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Political parties should come under the scanner of RTI

Political parties should come under the scanner of RTI
Highlights

A modest but courageous woman, LTantia Kumari wielded immense vitality in her determination, fortitude and selflessness as Commissioner RTI. She is...

Interview of the Week

A modest but courageous woman, LTantia Kumari wielded immense vitality in her determination, fortitude and selflessness as Commissioner RTI. She is taking the initiative to educate RTI activists and give them the courage to fight back in spite of physical threats. She never wilted under the stress that the situation presented, and she continuously inspires the other activists despite heavy odds. Daughter of the late Koneru Ranga Rao, Tantia Kumari was a ZPTC member representing Chatrai mandal in Krishna district when she was appointed RTI Commissioner for Hyderabad, Niza mabad, Vizag and East Godavari. Tantia Kumari in an exclusive interview speaks to LATA JAIN

What is RTI?

RTI Act is a specific law as against the general law for consumers i.e., Consumer Protection Act. The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) is an Act of parliament passed by the UPA Government giving the people the right to information. It implements freedom of information legislation in India on a national level "to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens."

Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a "public authority”, a body of Government which is required to reply expeditiously or within 30 days.

The Act also requires every public authority to computerise its records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

This law was passed by parliament on June 15, 2005, and came fully into force on October 13, 2005. Information disclosure in India was hitherto restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act now relaxes. The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India, except the State of Jammu & Kashmir.

RTI activists wanted the Hyderabad airport, a public private partnership (PPP) under the RTI Act, 2005. What had happened?
It comes under central RTI .Any organisation substantially financed by the government falls under the RTI Act.

How the RTI Act differs from Consumer Protection Act?

The real question here is to decide whether it will be in derogation to the prevailing law or if provisions of the Consumer Protection Act are invoked ignoring the RTI Act or can there be any contradictions in relief if both the remedies are open to the public at large. Here we must bear in mind that while we quote the citation we have to be careful in what context the judgment was delivered by the Apex court.

The word ‘Information’ has taken a very wide meaning and scope after the Right to Information Act 2005 came into force. It has changed the total scenario in the country and legal debates and discussions are never ending on the issue of its scope. The question now arises as to whether consumers can invoke the provisions of Consumer Protection Act (CPA) for deficiency in services against the erring authority when special law i.e. RTI Act is available to the consumer for relief.

Why are RTI activists attacked?
RTI activists are vulnerable human rights defenders in India. Unlike other HRDs, a majority of the RTI activists are not part of an organization; they often act alone, moved by anger at corruption and other illegal activities. RTI activists are vulnerable because they live in the same areas as public authorities and political leaders who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed. For the most part, human rights defenders receive media attention only when killed or seriously injured. When complaints are made by RTI activists, law enforcement personnel do not take appropriate action .There is a need to amend the RTI Act to provide for the protection of those seeking information under the Act?

Political parties are kept out of RTI. Your comment?

Political parties should come under the scanner of RTI. Strangely, most political parties seem to be colluding in order to ensure that they are exempted from being answerable to the common man under Right to Information... If that fractured logic is comprehended, as RTI shall destabilise political parties, it should have destabilised the government too because applicability on political parties doesn’t change RTI provisions. So the fear of a few political parties is a hindrance to bring in transparency in the system. In fact politicians and political parties should be the pioneers to be a part of the RTI.

On June 29th you were travelling to the interior Maoists area and no escort was provided. You were upset with the police. Are you entitled to escorts?

Our designations are on par with the Chief Secretary. I take care of Hyderabad, Nizamabad, Visakhapatnan and East Godavari. Some of these areas are Naxal affected. I have to meet and call for files from all kind of people and officers. Information leaks if the officer is at fault and he may try to harm us. As it is a Naxal affected area I was expecting an escort. But the clarification by the SP helped. They had arranged for shadows, had they given police in uniform, there were chances of Naxalites harming me along with the escort. But we have been writing to the government to arrange for decent facilities like a car, a police escort, a decent place to reside and a few amenities which gives the due to our designation.

You are a congress ZTPC in Krishna district and also contested elections in 2009.As per section 15.6 RTI Act member of any political party is not entitled to be a RTI Commissioner. Your take on the matter?

Article 15.6 says the State Chief Information Commissioner or a State Information Commissioner shall not be a member of parliament or member of the legislature of any State or Union Territory or hold any office of profit or be connected with any political party or be carrying on any business or pursuing any profession. But nobody asked when? After we take over the office or the position of a Commissioner? My father was in politics; I was a sympathiser of the Congress and supported the party before I became Commissioner. Today I am not affiliated to any party and do not support any political parties.The law has been misinterpreted.

Any historic achievement?

Tajuddin case of organ sale racket was a real achievement of my life. It was in 1996, I was a practicing advocate in the High Court. Tajuddin was an auto driver, having felt a pain in the chest he rushed to Osmania Hospital. He suffered a heart attack and died at the hospital. The family was unaware. They lodged a complaint of missing in the police station. When the police reached Osmania, there was an entry in the in patients book but the body was missing from the mortuary.

The family approached me. I took up the case. We were told the body was buried at Bansilalpet graveyard. I stood there and got the grave dug. Nothing was found. The case was getting complicated. The TDP government did not want the issue of organ sale racket to be exposed. There was a threat to my life but the organ sale racket in Hyderabad was exposed.

How to file for information under RTI?

Any simple application seeking copy of documents with prescribed fee and subject line "application for information under RTI Act-2005" becomes an RTI application.
1. The RTI Act is for information, not for opinions/clarifications.
2. Never forget to sign your application
3. A Rs10 revenue stamp should be affixed. In some cases there may be some minimum fees.
4. Format of the RTI application as per rules applicable.
5. Your RTI application must serve any purpose/good, either to you or to the public.
6. Application must be sent by registered or Speed Post so that you have a proof of delivery or you can submit it personally in PIO's office after receiving due acknowledgment.

Is there transparency in RTI. Can information given under RTI be challenged?

Approximately two million RTI applications are filed in India annually. But no RTI application can give you the exact number. Because 33 per cent public authorities under the Central Government fail to report to the Central Information Commission (CIC) the number of RTIs they handle in a year. This is despite the fact that filing of annual RTI returns is mandatory under Section 25 (2) of RTI Act. So the information given under RTI if found twisted or information masked in the interest of an officer or an office can be challenged in the High Court.

Your education? Hobbies? Family

I got married at an early age of 16years.I studied after marriage. Pursued my Intermediate and then Bachelor in law.Then pursued MA (sociology). I practised in lower courts, the family court and the High Court. I feared only god and was never scared of any consequences. If the complainant was needy and poor and if injustice was done I went all out to support him or her.
I am fond of music and cooking. I like to listen to Hindi songs. Adnan Sahni and Kishore Kumar are my favorite singers. My husband Sunder Rao is a retired bank manager. My son Shanti Depak has pursued his MS from USA and has his own manufacturing unit. My daughter in-law Anne Kavya is a housemaker. My daughter and son-in-law Subhashini and Neelam Suman are in the US and I am blessed with three grand- daughters.

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