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Reaching out to information seekers

Reaching out to information seekers

Lucknow, Dec 27 (UNI) What started as an occasional experiment in a couple of southern Indian states, such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, has been eventually institutionalised by a zealous information commissioner in Uttar Pradesh.



In what takes months, or even years, for people to elicit information from bureaucracy enmeshed in red-tapism, Information commissioner Arvind Singh Bisht ensures speedy justice, that too without putting a strain on applicants’ time, money and energy. Through RTI (right to information) camps in districts under his jurisdiction, he delivers justice to all applicants and penalises government officials who resort to inordinate delays in providing information or provide incorrect or misleading information.



Under Bisht’s jurisdiction are 10 districts -- Lucknow, Unnao, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Hardoi, Lakhimpur, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Banda and Chitrakoot.



“A lot of ground work and coordination goes into this exercise. When acting on RTI petitions, we connect with the departments and officials concerned and compel them to provide information sought by applicants,” Bisht told UNI.



“Whatever information is sought through RTI, officials should ensure that it is provided to the applicant within the stipulated period and answers to queries should be very precise and indisputable. This will help ease information seeker’s burden and improve the image of the departments and officials concerned,” he pointed out.



Bisht stated that it was generally noticed that in most cases information sought by people under RTI was either not provided fully or delayed unnecessarily, resulting in piling up of files in the departments concerned or in RTI offices. Also the applicants’ time as well as that of RTI officials was wasted.



In one such two-day camp held recently in Unnao, senior officials from various departments were present to help facilitate quick response to information seekers’ requests.



On the first day, of the 93 applications which had been pending for long, 76 were finally disposed of to the satisfaction of the officials as well as those seeking information. Of the remaining 17, 14 were posted for hearing the next day, while three cases were posted for further action on January 24, 2018. On the concluding day, too, a similar number of cases were expedited.



Additional district magistrate (judicial) of Unnao, Gyan Prakash Srivastava, appreciated the efforts made by the information commissioner and even facilitated dissemination of information in a swift and judicious manner.



While highlighting the benefits of RTI camps in district headquarters, instead of the RTI building in Lucknow, Srivastava said, “I am of the opinion that more such camps should be held. This helps ease the burden on information seekers because they do not have to travel to Lucknow from faraway villages. Their time and money is saved and their problems are resolved in a short time.”



On an average Bisht disposes 800-1,000 petitions a month through RTI camps in district headquarters and information seekers go back satisfied. One such information seeker was RTI activist Yogendra Pratap Singh, who had been seeking details of misappropriation of government funds meant for construction of toilets in Geruva gram panchayat of Unnao district.



Yogendra exposed the corruption scandal in 2013. On his complaint, an inquiry was ordered, but simultaneously he had to face the wrath of some corrupt officials who were in league with a woman gram pradhan. He was booked on trumped up charges and even survived an attempt on his life. He fought the fake cases and the court gave him a clean chit.



However, on completion of inquiry in 2015, it was revealed that government funds to the tune Rs963,000 were actually misappropriated in the toilet construction project. The administration issued orders for recovery of the amount from the woman gram pradhan and the local tehsildar. When the recovery order was not executed, Yogendra again approached the administration seeking information on why the funds were not recovered. His efforts proved futile due to the corrupt nexus between police, administration officials and woman gram pradhan.



Ultimately, Yogendra took the RTI route. The case came up before information commissioner Arvind Singh Bisht, who promptly acted on the complaint. The information commissioner’s office pursued the matter with the officials concerned. The district panchayati raj officer (DPRO) was summoned several times, but he did not respond.



Taking strict notice of the DPRO’s indifference, the information commissioner imposed a fine of Rs25,000 for violation of RTI Act and another Rs25,000 for disregarding the information officer’s order to appear before him for explanation.



While displaying firmness in dealing with administrative officials and police officers who showed indifference or arrogance, the information commissioner imposed heavy fines on some of them. In one such case, Bisht imposed a fine of Rs75,000 on an additional superintendent of police for not providing information or not taking action on the information commissioner’s orders in three separate cases.



With prompt handling of his complaint, Yogendra went back satisfied that justice would finally be done in his case.



When handling various types of complaints and applications, Bisht has to do the balancing act of being firm with officials while being empathetic to applicants and information seekers.



“Why does one take the RTI route?” he asks and answers his own query by saying, “Because the bureaucracy is so heartless and indifferent. The babus simply love to sit over information and not share it with people who seek it. It takes a lot of patience and persuasion for any info seeker to wrench out info from the babus. When nothing comes out, people resort to RTI and as information commissioner it is my job to see to it that they are provided information, precisely and accurately.”



UNI RS 1404

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