CHANDIGARH: Gurmeet Singh, a small time private employee and member of a NGO 'Pulangh' (a leap forward) never realised that one of his well-meaning efforts, made in public interest, would land him in such a situation, where, instead of feeling empowered to seek transparency in government functioning through RTI, he would be almost "penalised" by the commission.
Gurmeet is now required to visit the Red Cross office in Patiala, the office from where he was seeking information, during working hours for 15 days between and inspect all files to filter information he needs. For that Gurmeet would have to forgo his office work and travel nearly 50 km a day for his to and fro trips to Patiala, spending his own money, even though the information required is ready for dispatch at the office. The young man has also complained of facing a harrowing time during the hearing where he was repeatedly asked the reasons for seeking the information required, which goes against the spirit of RTI Act.
On December 27, 2006, Gurmeet had sought information from Patiala Red Cross regarding the sources of income and details of expenditure made by the Red Cross, among other things, from 1.4.1997 to 31.3.2006. His colleagues in other districts had also put up similar requests under the RTI Act and one of them received the information without much fuss. Gurmeet, meanwhile, waited for over a month without getting any response from the body following which he approached RTI Commission here at Chandigarh in February 2006.
During the last five months, Gurmeet dutifully presented himself before the double bench of RTI commissioners, Rupan Deol Bajaj and Ravi Singh, but the Red Cross, Patiala did not bother to furnish the information. In May, however, they did send a reply to Singh saying the information sought was ready and he could collect it after paying Rs 8,000 "for the time being" so that the record of nine years could be supplied to him.
Gurmeet brought this to the notice of RTI commissioner and prayed that since information was not furnished within 30 days, it should now be provided free of cost as per the RTI Act, 2005. This was on June 5, when the RTI held a hearing, while nobody from Red Cross turned up. Interestingly, the letter from the Red Cross also demanded a "clarification" from the applicant as to what were his reasons for asking particular information.
The directions from the RTI, however, took Gurmeet by surprise, who was hoping that the commission would uphold his stand and pull up the Red Cross. "I was chided for having asked so much of information and was asked to reveal my intentions. I was told that the Red Cross was a charitable institution and would be hard-pressed to detail people for digging all the information asked for.
This was so shocking since no one from the Red Cross ever came to complain to the commission that collecting this material was putting financial burden or they were short of manpower," he stated. "The commissioner told me that now I should also feel the heat and should rather go to Red Cross office everyday for 15 days for three hours between 2 pm and 5 pm and inspect the files, and ask for 'relevant' material instead of bulk information or make copies/notes myself," a dejected Gurmeet told TOI.
Gurmeet kept on saying in the court that the directions were like a punishment to him, but his pleas were disregarded. "I am a small time employee who can't afford to take off time from my job everyday.