A CONSUMER affairs activist has been trying to use the RTI Act to get details of fund utilisation by the National Consumer Helpline, alleging the toll-free helpline funded by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MoCA) is a waste of government funds. Frustrated by the ministry not providing satisfactory answers, activist Nitin Saxena has now approached the Central Information Commission (the final authority on the RTI).
Saxena says the number of calls to the helpline, 1800-11-4000, a pilot project funded by MoCA, has reduced drastically this year due to the unsatisfactory responses. He believes it is a case of "misutilisation of government funds".
"Many have complained to me that those manning the helpline are not well-versed with the information sought by the caller, even on basics like how to write a complaint for the consumer forum. That's why I started looking at this matter," he told the Hindustan Times. But when he approached MoCA for details about the utilisation of funds for the project, Saxena says he was stonewalled repeatedly. "The ministry is deliberately concealing the facts I seek by providing incorrect and contradictory information," he says.
The ministry, however, denies these allegations and defends the working of the helpline. Joint Secretary, Consumer Affairs, who is also the ministry's appellate officer for RTI cases, told HT: "He appealed to me that the RTI information was dissatisfactory. Papers sought were provided. But during the appeal, he asked for papers that were not demanded in the original appeal. As per procedure, he has to apply afresh for those, so we asked him to send in a fresh RTI query."
The officer added: "The helpline is functioning quite well. On average, about 200 calls are handled daily by eight people with access to a pool of experts."
Responding to Saxena's allegation that calls to the helpline had reduced, he said, "We find there is a direct co-relation between our promotional campaigns in a area and the number of calls from there. This year, we were not able to take up as many campaigns as we wanted to because we were in the process of getting approvals. So there was a reduction in the number of calls. Campaigns will take off again in the next few weeks." Saxena, however, believes the matter is not that simple. "Once I get the necessary information to confirm my suspicions of fund misutilisation, I will approach the courts," he says.