Believe it or not, senior officers of Delhi Police have actually asked for money from an applicant seeking information under the Right to Information Act.
RTI activist JS Bhattacharjee wrote to the Delhi Police’s Public Information Officer in November seeking details of impounded vehicles that lie dumped at the scores of police stations in the capital. The PIO shot off a letter to 15 deputy commissioners of police to provide information to Bhattacharjee under the law. Three DCPs — in charge of IGI airport, East and West districts — wrote back asking Bhattacharjee to deposit almost Rs 50,000 as “fees” for getting the job done.
Their reasoning: compiling the information is a lengthy and time-consuming process. It would need several sub-inspectors, head constables and constables working on gathering the information and tabulating it over days. Each of the three DCPs, therefore, asked Bhattacharjee to pay the salaries of the officials for the number of days they would be involved in the exercise.
While DCP East Ajay Chaudhary wanted the applicant to deposit Rs 13,949 to collect the information from 13 police stations under his jurisdiction, DCP IGI Airport Naresh Kumar asked for Rs 15,198 for just three police stations under him. DCP West HGS Dhaliwal asked for a steep Rs 19,474 — he has 13 police stations under him.
Three other DCPs — Crime and Railways, Provisions and Logistics and Police Control Room — have already supplied the information to Bhattacharjee free of cost, except for photocopying charges, which is legal under the RTI Act.
The Delhi Police PRO, Rajan Bhagat, defended the three DCPs saying, “Our PIOs are following the provisions of the RTI Act. If the applicant is dissatisfied, he has the right to appeal to the higher authorities,” he said. Asked why then some of DCPs had readily parted with the information without demanding a “fee,” he said, “The response varies from officer to officer.”
RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said the response of the officers seeking fees “is completely illegal.” He added: “The salaries of the sub-inspectors or constables is already being paid by the tax-payers. Providing information under the RTI Act is an additional responsibility given to them by Parliament.”
Re: Police ask for money to give data under RTI Act
Red tape worms
Information is the key to any battle, and no one knows this better than government officials. So what do they do when the Right To Information (RTI) Act ensures that they can’t refuse information legally? Create other sorts of roadblocks to discourage the public from asking uncomfortable questions.
In the latest instance, three Delhi Deputy Commissioners of Police (DCPs) have asked for ‘fees’ from an RTI applicant who sought details of impounded vehicles that lie dumped at police stations in the city. The law is clear on the ‘fee’ for RTI applications: Rs 10 at the time of filing an application. If an applicant needs data from official files, it will be supplied free of cost. But if he needs photocopies of files etc, then the cost is calculated at Rs 2 per page.
In case, the information is available in electronic form, it will be Rs 50 per CD. The information has to be made available within 30 days of the application. Instead of asking for the legal fee, the three DCPs asked the applicant to deposit Rs 50,000 as ‘fees’, which includes photocopying charges and per day salaries of the officers given the job. Interestingly, this demand was made after three other DCPs had already supplied the same information to the applicant without asking for any extra fee, paying only for photocopying charges.
This kind of corruption is not new. Similar cases have been reported from other states too. An RTI activist was threatened at gunpoint by a police officer in Bihar, while in Uttar Pradesh, a similar ‘fee’ was demanded from activists looking for information on National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) workers. But people have managed to use the Act to get their work done in other government departments without paying bribes. That is probably where it hurts the ***** the most.
It is understandable that government officials are stretched and information gathering is an additional burden. But that should not be used as an excuse to demand payment to a government servant, whose salary is being paid by the tax-paying public.
This also undermines the progressive piece of legislation that hopes to redefine the patron-client relationship that exists between ***** and the public. The attitude only shows that changing a feudal mindset is not an easy job. The battle has only begun.