Voter registration officer tries to shoo RTI activists away with 'FIR threat'

Three RTI activists claim Kothrud assembly segment voter registration officer Hemant Nikam told them he would lodge FIR against them for interfering in govt functioning when they asked to see register containing updated voter info.

Three city-based activists claim they were threatened with an FIR against them by voter registration officer of Kothrud assembly segment Hemant Nikam when they asked to see the Block Level Officer (BLO) register under a section of the Right to Information (RTI) Act that allows immediate inspection.

The BLO register is a bunch of forms containing voters' information that is supposed to be collected by teachers appointed for door-to-door visits. The RTI activists, Anupam Saraf, Vaibhav Gandhi and Dinesh Shah, have now filed a written complaint against Nikam with the state information officer and appealed for strict action against him for threatening them and denying them information.

By order: The EC had issued an order under which all the assembly 
constituencies in the city were supposed to set up the requisite 
government machinery for door-to-door visits to update the voter 
list. Representation pic

The Election Commission of India had some time ago issued an order that was circulated in all districts of the state by the State Election Commission. Under the order, all the eight assembly constituencies in the city were supposed to set up the requisite government machinery for door-to-door visits to update the voter list by adding, omitting and altering names as and when required in previous the voters' list. 

The work was supposed to be completed between September 16 and September 30, after which the BLO register is to be maintained for preparation of the final voter list by January 5. As the RTI activists suspected that door-to-door visits were not done properly, they filed an application under Section 4 of the RTI Act to be allowed to inspect the BLO register on December 5. They were told by the office of the Public Information Officer (PIO) that they would get the information on December 13. Accordingly, the RTI activists approached the office of the PIO, but instead of giving them the BLO register information, the officials in the office connected them on the phone with Nikam.

According to the activists, Nikam threatened to lodge an FIR against them for interfering in government functioning.  Nikam denied the charges and said that he did not have a conversation with any activists over the phone. But he later confirmed that he had sent a message through his officials that the activists would get information on the BLO register only after January 5.

According to Section 4 (1) (b) of the RTI Act it is mandatory to give information immediately about the "rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it (office) or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions." RTI activist Saraf said: "We suspect the main reason behind not giving the information about the BLO register is that the government machinery appointed by State Election Commission didn't do door-to-door visits and now the current update is based on the prior voter's list." 

In the circumstances, Saraf questioned the genuineness of the voter list and termed it a "bogus voters' list". Deputy District Election Officer Apurva Wankhede also accepted that the Election Commission of India's orders had not been followed and door-to-door visits had not been done in the given period. 

"The Election Commission of India didn't make available the BLO registers in time. As these registers were to be allotted to us for door-to-door visits, we could not conduct the door-to-door visits," said Wankhede. She added that the BLO registers, which were later made available to them, were in English and the teachers were trained to do the job in Marathi, which added to the problem.

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