Thursday, February 23, 2017

Only information can be sought under RTI Act, says PIO : Mohamed Imranullah S

The Hindu: Tamilnadu: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
In a bizarre reply to an application filed under the Right to Information Act of 2005, the Public Information Officer (PIO)-cum-Under Secretary of Tamil Development and Information Department has told the applicant that he can only seek “information” and not “ask questions” under the Act.
R. Lakshminarayanan, secretary of Bharathiyar Thinkers’ Forum, a private organisation based here, had asked the PIO if there were any reasonable hurdles in implementing orders passed by the Madras High Court Bench here on April 22 last directing the government to start short duration correspondence courses to teach Tamil to non-Tamils across the globe at a nominal cost.
Replying to this, the Under Secretary A. Amaresan has said that the applicant’s plea was in the form of a query and not information. “Therefore, the answer to your question cannot be provided in the form of information under Section 2(1) of the rules framed under the RTI Act,” the officer said.
He added that only documents, official notes, e-mails, proposals, instructions, press releases, circulars, orders, diary notings, agreements, statements, application formats, information in electronic format, and so on, would fall under the definition of the term ‘information’ which could be provided under the Act.
The PIO also gave a similar reply to another question on the time it would take for the Tamil Development Department to implement the court order and consequently sanction necessary funds to the Tamil University in Thanjavur for starting the correspondence courses.
“This plea of yours is also in the form of a question and not information. Therefore, it cannot be answered,” he said.
Expressing surprise over the kind of reply given to him by the PIO, Mr. Lakshminarayanan wonders how an applicant can seek information without asking questions.
“These kinds of replies only exhibit the attitude of the government officials to evade the RTI Act which they consider to be a pain in the neck,” he laments.
His forum had been making representations to the Tamil Development Department since 2011 to introduce short term correspondence courses in Tamil as it was being done by the Central Hindi Directorate by providing reading materials and audio cassettes at a cost of Rs. 50 for a certificate course and Rs. 200 for a diploma.
It was only when its repeated requests to the department went unheard that the forum filed a public interest litigation petition in the High Court. Allowing the case on April 22, a Division Bench of Justices V. Ramasubramanian and N. Kirubakaran criticised the department for not showing enough interest in developing the classical language.
“The government has not moved an inch in considering the petitioner’s request and so he has approached this court... This court has to necessarily direct the government to act upon the proposal to start correspondence courses to teach Tamil within 12 weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order,” the judges had said.
Even the court order was not obeyed. Replying to a RTI application on August 11, the department informed the forum that a proposal for sanctioning of funds was pending with the government. On September 16, it stated that a Government Order was yet to be passed on the issue.
Now, responding to the third application, the department has taken a peculiar stand that it can only provide information under the RTI Act and not answer questions.
This plea of yours is also in the form of a question and not information.