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'RTI will lead us to true swaraj before 2010'

Last updated on: December 06, 2006 19:54 IST

The Right to Information Act 2005 is hailed as a revolution in India's evolution as a democracy. It empowers the ordinary citizen who has hither-to been armed with only his vote, with the tools of information that propel government decisions. Thanks to the legislation, citizens can seek -- and get within 30 days - information on how the government arrived at decisions, be it about his ration card application or the money spent on lighting a bridge outside his home.

Shailesh Gandhi, convenor of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, sheds more light how citizens can make use of their Right to Information.

Here is the chat transcript:

Shailesh Gandhi says, 
Hi, this is Shailesh Gandhi. I am ready to take your questions.


Prabhat asked, What kind of information is the public allowed to access by using RTI? Suppose, I want to find out how much income tax my employer pays or say a film actor pays, will I be given that?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, No, This will be private information and is exempt unless there is a large public interest in giving this.
uttam asked, How can it be useful to break corruption wall in government offices?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Citizens can ask govt organisation about information of why something is delayed, accounts of money spent on different activities. You can also ask what are the policies based on which any work is being done. People have asked about unauthorised constructions, also illegal acts of the govt.
prs asked, Does it provide a facility of getting information within the prescribed 30 days? For instance E-query?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Yes. And if the information is not provided within 30 days without reasonable cause, the public servant responsible is liable to pay a penalty of Rs 250 per day from his/her salary.
prs asked, what is this RTI in detail?how can it be used effectively and whom do we contact or reach to with regard to this?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I will suggest you can go to the following websites: www.righttoinformation.org, www.righttoinformation.com, www.satyamevajayate.info
swapnil asked, Whether Cooperative societies comes under RTI ambit
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Cooperative societies do not come under RTI gambit directly. However, you can ask for information from the registrar of societies.
m123arun asked, My question is as an employee of an organisation, can I get some informtion from the same office evoking RTI. Like for instance, how the selecton for certain posts are made, how the account is used etc.
Shailesh Gandhi answers, If the organisation is a govt organisation or a govt-funded organisation, then you can get information. Any citizen of India is eligible to get info from "public authorities," which are basically all govt organisations and also from govt-aided organisation like schools, colleges, etc.
Ashish asked, Hi Sir, is there any provision for a contact person to which the Information should pass through..? or is threre any specific format in which to be asked abt information? I mean how to use our Right to Information?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Yes. All public authorities have to appoint a Public Information Officer whose responsibility it is to give you the information. The RTI Act says that there can be no forms but formats can be specified. States like Maharashtra, Gujarat have formats. The Central govt, Bengal and some other states do not have formats. You can get information from the rules of each state, which are given on www.satyamevajayate.info
ram1 asked, Would you like to interfere even with sensitive government deals in arm forces and other sensitve government deals
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Things that impact the govt sovereigntyor defence of the country are exempt. However, I am sure we would all like the corruption, human right violations to be questioned and to come out in the open. This is what the act allows.
ramananan asked, Is any government dept exempt under the RTI law?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Some govt departments listed in the Act, which are working with very sensitive information like RAW are exempted. However, even in these cases, info on issues involving corruption and human right violations have to be given.
gg asked, I am a 60 year old woman. Yet to get the widow pension. What to do?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You can ask the relevant department responsible for giving the pension on the progress of your pension application. A question like this often gets the desired result.
ramananan asked, If I want information about the state government, how do I go about it?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You need to think of which department or admn office of a govt you want information from. You address your query to the Public Information Officer of the dept or office.
Sachin Jain asked, Is there any Office Memorendum Circular No. 1/2006 issued from F. No. 12/63/2005-Coosd. dated 17.01.2006, from Department of Personnel & Training clarifying that the term "information" excludes file notings.
Shailesh Gandhi answers, There is a clarification of the nature mentioned by you, which is illegal. The Central Information Commission and various state commissions have given rulings that file notings have to be given. However inspite of repeated rulings and directions from the Central Information Commission, the DOPT continues to act in an illegal manner.
RTIHoncho asked, Dear Mr Gandhi, Can we ask Drugs Controller General of India under RTI to provide information of why they let some companies launch drugs without Phase 3 trials while giving exemptions to others? My questions is are they obliged to reveal this information under RTI?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You should frame your question perhaps in the following manner. 1. Were phase 3 trials done before launching X drug? 2. I want copies of the findings of the phase 3 trials of the drug.
Vinay asked, Mr.Gandhi, I want to work as a volunteer for spreading RTI awareness. How do I go about it?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Read the RTI information from the website and start using it. RTI is really an individual citizen's tool and it is for all of us to use it and help others to use it.
mohan asked, The talati of the village where I own a bungalow plot has not recorded my name in the 7/12 land records for the last 8 years.How do I ensure compliance to my repeated requests and letters to him and the developer of the plots both of whom, have not replied to my letters so far.Kindly advise
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You can ask under RTI for the progress of your application. Ask for dates and names of officials who dealt with the papers and the dates on which they took action. In this way, you can fix accountability.
shakeb asked, Why is the right to information not getting the success it deserved?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, The rulers in India will not give up the rule to the common man so easily. Also, citizens are also too cynical about this right. It is a very simple right to use and if you start using it, it can help us to change the face of governance and lead us to a true swaraj before 2010.
Smitasherla asked, Hello Mr.Gandhi, I was an Committe member (Chairman) in our society, all the societies have formed a Union/Federation, i was even elected in Union/Federation election held in the month Jan. 2006 under Ladies category and was working with Union as an Active Member since Jan 06, but in May 2006 in our society Administrator has been appointed by Dy. Registrar, now the administrator is asking Unions Chairman and Secretary to take me out of Union as i am not in committe member post in my society. Is this right to take me out from Union/Federation. Please guide me thank you
Shailesh Gandhi answers, This will not get covered under RTI.
Ashish asked, up to what scrutiny we can seek info, from a govt organization?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You can ask for any info that exists in a public authority. Please understand information has to exist. RTI cannot be used to get decisions, which have not been taken.
Zoya asked, Mr Gandhi, I believe you are also monitoring the government's Crawford Mkt decision...how is that going? Shailesh Gandhi answers, RTI and putting the figures before the Corporators and the Additional Municipal Commissioner has resulted in a fraud of around Rs 700 crore being prevented. The corporation has put this proposal aside and also for all other municipal markets of Mumbai. The total loss would have been in the region of Rs 4000- Rs 5000 crore.
Manu asked, Is RTI wiill value after 5years?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, If citizens defend RTI and do not allow the government to touch our freedom, the value of RTI will keep increasing like old wine.
Ashish asked, what all organisation comes under Right to Info.?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, All public authorities, which include all administrative offices of government for example state govt ministries and departments, police establishments, institutions of self-governance like municipalities, panchayats, organisation created by Constitutions like legislatures, Parliament, High Courts, Supreme Court... The President and Governors. The organisations owned by the govt like LIC, public sector banks, Indian Oil corporation, etc. Also, all organsation substantially funded or controlled by government are covered. For example NGOs, schools, etc. Also joint sector organsisations.
WILSON asked, Is not it correct that a huge amount of time will have to be spent to answer each and every query of the citizens. Whether this will adversely affect the normal working of the govt offices
Shailesh Gandhi answers, As I mentioned earlier, the Crawford market exposure itself has saved public money of over Rs4000 crore. The total cost of implementing RTI properly for 5 years will not be equal to this and as more citizens start using this, the cost incurred will be negligible. Also, RTI is an instrument that empowers individual citizens and leads to a true and vibrant participatory democracy.
ashok asked, Why only government sectors are under RTI...why not private sector...??
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I will personally be in favour of the corporate sector being in the ambit of RTI. However, the corporate sector is not willing to subject itself and we will have to build pressure to ultimately ensure a transparent society.
rti asked, is RTI applicable to court procedures?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, RTI applies to all courts as per the Act.
rmdastpaur asked, As per RTI act shall I ask for comments made on my appraisal report?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You should be able to get the comments made on your appraisal report but there is likely to be some resistance in your organisation. You have a legal right.
ram asked, What about semsitives government deals like Arms and other senstives deals.Do you want even thoses to be public
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Transparency only improves all organisations and the horrendous corruption in our arms deals from guns to missiles to coffins is extremely well known. Would you like them to remain secrets?
Mr.Indian asked, Can I get how much assets does a person posses.
Shailesh Gandhi answers, This is covered by a clause, which safegaurds a person's privacy unless you can show a great public interest for this. However, in the case of all those standing for election, you can ask for this information since the law requires them to make it public.
chandakn asked, Can somebody be punished if it is found that government looses money because of delay in decision by a particular official, is covered under RTI
Shailesh Gandhi answers, RTI can only get you information. Other actions will lie elsewhere. Sometimes, exposure by itself leads to corrective actions by itself.
John asked, Hi, SG - 1. Electricity Fare is increased without informing public. 2 How Electricity theft by political party for there meetings and public event can be controlled
Shailesh Gandhi answers, 1. There is a farcical process of consultation on electricity tariffs. The tragedy is that the privatised electrical distribution are fixed on a cost plus basis, which means they HAVE to make a profit at our expense. 2. You can ask about whether meters are fixed or the amount billed to them for particular meetings.
aslam asked, What are the action government can take against the official deny to provide information on rti
Shailesh Gandhi answers, There is a provision for penal action against the Public Information Officer of Rs 250 per day of delay if the information is not being given without reasonable cost.
ats asked, Not sure if someone has already asked this: if I have applied for passport and I haven't heard back from passport office for a month or so. How do I use RTI the status of my passport application? I would appriciate if you expain this in steps
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I will suggest you should wait for about 8-10 weeks. If you don't get the passport by then, you can send a RTI application asking for the progress of your application asking details of names and designations of officers and dates on which they took action or slept :-)
voiceofmatunga asked, PIO of sales tax commisioner ( Jt ) suburbs is not telling anything says it is fiducial
Shailesh Gandhi answers, It depends on what you are asking. A fiducial relationship is one based on trust. I suspect you may be asking for someone else's data.
sackcic asked, You wrote to Veeresh Malik saying that NCPRI (of which you are the convenor) will adhere to RTI Act by October 2006. Any progress on that front yet?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, First, I will like to point out that NCPRI has not more than one employee for all the activities that we undertake. It is primarily a networking platform and hence it is not like an organised office structure. However, we have prepared some suo moto declarations and will put them up on the website before this month-end. You might laugh but the fact is that none of us know how to upload on the web. I accept the blame for not having to be able to do this so far.
AARKAY asked, Mr Gandhi. Can information received under RTI use for court proceeding?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Yes. Information has been provided officially by a public authority.
darryl asked, The Govt is suppossed to be spending money for the poor etc, however this money is not spend in full and a large amount is pilfered away. Can RTI address this issue and how?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Yes. This and the citizens' monitoring of the govt are the real two benefits, which RTI will deliver if enough of us start using it. We have the power, we only have to be willing to use it.
Palkhivala asked, Mr. Gandhi if the information given by the government authority turns out to be false or misleading or they don't respond what is the remedy available to a citizen?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, If the PIO does not respond within 30 days, you should file a first appeal to an officer higher than the PIO in the same organisation. The appeal has to be disposed off within 30 days. If it is not disposed off in 30 days, then file a second appeal to the Information Commission. If the information is false or misleading, you can directly make a complaint to the Information Commission and the penal provisions of the Act will apply. Just for your information, I have presently filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission for false and misleading information provided by the PIO of the Prime Minister's Office.
Harry asked, Where can I find an office of Commissioner, RTI locally?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, There is one information commissioner in each state currently located in the capital. You could get there at addresses from the websites of the rspective states. If you are referring to the Public Information Officers, you think of any large administrative unit and address your application to the PIO at that office.
chandakn asked, In our city, certain roads have been declared as roads on which no shoping complex is allowed. As I understand this decision looks random, Can I get the details of the criterion which were used for deciding no shopping roads under RTI?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You can certainly ask for details on how the decisions were taken as well as minutes of meetings where these decisions were taken.
ashutosh asked, Is the municipal corporation of mumbai / any city covered under the RTI
Shailesh Gandhi answers, All administrative units of the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai .. for example ward offices have public information officers. For smaller municipal bodies, there may be just one in the main office.
AARKAY asked, What about the bodies like FIEO and EPC counils set up by Ministry but controlled by private elected person.
Shailesh Gandhi answers, If they have substantial government financing, they are covered.
Vinay asked, Thanks, I am a media professional. I have read the information available on the net regarding RTI and now wish to join National Campaign for People's Right to Information as a volunteer...can I meet you regarding this?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I will suggest you go to the website and fill up the form and join the NCPRI. Please understand, this is not like a regular organisation. Its life membership is just Rs 500. But what you get is just confirmation of your commitment to RTI. NCPRI will give you nothing concrete except act as a platform to promote and defend RTI when necessary.
sackcic asked, Someone told me you are going to sit on a hunger fast outside CIC's office 1st January onwards. Is that true? Another thing - are you going to answer all our questions? Should I stick around?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, No. I have no intentions of sitting on a hunger strike. I dont think I will last :-)
pedda asked, Can I ask the photocopy of my answer sheet from the University under RTI?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, According to my interpretation, you should be able to ask for your answersheets and get it. However, there has been a controversy on this, and some organisations and commissioners have not been agreeing on this. Therefore, I think it is a grey area of the law at the moment. But you can certainly try.
Arun Gopal asked, What is remedy, if one misuses the RTI by way of asking unconcerned questions only to gain favours such as advertisement, subsidy or grant?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, There is no activity in human endeavours that some rogue will not misuse. However, we do not stop everything or make that the focus.
Srini asked, Dear Mr Shailesh, Can I demand government to part with an agreement reached between the government and a private firm? The government has refused to divulge the contract details before RTI was in place. If I can, what is the procedure?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, In most cases, you should be able to get the copies of the agreement between the govt and the private firm unless it falls in the exempted category. It will be worthwhile to understand that there are only 10 exempted categories. Please read them and take appropriate action.
PARVEEN asked, MANYTIMES PEOPLE SEEK INFORMATION WITHOUT HAVING ANY PURPOSE TO USE IT. SINCE IT CONSUMES LOT OF MANPOWER AND INDESCRIMINATE APPLICATIONS RESULTS IN HINDERANCE IN NORMAL WORKING OF THE OFFICES. WAT STEPS U SIR SUGGEST TO CURB THIS PRACTICE
Shailesh Gandhi answers, RTI is a citizens' fundamental right. Just as I can buy a railway ticket from Mumbai to Pune and will not tolerate the ticket counter asking me why I want to travel to Pune, the whole idea of purpose for information is unacceptable. On the issue of manpower and cost incurred by govt, I have already indicated earlier that tens of thousands of crore are waiting to be saved by citizens.
mahanty asked, sir... we are a small group of concerned citizens . we are all professionals such as doctors, advocates, journalists etc. we want to emerge into a ' citizens initiative' for right to justice (or right to information) . we want to seek info from authorities on issues involving public interest and then approach high court based on the info with PILs seeking justice on issues related to voiceless masses. can you share experience and expertise on how to go about it. do you have any suggestions to us to follow.
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I wish you luck. But it will take too much time explaining.
Smitasherla1 asked, Mr Gandhi. From where I will get relevant inform?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Please think of the administrative unit of a govt body, which is responsible for a particular activity and apply to the PIO of that authority.
ashu bhagat asked, I am living in Uttam Nagar area in New Delhi since 1991. The locality (Z-block, Dayal Sar Road) is completely builtup colony. Now, since last 3-4 years back we are listening that the land where we are living (almost 30 houses) was shown as a park by the Zamindaar while he cut the colony. (almost 20 yrs back) Now, Sir, my question is 1) Is our house on a government land and is it illegal and government can demololish it at any moment 2)Where we can find the exact varified answer to this question so that ultimately we are not in the hands of touts. Regards - Ashu
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I will suggest you ask the relevant government department - perhaps the collector for information on the ownership and plans of the area.
darryl asked, Are private organisations covered in the RTI act?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Private organisations are not covered unless they are substantially funded by the government. However, at times you can ask a regulator or a public authority, which has a right to access the information from that organisation.
sudhirlamba asked, Sir, When will the site Maharashtra RTI be complete? You are requested to let us know the status of letter to PIO Maharashtra we sent by speed post to you to be forwarded to them. We would be highly obliged if you let us know if it is forwarded or not. Thanks Sudhir Lamba
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Please send me an email at shailesh2@vsnl.com. There is some problem in your application.
Sundaram asked, Sir , I have used RTI and I have proved wrong information. What I will do now? For proving that I have asked more questions? If we ask more questions are we misusing the RTI?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You are not misusing RTI as long as you are seeking the truth. Information is just truth as it exists. Sometimes, if you suspect the information to be false, you can ask for an inspection of files.
mst59 asked, If a branch office of United India Insurance Co fails to furnish a copy of the Surveyor's report, where do we file appeal? With the State or Central Information Commissioner? With so many appeals pending with State Information Commissioner and failure to appoint new commissioners, one doubts whether the government offices concerned really mean to implement the provisions of the Act? Comment.
Shailesh Gandhi answers, To the best of my knowledge, United India Insurance is a Central government establishment. Please check this and if this is correct, apply to the Central Information Commission.
rs asked, Sir, can you please let me know whether the RTI would be applicable to Cooperative Housing Societies. I am not getting members ledger and certain other information from my society despite repeated requets Thanks
Shailesh Gandhi answers, RTI is not applicable to cooperative housing societies. However, you can ask the registrar of societies for information about a particular cooperative society.
sanjay asked, Dear Sir, If I want to know when would a particular hilly village in HP be connected with a pucca road, do I need to go all along to Simla and ask this info from STATE PWD?? Can I get this info here in Delhi, then how??
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You could ask the PIO of the state public works department sitting in your house whether there is any plan for a pucca road to your village. You do not have to go to any public office to exercise this right. You are exercising the majesty of the Indian citizen.
sackcic asked, Hello.... since the CIC is not imposing penalties, are you in favour of sacking of the Commission?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I think the very narrow view that penalties are the sole method of judging the efficacy of the RTI is not a productive way. Whereas the penal provisions of the act are there to expect a complete lawless society and government to suddenly start respecting all laws in letter and spirit is looking a little difficult. Also, by this method of judgement and demand, we would have to sack all our political leaders and government officials.
abhijit asked, Good afternoon sir, My mother is suffering from cancer. She is a lecturer in a college is there any GR regarding leave, reimbursement and medical facilities. If it is there, from where I can obtain the same?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, You could ask the PIO of the Principal Secretary, Education, in the capital of the state you are in.
catbelledme asked, Sir, I just took the CAT 2006 exam, where there were errors and a lot of confusion around as to how IIMs will resolve the selection issue. They had a meeting to discuss the same on Monday, however have not yet announced the solution. Can I use RTI to get this information as well as their future plan of action in this regards?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I think you have a legitimate ground to ask for this information. However, just remember that it may take you about 30 days to get the information.
Giri asked, I would like to know about one bypass road alignment which was approved in 1990 and the status of the same now (the said bypass has not yet been constructed)? I should approach local PWD office or NHAI office ?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, The PWD is a state government organisation while the NHAI is a Central government organisation. Within the state, if you have sent it to the wrong PIO, it is his job to send it to the right PIO. However, in this case I will recommend that you ask the PIO of the NHAI as well as PWD.
ritesh asked, Dear sir, Have we realized the importance of implemeting this act? If yes, what are the hindrance before it?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, The prevailing arrogance of the rulers, the lack of willingness to abide by laws by all of us and missing the essence of democracy are causing hindrances. As citizens start using the act, these will disappear.
rajiv asked, I had applied for a ration card in April and am still to receive the same, there is no reply from the authorities even after repeated reminders. Is there any way to get a clear answer from their side courtesy RTI??
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Please ask the PIO of the rationing office two questions: 1. I had applied for a ration card on date so-and-so. (attach a xerox copy of the receipt). I want the progress of my file, which officer took what action on what date on my paper. 2. For the last 4 months, I want a list of people who applied for ration cards, dates on which they applied and dates on which they got the ration card. I think this should do it.
Zoyaz asked, MR GANDHI - CONGRATULATIONS ON THE WORK YOU ARE DOING - YOU ARE A GOOD GUY :)
Shailesh Gandhi answers, Thanks :-)
Ashish asked, what if i get the wrong info? or some one conceals tha info? can i report?
Shailesh Gandhi answers, If you can prove that the information is wrong, you can file a complaint with the information commissioner.
Srinivas asked, I am a Central Government employee, where can i get information about the transport allowance, which is being deducted from my salary even if i avail one day Earned leave, which is not true as i belive
Shailesh Gandhi answers, I think you should ask the PIO of the accounts department of your office.