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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bangaloreans assert their right to information

· About 1,500 cases have been filed with the KIC accusing officials of providing misleading information
The Hindu, Swathi Shivanand (Date:13/12/2006) Bangalore: One year since it came into force, persevering citizens are not letting the Right to Information (RTI) Act fade into oblivion. Hundreds of applications for information under the RTI Act are making their way onto the tables of government officials, who are legally bound to give information that the citizen asks for.
Obstinate officials, unwilling to give information, have been taken to task by angry citizens. Nearly 1,500 cases have been filed with the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC), accusing officials of delaying, or providing misleading or incomplete information.
In Bangalore, many citizens have used the RTI Act. There are even e-groups such as Kriya Katte and organisations such as Mahiti Hakku Adhyayana Kendra to take up the cause of the RTI applicants.
Common problems
Delay in providing information to applicants is one of the most common problems. On August 27, V. Bhaskar of Nivarana Seva Trust filed an application under RTI Act asking for information on unauthorised constructions in all the three zones of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) and on what action had been initiated against the violators. He was not provided the information within the mandated 30 days. The BMP, however, took action and slapped fines against the engineers when Mr. Bhaskar approached the appellant authority at the BMP.
Wrong information
There are instances of wrong information being provided or of intentional denial of information.
On August 31, the KIC fined the Commissioner of Byatarayanpura City Municipal Council (CMC) Rs. 5,000 for providing wrong information to B.H. Veeresh, who had asked for information on a Civic Amenity (CA) site in Canara Bank Layout.
Officials usually claim non-availability of records. The claim is not without reason. "The problem with many government agencies is that the recording system is so bad that many documents are irretrievably lost," says Y.G. Muralidharan, member of Consumer Rights Education and Awareness Trust.
However, Anil Kumar, convenor of Kriya Katte, an organisation dedicated to spreading information on RTI Act, disagrees. He says that it is one of the duties of the Government agencies to maintain the records efficiently. "You cannot deny information to the public because you have not been doing your duty properly over the years," he says.
State Information Commissioner K.A. Thippeswamy provides another reason for officials' resistance. He says: "The mindset of officials is yet to change. When people ask for information, officials feel that their authority is being undermined."
Officials claim that most people ask for information either to blackmail the officials or just for the sake of asking. They say that RTI Act has added to their burden. "Most people ask for so much information that it is difficult to provide all of it.
Government organisations, in some cases, have not provided information "terming the data asked for as personal interest."
Lack of seriousness
In an evident display of lack of seriousness in disseminating basic information on names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers (PIOs), the police department, in its notification, gives no addresses and contact numbers of its PIOs and appellant authorities.
"The BMP, BWSSB, BESCOM and other agencies must make it accessible to the public information on what services the ward offices or service stations provide to the citizens. Instead they just tell us that the information is available at the head office," says Mr. Anil Kumar.
Making a difference
Some people have invited the wrath of officials and local politicians by just demanding information. But in most instances, to prevent secrets from spilling out, authorities have promptly completed work, which sometimes have been pending for years.
J. Vasudevan of Jayamahal Citizens' Forum had asked for information about road works taken up in the past two years in his area. It was only when he was about to approach the KIC that the officials gave him the information he had asked for. "Now after I have the information, the BMP has finally taken up all these incomplete works," he said.
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The Hindu,

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