All Indians living in the UAE now have the right to demand answers from Public Information Officers (PIOs) at the Indian missions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

This comes more than one-and-a-half years after the Right to Information Act was sanctioned in India.

This was only discovered when Rakesh Bohra, the Communications Secretary of the computer group affiliated to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, chanced upon the information of the appointment of the PIOs while browsing consulate and embassy websites, and called up the PIO in Dubai as an interested citizen.

H. R. Singh, Second Secretary (Labour and Welfare) at the Indian Embassy at Abu Dhabi and P. Ajithakumar, Consul and Head of Chancery at the Consulate in Dubai are the designated PIOs, but information on their appointments has not been widely publicised to Indians in the UAE.

“The consulate was instructed to appoint an Information Officer under the RTI Act and action has been taken,” said Indian Consul General in Dubai Venu Rajamony.

Rajamony added that the appointment of the PIOs was routine, with hundreds more already appointed across India.

However, Rajamony, who is the named authority under the RTI Act for applicants if they are not satisfied with the response from the PIO, has instructed consular officers to make the consulate website more user-friendly by putting the Right to Information click panel on top of the site.

The PIOs were appointed just last month, although the RTI Act came into effect on October 12, 2005. It needed an order from the Central Information Commiss-ioner in New Delhi earlier this year to spell out that all Indian missions overseas fall within the scope of the legislation.

“I received the order regarding my appointment only on April 18,” PIO Ajithakumar told XPRESS. Reluctant to elaborate on his role, the officer said he was still studying the nature of his duties under the RTI provisions.
He said non-Indians were not entitled to seek information under the RTI Act. Applicants have to be Indian citizens, but he was not sure about the exact fee prescribed in respect of overseas Indian missions.

Ajithakumar said the applicants should be getting a response to their questions within a maximum period of one month.

Getting information away from home
Anju Musafir, an educationist based in Ahmedabad, was the first citizen to file an application with the Public Information Officer of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on July 19, 2006 to seek information on denial of visa by an Indian Embassy in Paris to French national Benjamin M. who was to join the faculty of Mahatma Gandhi International School in Gujarat.

Not getting a satisfactory response, he appealed to the Central Information Commission (CIC) which ruled earlier this year that since the Indian missions are set up by the foreign ministry, they come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act.

Xpress: News | Right To Information: Ask And Be Told