Own RTI Act, says police chief

PUNE: Pune police commissioner Jayant Umranikar on Saturday appealed to citizens to believe in the fact that they are the 'owners' of information and government officers merely the 'possessors'.

The police chief and Mumbai-based RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi on Saturday gave a series of useful tips to members of the University Women's Association (UWA) on how intelligent use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act could empower them.

Admitting that officials who possess information often try to guard it, Umranikar said, "Citizens need to act as the owners and demand their rights. They are empowered by the RTI Act to do so." However, in the same breath, Umranikar underlined the need to ensure that RTI applications sought genuine information.

He cited some cases received by the Pune police. One applicant sought to know how many farmers had committed suicide in Maharashtra during the last five decades; while another applicant wanted crime statistics since 1947!

Such data is simply not available, he said. Citizens should be careful in exercising the RTI Act, else the RTI Act may lose credibility, he warned.

Similarly, citizens can ask about the progress of investigations, but not the names of the witnesses and their addresses as it may hamper the investigation. The same is true about intelligence agencies which are not under the purview of the RTI Act, he said.

Umranikar said that a survey by the police had found that of the 100 applications under the RTI Act, 70 were applications made by police employees themselves, seeking information on various administrative issues.

"The RTI Act is also beneficial to government officers and employees. Honest officers have nothing to fear from it. I often tell my colleagues that if you have nothing to hide, why not part with the information demanded," Umranikar said.

RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi asserted that RTI applications should be intelligently worded as the RTI Act is not a weapon but a method to procure "information that is available" which eventually may lead to investigations if there is an irregularity.

While admitting that not all the intelligently worded and genuine RTI applications get a positive response, Gandhi asserted that these do make a difference in the government machinery and pressurise the officers. "They also act as a support," he added.

He pointed out that most citizens spend at least ten minutes a day cribbing about the bad condition of a road or bad governance by the chief minister or even the Prime Minister. "Crib for 29 days, but at least file one RTI application a month on the issue you crib about." He said that even if 10 per cent of the citizens in the country start making one RTI application a month it will go a long way.

The day-long seminar was organised as part of the national meet of the UWA at the working women's hostel in Gokhalenagar, Pune. Officials of the Indian Federation of UWA including Sudha Padhye, RTI activist Vivek Velankar and senior UWA members, including Malti Kalmadi also spoke.

Own RTI Act, says police chief-Pune-Cities-The Times of India

(emphasis are mine !)