RTI tale: 15 minutes to read 22,000 pages
Stop inner monologue, word–chunking, use timer, set goal... Thus goes the techniques of speed-reading.
VIRUDHUNAGAR: Not always does the proverb 'Ignorance is Bliss' hold good, especially in the case where officials are ignorant of the laws binding them and the rights of citizens. The Public Information Officer (PIO) of State Highways (construction and maintenance wing) in Virudhunagar Division has sought a sum of Rs 1,72,000 from a petitioner who sought details under the RTI Act, after the petitioner had filed his first appeal.
Social and RTI Activist Vidiyal Veeraperumal had petitioned the PIO at the Divisional Engineer's Office, on May 4, seeking all the documents and records pertaining to the maintenance work of 212.953 kilometres of State Highways and 113.485 kilometres of key roads in the district, undertaken under the Performance-Based Maintenance Contracts (PBMC) scheme which is ongoing for a period of five years.
"I need all the documents and records related to the work; the contract documents; documents of road works' inspections carried out; and all the documents of inspections carried out for roads under all additional divisions, under the PBMC scheme", he had asked and sought to view these documents in person and get copies of needed pages, in his petition under the section 2(j) of RTI Act.
According to the RTI Act, the PIO can ask for a 'further fee representing the cost of providing the information' within the thirty days of application. However, no response was sent to Veeraperumal until June 26. Speaking to TNIE, he said that he waited for a period more than thirty days because of the Covid situation and the resulting functioning of offices with 50 percent employees back then.
However, he filed his first appeal on June 26 and had received intimation from the first appellate on July 5 that the petition has been forwarded to the concerned division's PIO. Even after that, Veeraperumal said that he did not receive an official intimation or call from the PIO, following which he had visited the Divisional Engineer's Office. After this, he received a letter from the DE's office on July 27 asking him to visit the office between 11 and 11.15 am on August 6 to view the documents.
Veeraperumal was greeted with a pile of papers on a table and given a deadline of 15 minutes to get the details he needed. "As it was humanly impossible, I sought for a copy of all the documents presented before me, as I needed them. As they did not provide me the details within 30 days, I mentioned in my requisition letter that I need not have to pay any further amount under section 7(6) of the RTI Act", he said.
However, he received a letter on August 27 from the DE's office asking for an amount of '1,72,000 to be paid to receive the said copies of 22,000 pages of documents. When TNIE contacted the PIO DE Murugesan, he denied Veeraperumal's allegation and said that he was not aware of the section and will look into the issue.
Veeraperumal said that he is to file another appeal to the State Information Commissioner seeking to take action under section 19(3) of RTI Act and furnish him with the details.