The Right To Information Act, in its second year, can well be christened the Redressal Through Information Act. For, in an unrecorded trend, the 2005 law, meant to empower citizens with details of Government decisions, is now being increasingly used as a means of redressal of grievances.

Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah says that the use of RTI as a grievance-redressal mechanism was not totally unexpected, at least by activist groups. “We have noticed that RTI now is being largely used by the people of Delhi for, say, getting details of delayed passports, ration cards, land allotment, denial of pensions and so on. And while the CIC is clear on the purpose of RTI, in such cases where there is a violation of rules or law, we can certainly help. Now, we notice the pattern of redressal grievance is picking up in other states as well.”

Information Commissioner O P Kejariwal cites the example of the 18-year-long wait for compensation of land acquired by the Government in pre-Independence years being resolved recently by the CIC via an RTI application. A fine of Rs 50,000 was imposed on the errant Department.

Says Kejariwal, “The RTI was also aimed at bringing in systemic changes in
Government functioning and this has begun to happen since so many people are appealing before us for settling their long-pending grievances. We have already noticed this in functioning of universities like Delhi University and Aligarh Muslim University and functioning of passport offices where scores of complaints have been attended to.”
Consider some of the orders passed by the CIC in the last quarter of 2007 and the pattern is clear:

  • A resident of Jhansi got details of what he alleged was the forged DNA fingerprinting report of his 5-year old son, which his wife had got done.
  • An appellant got details of the computation of his pensionary benefits denied to him for the last 10 years.
  • The National Hydroelectricity Power Corporation was asked to locate 20-year-old employment records of an applicant, which had been denied to him by court
  • The North Eastern Railways was asked to furnish all information to an applicant relating to recruitment and promotion of Engineers, since he had alleged malpractices in promotion of staff.
  • The Municipal Corporation of Delhi was asked to respond in 10 days to an applicant who had for long been seeking information regarding permissible limits for construction on a plot.
  • A group of appellants from Varanasi filed a compliant against the Ministry of Textiles since they were aggrieved with non-implementation of health-insurance scheme for weavers. The Ministry was asked to settle the grievances within a month.
  • The CIC made a “strong recommendation” to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to allot a plot under the Janata category in Rohini since the applicant’s allotment number was wrongly quoted by the bank and the allotment cancelled. “This amounts to denial of the right of a member of the public and also denial of natural justice,” the CIC order noted.
  • The Employees Provident Fund Organisation was ordered to return Rs 265 deducted from an applicant’s subsistence allowance to be paid to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund since it was done without taking his consent.
In this past year, the CIC, has, in fact, been coming down strongly on Government Departments when a case of apathy and neglect has been highlighted while settling an appeal.

Take the case of a 90-year old woman who wanted her passport extended. The CIC asked the Ministry of External Affairs to attend to her case within 15 days and in its order demanded:

“Could there be a more callous and apathetic attitude of a Government servant towards not only a member of the public but also a statutory body like the Information Commission?”

NEW DELHI, Tuesday, January 01, 2008 :: R in RTI now means redressal

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