We do RTI to get information from various institutes, departments and organisations, but at the same time, we are revealing our identity.
The time limit for the PIO (Public Information Officer) to respond to your RTI request is 30 days. This means before you get a reply from the RTI officers, a lot of things can happen in those 30 days.
let’s say there is a land or a property which is lying vacant for many years, or maybe it’s a disputed property. And there is a real estate builder who wants to buy that land to build a commercial complex on it. The moment you file an RTI to find out if it’s private or public property. In just a few hours your details will be shared with that real estate builder.
Not necessary the PIO is under the payroll of that builder, but it could be the office staff or maybe a peon.
In the next few days, they will use everything to find out who you are, why you want this info, and what are you going to do further after obtaining this info?
Are you working in your interest, or working for someone else. Is it somebody else who asked you to file this RTI? And who are they, and why do they need info on that particular piece of land.
If this land is a government property, which you think the local politician along with the tehsildar was going to convert or give away at a cheaper price in the pretext of building something else, then everybody will be on their feet. Since everybody has a monetary gain or interest in this land, they will try everything to shut you or stop you with all kinds of threats and harassments. If you don’t stop they will file fake allegations to suppress you and stop your RTI activities.
Even if you played a long shot, first making an RTI for the whole area, which includes that small piece of land. And then after getting a reply, file a second RTI for that particular piece of land, still, these people will be able to smell your intentions from miles away, just by looking at your first RTI application. They are smart to join those missing dots. In such applications, they become more alert, because of your step by step strategy.
The moment you do an RTI, you have opened up all your cards. You are waking up them from their sleep. You are telling them that someone is looking for info that could affect you. You are telling them exactly who that person is, along with the contact details. While you are still waiting for the info on that piece of land, they already know many things about, because of your RTI request. Even if you are using a proxy to file an RTI, they will still be able to find out who it could be and then zero in on you sooner or later. In 30 days, a lot of things can be corrected, created, changed, updated, broken, removed, and installed.
PIO will always give you only what you have asked for, he will not use his brain to check if this info is partial or complete. Sometimes even if the info is available in the computerized format, they will say “The info that you want is physically large or voluminous, and it will take some time to find out and make copies of it”.
Sometimes they will say that they are going to publish the info on their website and make it available to the public soon, and they will close your request. After you have waited for weeks and months for that website to be updated and when you approach them again, they will go back to their old tricks, giving the reason of big volumes of files and how they are unable to digitize those large files because of the unavailability of resources such as scanners and high-end computers for doing this job.
They will routinely and systematically invent false excuses which look genuine to deny giving you the info that you have requested. Sometimes they will not tell you the exact fees required for too many printouts of the info you have sought. They may complicate the fee payment process, by pointing out the smallest mistake in your RTI application to decline you the info you want.
Sometimes the PIO will ask you to appear in person, even though you have paid the fees requesting to send the information (prints) to the mentioned address by post. Sometimes the PIO will deliberately give you incomplete or a piece of different information altogether to delay the process. Technically, he cannot be blamed for this, he may be under pressure to delay or avoid giving you complete details. This way you will have to do a new RTI request with specific information, which gives them more than 30 days to act.
Sometimes even if you are just inquiring for your own details or the status of something you have applied for, which has got stuck between 2 offices or officers, may get backfired. Just because of the ego of the officers from that department who did not like that you poked a finger by filing an RTI against them, they will deliberately delay your work to teach you a lesson that you should not mess with a government officer. Because with RTI, you will now get proof about their negligence at work, which you can use for complaining against them. But for now, he will make sure to show you the value of his power and signature.
So basically, by doing an RTI you are not only informing them, but you are giving them chance to retaliate against you. You are giving them time to clean up their mess and straighten everything.
Is this what we call justice? What we did is rang the alarm and stopped something from happening, or continuing. But what about something which has been happening for many years.
Instead of doing an RTI, you should write to the authority. Not just the top guy, but the full chain of authority. Right from the head of the country till the head of that institutes, departments and organisations. If you write only to that particular office or its head, chances are they will take some actions through internal enquiry to show you we did something and then close the matter. There is also a possibility of no action at all, and simply stopping the bad or illegal activities.
I suggest you write to at least 3 levels of authority so that even if there are “wheels on wheels”, I mean like “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours”, the 3rd person will still take some action, which could be the top one, middle one or the lower one. You will find at least one of them, who is non-corrupt and honest in his work, and will surely take some action at his level.
And if you write to the head of the country or state, that is the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister. Then your letter will come down slowly passing through all the levels. You will be assured that the target person or the department will be answerable. Just make sure you don’t send a CC to them, or else they will become alert and start wiping out their footprints all over before the top letter reaches to this last office.
Remember sweetheart!!!, surprise is a key element.
Don’t give the bad guys the time to act, react or even think. Let the government take actions, and you will be safe. Being a taxpayer and a good citizen we must inform the authority of anything bad or illegal you come across.
Ohh, did I mention that you are not supposed to write anonymous letters? Always write letters with your name. Just put a line at the top or the bottom of your letter saying “Please Hide My identity”.
RTI is used as a trap for not just honest & good citizens, but also for bad ones.
People who are constantly filing RTI every day are under the radar of our security agencies, to check their motive behind their hundreds of RTI requests. It is to check if they are working for a foreign organisation or a foreign country that has a particular interest in the information that person is asking for. If in doubt, that person will be put on surveillance for counterintelligence.
It’s similar to an underground market selling banned goods or services, the moment you enquire about that goods or you buy one, your information is shared with the security agencies. You will never know that your seller and many more in different cities are planted by the security agencies to detect people who are looking for such banned goods or services. This is called detection. By the way, there is one detection team at police stations also, who rely on informers.
This is one good thing about RTI, apart from the citizens using RTI to find out how much money the secretary of your building is spending and on what and many more things. Yes, your housing society chairman, secretary and the committee are covered under section 2 (f) of the RTI Act 2005.
Though RTI empowers every citizen to seek information from the government, it empowers more to that relevant person against whom you are seeking the info through RTI. In fact, with RTI we are indirectly helping them to save themselves from something they knew or never knew which could create problems for them in future.
Right from business tycoons to politicians, every big shot capitalist is looking for that supersmart nationalist citizen who can create trouble for them. With RTI trap, they get pinpointed themselves by their own to face the music. This is what I call “Right to Identify”.