"The RTI Act is best understood by using it, not just knowing it". – Anand S, ACF Bangalore
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It was around 2.15 PM on Jul-25, the last Saturday of the month at Cubbon Park and RTI Clinic’s second session., I was just in time to hear Manohar Ranganathan of the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM) welcome the gathering.
Nearly 25 people including students, public, private and self-employed citizens, community workers and the two to three co-organisers were present. Sultan, a state government officer joined the interaction later as an observer.
Anand of the Anti-Corruption Forum (ACF) and Vikram Simha from the Mahiti Hakku Adhiyan Kendra (MHAK), two seasoned RTI activists based in Bangalore initiated the discussions asking people how they learnt of this clinic and why they were there.
“I’m here to know something besides what’s on the official website” said Prashant, a private sector employee. “One of my friends recently received a response to his RTI application and would like to publish it on the internet. Is it that allowed?” he asked.
“Any such response is a public document and must be shared by the concerned government department(s)” was Anand’s immediate reaction. Vikram added, “The receiver is entitled to disclose its contents without amending/suppressing it partly or completely and anyone can comment on it”.
Vikram and Anand also highlighted the need to appeal against applications rejected especially due to a government official’s ignorance or non-co-operation. “No reply for 30 days is deemed refusal. The government is not being held accountable as applicants don’t complain to the Central Information Commission (CIC)/State Information Commission SIC or follow up on pending requests”, they added. “The citizen has supreme power and must exercise it”, reiterated Vikram.
Answering a question from Jeevan, a trader, on a Public Information Officer’s (PIO) role, the RTI activists reminded people that it the PIO not a designation but an additional responsibility entrusted with certain government officers based on the department. While explaining that the application fees relied on factors like such as its category, target department and the medium used (electronic, paper size) for submission and enclosures, they mentioned that suo moto applications i.e., those seeking proactive declarations are free. When William, a state government employee enquired about the government’s inability to provide information due to lack of relevant data, Anand emphasised that the government maintains five categories of records based on their age and that it must provide evidence of unavailability, if any.
Around 4.15 PM, Gururaja Budhya from the Urban Research Centre, one of the clinic’s facilitators informed everyone that an orientation session on the basics of the RTI Act and associated procedures is planned in August considering the number of interested persons. He reminded the participants to provide their contact details and sought feedback on the session’s effectiveness.
Some people’s names and occupations were changed to protect identity.