As I move towards my tenth petition under the Right to Information Act, 2005 filed with various Government agencies and tax-funded agencies, I find a great deal of online reader interest in the practical question of how to use the law.
Among my early successes, the low hanging fruit of information so to speak, is the response from the Metropolitan Transport Corporation. The MTC has responded to my petition and it can be read here. There is also a comment on how the Act can be used with reference to MTC here.
Meanwhile, my other success has been with a suburban municipal body, the Mangadu Town Panchayat. I hope to narrate the use of the RTI with reference to such Panchayats and the urban development bodies (CMDA) through the columns of The Hindu sometime. Meanwhile, the response of the panchayat to two of my petitions can be read here and here.
The Chennai Corporation has failed to respond within the statutory period of one month, on my application and I will have to pursue the course of action envisaged in the Act, to compel the civic body to fall in line.
Metrowater has responded to a request relating to arrears of charges and tax, in Zone VIII Division 120, although the Area Engineer, who is the Public Information Officer has misrepresented facts and made false claims relating to the contents of the Metrowater website. Governments must be hoping to lie and get away with it.
The point to note is that the RTI Act is a fragile piece of legislation today, guided largely by former bureaucrats who are wearing new clothes as Information Commissioners. Their heart lies not with the citizen, but with the babudom that they have just bid goodbye to, perhaps reluctantly. Unless citizens vigorously assert their rights under the Act, it will atrophy with time, with no strong supportive base of case law.
One other possible petition under RTI Act that has the potential to achieve good results is on the Rs.990 crore Mass Rapid Transit System in Chennai remaining a non-starter, several weeks after the Commissioner of Railway Safety giving his green signal for its operation. If you have a reliable and frequent train service to Mylapore, Greenways Road, Indira Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur, a lot of traffic congestion problems, pollution, road tensions and other connected issues will get sorted out. Just what is the Southern Railway waiting for, we would like to know. Some VIP to wave a flag? Maybe the RTI law will help us find out.
It is perhaps too much to expect newspapers to provide a steady stream of reports on the RTI Act, 2005, let alone using it effectively to provide the reader with information that has been covered up by Government. We must rely on the blogosphere and the Internet to perform that role.