Visiting Hardoi, Sitapur, Unnao, Chandauli, Varanasi and Sultanpur during the ongoing 1st to 15th July, 2006, RTI campaign, which has now become popular as 'Use RTI : Don't Pay Bribe' national campaign, one finds that the officials are quite reluctant to see the Right to Information Act, 2005, implemented in its true spirit. The officials have taken the minimum required steps to ensure that they are not held guilty of violating the law but have not done enough to make it easy for the common person to use this law. For example, even if the Public Information Officers are appointed in different departments, the people do not know who they are. A few departments have not even appointed their PIOs. There is no easy mechanism in place to submit the Rs. 10 fees with RTI applications.
The District Development Officer of Sitapur, Makhan Lal Gupta, was the only official in six districts who is issuing receipts for the fees and accepting applications easily. The CDO, Tahir Iqbal, who was officiating as DM on July 4, was requested to make a similar arrangement in other departments too. He has also issued instructions to various departments to identify their PIOs publicly.
Until the City Magistrate of Unnao, Dr. Akhilesh Mishra, revealed to the RTI activists on July 5 that a clerk Vijay Pal in the ADM office had a form which could be filled to access information under the law by paying a fee of Rs. 10 in cash, people did not know that such an arrangement existed. He proudly informed that 29 applications had been filed since the law came into being on 13 th October, 2005 and all were disposed. However, chances are that not many people beyond the 29 fortunate ones knew that the district administration had made arrangements for people to use RTI Act.
On 29th June when the Hardoi DM K. Ram Mohan Rao summoned his City Magistrate, the PIO at district headquarters, to find out how many applications had been filed so far under the Act, he was told that nobody had come to do so so far. On July 1 when the RTI activists went to file their first application to the City Magistrate's office, the clerk there refused to accept the application saying that there was no arrangement to accept the fees. So, this was the truth behind nobody coming to file any application! Till July 3 rd no arrangement was made. It was only when a complaint was registered with the DM second time and a form prepared by the activists shown to him, lower portion of which could be used as a receipt, he instructed the City Magistrate to use the form and put a system in place. From 4 th July application begun to be accepted with Rs. 10 cash fee.
In Chandauli, even though the DDO had advertised that RTI was in place and applications could be submitted to him, officials were asking people to submit their fee by a Chalan in the Treasury. Now, the Chalan was required to the approved by the official who was to receive the application. Some officials said that they would approve the Chalan only after taking a look at the RTI application. Forms from the Treasury, normally available for free disappeared and resurfaced in the open market for a price of Rs. 5. The various government offices in Chandauli are located quite apart from each other. Often officials are found missing from their desks. People were spending lot of time running around form one office to another trying to submit their RTI applications. On July 6 the DM Muktesh Mohan Mishra was requested to put in place a system so that Rs. 10 cash fee could be accepted with a RTI application on the pattern of DDO Sitapur or ADM Unnao. He was also requested to make the list of PIOs in various departments public.
In Varanasi till July 6 the Police department was claiming that it was not covered under the law. On July 7 the SSP, Ashutosh Pandey informed the activists that the SP (Rural Area) Lalit Kumar Singh was the PIO in his department and issued a press release to the same effect. The ADM (Protocol), Naresh Chandra Srivastava did not have a complete list of PIOs in the District. He had written letters, after the people's campaign began, to various departments to find out who their PIO was. Till July 7 he had received names of PIOs from 9 departments. The young DM Rajiv Aggarwal took interest in the campaign and decided to get receipts printed so that Rs. 10 fee could accepted as cash along with applications. He was also requested to get boards installed outside the offices of PIOs saying that RTI applications were accepted there.
In Sultanpur the DM Veena Kumari Meena said on July 8 that she was providing all the information even without charging the Rs. 10 fee. She was requested to put into place a mechanism so that Rs. 10 fee was accepted with every RTI application so that the applicant would have a right to appeal in case he/she did not receive the desired information within the stipulated period of one month.
The officials are obviously not very happy with the thought of having to put into place a system which is definitely going to increase their load but will also take away from them the privilege of keeping all the information to themselves.
They get irritated when people challenge what had been their prerogative for long. The officials are harassed while the people are jubiliant. For the people it is their chance to move a step closer to realize their dream of democracy of the people, for the people and by the people.