Apply, apply but no reply?

The Right to Information Act (RTI), which came into effect almost six years ago, has been used by citizens and activists to gather information and expose corruption in the system. Apart from exposing numerous scandals, the potent tool has empowered the hoi polloi and enabled them to ask the right questions.

Illustration/Amit Bandre    

Though the Act has been used extensively by the common man to expose irregularities in the government, there is also a section of people who are aware of the Act, but do not know how to use it. To address this issue, Ashish G Mhatre, senior project manager at an IT company along with RTI activists—Krishnaraj Rao and GR Vora from Mumbai have come together to create a ‘RTI bank’. The link will provide novices with a template, which can be used to file RTI applications. The Mumbai based trio is working together with other RTI activists from all over India to create this bank. Rao explained, “Through our many interactions with RTI applicants, we realised that people face great difficulties in drafting suitable RTI applications.

Oath: RTI activists take oath on the first death anniversary of Satish Shetty, an Indian social activist, noted for exposing many land scams in Maharashtra. He had used the Right to Information Act to expose irregularities in Government offices in the last five years. He was killed on 13 January 2010, by unknown attackers in Talegaon

An easy way to overcome this block is to give them a template. We want to give novices a kind of knowledge-bank, they can anonymously receive guidance from those who have already succeeded in getting similar information. This bank also gives the successful RTI applicants a chance to rejoice in their success, and share the secrets of their success with others.” 

Mhatre, who is the brain behind this project said, “The idea occurred to me almost one year ago, when I had joined the RTI Union, which is a group formed by RTI activists from all over India. I attended various seminars and came to the conclusion that the whole process of filing an RTI should be uncomplicated. If somebody like me, who is upset with the corruption in our system, wants to file an RTI then he/she has to seek help from an RTI expert. If one files an RTI without seeking any help, then in most cases the RTI application gets rejected. The aam aadmi may not be aware of the various departments that exist under the state government or the municipal body. This link will have a list of successful RTI applications and someone can just use those applications as guidelines.”

Mhatre came up with a plan a week ago and pitched it to Rao and Vora. “We immediately started working in it. As of now we have received 18 successful applications, but we are sure that we will get much more,” added Mhatre. The intention of coming up with such a link is to help people file more precise and foolproof applications. “This will help in reducing the time and efforts that go into procuring information about the RTI procedure. We felt that if there is a data bank of issue-wise and public authority-wise successful RTI applications on a single open link, then it would be of immense use to citizens who wish to seek information from various government departments as they would simply have to click on the appropriate folder and surf through the various standard RTI applications,” said Vora.

GR Vora

The process to access these RTI applications will be fairly simple. “One would simply have to copy-paste this link on the Internet browser to view all the issue-wise folders. Each folder would contain soft copies of all successfully filed RTI applications on a particular issue. For example— on unauthorised constructions, railway commuters safety, unauthorized hawker encroachments, ration card issuance problems, passport issuance / grievance issues, claiming of tax refund, water supply or water connections issues, action taken on police complaints, traffic rule violations and many more. This way, every citizen would be able to view the applications already made and information received. Thus he need not waste his efforts in fine-tuning his applications and also it would curtail the need to file multiple RTI applications,” explained Vora.

Krishnaraj Rao

Experts say that most people use the RTI application format to make a roundabout complaint about civic problems, bad road conditions, etcetera. This is why most applications get rejected too. “People write the details of their problem as if they are writing a complaint, and then add questions like, “What have you done about this situation? How long will it take to fix this problem? Which official or which contractor is being penalized for negligence, non-performance etc?” The basic mistake here is that this is not a request for ‘Information’ as defined by the RTI Act. Some people, who are in need of data to prove a theory that they have, raise queries such as, “How many vehicles move on SV Road every morning between 8 and 11? How many buildings are there in Mumbai having more than six floors?" Such people are assuming that the government knows about all these things, and has all the necessary information at its fingertips. Unfortunately, such is not the case,” said Rao.

Ashish G Mhatre are working on the project. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar,Rane Ashish

The link will help people to structure their RTI applications, as copies of successful applications will be made available. “The correct way to use the RTI Act is to try to understand how information is structured and stored in government documents. As far as possible, people must avoid queries or requests for individual facts and figures, as the public information officer (PIO) may not be sufficiently qualified to correctly collate and interpret facts and figures,” added Rao.

Apart from an increasing number of RTI applications getting rejected, the present concern amongst RTI activists is the proposed amendment to the State RTI Rules. Rao claimed that the amendments to the Maharashtra RTI Rules were suggested without holding any public consultation. The amendment has three features-
a) Information related to just one subject could be asked in one RTI Application.
b) The number of words in the queries should not exceed 150 words.
c) The applicant can carry along only a pencil (and no other writing instrument) at the time of inspection of files / records in a Govt. office under the RTI Act.

The amendments to Maharashtra RTI Rules (not RTI Act) have not yet come into effect yet but, “the notification from the Chief Minister’s office is already out. The amendments have yet to be cleared by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. The proposed amendments to the Maharashtra RTI Rules 2005 are against the spirit of the RTI Act. The Notification for amending the Maharashtra RTI Rules was issued without consulting the citizens nor providing the reasons justifying this Notification,” said Vora.

Note: Those interested can send the soft copy of the RTI Application on with ‘Successful RTI Applications’ in the e-mail's Subject line. Subject matter of their RTI application can be mentioned subject line of the email that they send us. On request, the identity of the applicant will be withheld

Experts speak
Q> Is there an amount one needs to pay while filing an RTI application?
a) For RTI applicants who are below poverty line, information is provided free-of-cost.
b)If the PIO takes more than a month to give the information, then it must be provided to any RTI applicant free of cost.
c)If the information is given within one month, then, in Maharashtra or Central Government, it is made available at a nominal cost of Rs 2 per printed or photocopied page, Rs 50 per CD etc. Inspection of documents is free for the first hour, and Rs 20 per hour after that.
d)This is over and above the Rs 10 application fee that must accompany the RTI application form. In Maharashtra, the fee is generally to be paid in the form of a court-fee stamp, Indian Postal Order, bank draft etc.

Q>Can an RTI application be filed in any language?
For government of India bodies, one may file RTI applications in English and Hindi. For bodies that are under Govt of Maharashtra, one may file in English, Hindi (national language) and Marathi (state/regional language).

Q>What does an applicant do if he/she is not satisfied with the reply?
If the RTI applicant does not get satisfactory information or does not get any information at all then he has to file an Appeal with the ‘First Appellate Authority (FAA)’ within 30 days of receiving the improper information or 30 days from filing the Application as the case may be. The FAA is generally the next higher officer to the PIO in a particular Dept. If he is not satisfied with the FAA’s decision also, he can appeal or file a complaint with the Central Information Commission (for central govt.) or State Information Commission (for state govt)

Q>Does one need to file RTI query in an application form or one can file it in a white piece of paper?
Maharashtra RTI form is readily available on the Internet. However, it is acceptable to write it on a white sheet of paper also, provided the essential points (such as period of information required etc) are all there. This should include—
a) Correct name of the applicant is provided.
b) Address should be provided in the application on which information can be posted by the PIO.
c) Subject matter and period to which the information relates is clearly mentioned.
d) How the information is preferred to be received should be mentioned
(i.e. by Post, Speed Post or in person).
e) Appropriate application fees are enclosed (i.e. Rs 10 Court Fee Stamp be affixed for State Govt. Departments and Rs 10 Demand Draft / Money Order etc. is enclosed along with the Application for Central Govt. Departments addressed to the Accounts Officer of that Dept.) 

After one week or so, anybody will be able to
1. go to on the Internet
2. search subject-wise among the folders for an RTI application that is similar to the one that you want to file
3. download one or more applications free-of-charge
4. modify it to your requirement and
5. file an application 

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