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Friday, September 4, 2009

What's so "wrong" about these RTI queries ?

Claiming the right to ask wrong questions
Shivani Vig, TNN 3 September 2009, 09:30pm IST

KANPUR: How about getting a duplicate marksheet with the help of Right To Information (RTI) Act? Or putting the Act to seek verification of
National Council of Teacher's Education (NCTE) information to be true.

Or for that matter seeking the evaluated answer sheets from home University.

The above-mentioned cases are the kind of queries that Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj University comes across daily, with such applications seeking information through the RTI Act, 2005.

Meant for seeking information through a proper channel, the RTI Act is being used by the applicants to seek any and every information from the home university.

Sample this: district basic shiksha adhikari, Mau, has sought information under the RTI Act from Kanpur University for the verification of the academic details of 17 candidates, who had filed their applications for Vishisht BTC.

Similarly, several applications from passed students used to reach university seeking duplicate degree/marksheets to be provided under the Act. The students have even sought help of the Act for getting the evaluated answer sheets.

Only recently, an advocate of high court, Santosh Kumar, had filed an application under the RTI Act complaining about a college. In another case, Sushila Devi, 46, of Kanpur Dehat had sought a step-by-step information on how to fill online form, as she -- being illiterate -- did not know the procedure.

"Instead of paying for the approved amount for getting a duplicate degree or marksheet -- which is Rs 265 -- many students have tried to get their duplicate marksheet through RTI, by spending a minimal amount of Rs 10," said Dr Saxena.

Referring to another such application from one Ayodhya Prasad, the public information officer, Dr Piyush Saxena said, "In one of the applications under the RTI Act, this person has asked the university to inform the counselling board that his daughter, Archana Kanaujia, is ill and that she cannot appear for the counselling."

Not only does most of these RTI applications carry weird queries -- providing information to which is nothing but sheer waste of time -- some of them are even not valid, claimed the officials.

In what could only be termed as the lack of awareness among people about the relevance of the RTI Act, it was found that the applications had come to university asking information on what is the difference between a name and a signature, said the official.

Notably, what is more time-consuming is seeking information from other departments. "Several times, it has been found that we are not ready with the information asked for and thus, we have to gather required information from other officials and departments, which is the most time-consuming part of answering these applications," said Saxena.

And if the information office is to be believed, the number of RTI applications seeking information under the Act is more than five on a daily basis. Interestingly, the amount of sincere RTI queries seeking information hardly amounts to 10% of the total applications.

A visit to the information office of Kanpur University is enough to gauge the lack of awareness among people about the Act. Bundles of files of RTI applications are piled up here and two persons have been deployed only for separating such applications from normal mails.

"The time which we spend in replying to the applications can otherwise be utilised in doing other important work. However, the number of these applications is really very high, and under the provisions of the RTI Act making the information to be provided as mandatory, we are bound to give a reply," said Jyoti, working in the information office of the university.

My comment that the Times Of India may not publish:

I find each of these queries address serious and legitimate concerns of the petitioner.

They point to lacunae in the system that need to be addressed.

The mindset that there can be "more serious work" than the implementation of the RTI Act or the imaginative,objective and sympathetic consideration of legitimate grievances, belongs in an evil time and needs to be completely dissolved; after which such "frivolous" questions may not arise.

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