity Board: 1 application

8. Education Department: 1 application

The traffic today was low but a 1 page flyer giving information about the campaign and clinic is being distributed to the general public. In addition due to media coverage, we can expect more people to attend the clinic over the next two weeks.

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One Response to “Update of Inaugural Session of Tamilnadu Right to Information Campaign, Chennai”

  1. tariq said

    i want to go aborad i want to get ur,s guide
    tariq.ah2007@gmail.com

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