Hearing in TNSIC – Rough to applicants and the RTI Act and lenient to PIOs

RTI follow up on Adyar, Cooum River restoration project: We filed a Second appeal against against Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on July 16, 2014.

Background Information

  1. On February 5, 2013, S. Alexraj filed a complaint to prevent untreated sewage dumped into rivers through unlawful outlets. However, we noticed no action was taken.
  2. On July 22, 2013, We filed RTI to TNPCB requesting information on the action taken to resolve the complaint.
  3. On August 27, 2013, the District Environmental Engineer gave us a response with incomplete information. He also requested us to pay a RTI fee of Rs. 22.
  4. On September 28, 2013, we pay the fees in TNPCB, Arumbakkam office.
  5. However, there was no response from the PIO.
  6. On January 22, 2014, we filed the First Appeal .
  7. On February 17, 2014, we received a reply from the First Appellate Authority (FAA) stating that the requested information is already provided. He enclosed the initial response from PIO (Point 3), which was the incomplete information and demand for RTI fees.
  8. On 16, July, 2014, we filed second appeal with TNSIC on the irresponsible response from FAA, pleading for Justice.
  9. On 8 January, 2015, we are summoned for a hearing in Information Commission along with the errant PIO.
Illegal untreated Sewage Outlet! Garbage!

Illegal untreated Sewage Outlet! Garbage!

No transparency

As the case is of the nature of Public interest or better Nature’s interest, we thought of recording the whole hearing, true to the transparent nature of RTI. But there were posters all around instructing not to use mobile phones, recording devices in Court Hall, to keep secrecy, which is against the spirit of RTI.

Before entering the Court Hall, we requested the clerks of our intent of recording. They strictly told us to turn off mobile phones before entering the court hall. Upon insisting, they told that they are just following the orders of their higher officials. We are made to switch off the phones before entering the hall.

Hearing

Our case was handled by Chief Information Commissioners, Sripathi. Just before the hearing starts, we again requested Sripathi to record the proceedings, and also gave him our reasons. But our request was rejected. Highlighting important points that were discussed during the hearing:

  1. The commissioner told Information Commission is equivalent to Civil court and RTI Act doesn’t speak about absolute transparency and so recording is prohibited.
  2. We were requested to state the reasons for requesting 3rd party Information, that is why Saiyasodharan. R requests the action taken report for the complaint given by S. Alexraj. Only when we stated Section (11) regarding the 3rd party Information, the hearing proceeded further. We wonder what would happen to the hearing, If the applicant is not aware of these section.
  3. For the question “Name and Designation of the Officers liable to monitor and close the Illegal / untreated sewage outlets that was mentioned in the Complaint.“, Sripathi himself told there can be nothing called Illegal sewage outlets and so there can be no official appointed for something which is non existant. We argued for some 5 minutes on this, we were telling of our photo proofs of illegal outlets but he is not convinced. Even the PIO is not consulted.
  4. For other similar questions that enquired on the `Name and Designation of the Officers liable to monitor and take care the Debris, illegal sewage outlets, garbage dumps in river and river banks, encroachments, etc.,“, Sripathy told that question is not specific. Since TNPCB deals only with Industrial entities, he told we should have mentioned that in the question and rejected this too.
  5. For the first 3 questions, for which we paid a Fee of Rs. 22, the PIO was instructed to provide information within a week and also to refund the RTI fee of Rs. 22 (y) 🙂
  6. The information was delayed for nearly 1 year and 3 months in spite of paying the RTI fee. As a redress, we requested to fine the PIO. Sripathy gave a brilliant explanation for this. He stated that Fining the PIOs is of malicious intent and can’t be done. His interpretation of the act seems to be a polar opposite of our understanding. We insisted that fine should be imposed to keep up the spirit of RTI. It is because of this lenient attitude of the IC towards the PIOs, the spirit of RTI is losing its value in Tamil Nadu. He said they ARE imposing fines as and when required and not on all matters. When asked about our case, he told he will state the details in order and no explanation was given there.
  7. The PIO was told to give the reason for delay in writing and nothing much. We will be getting the order in a couple of days and hoping to see fine be imposed on PIO.
Another untreated sewage outlet and people live there!

Another untreated sewage outlet and people live there!

Though we couldn’t record the hearing, we managed to record the earlier conversations when we are requesting to record the hearing and was told to switch off the mobile. Here is the link to the audio records: (processed to remove the BG Noise, remove silence spaces and amplify the vocals)

  1. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzT8m6ELWmHhSjFpa3J4OFk5QTA/view?usp=sharing
  2. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzT8m6ELWmHhOXVTZXFQdEg5bVE/view?usp=sharing

Though we are made to stand for the whole hearing, we didn’t raise any issue there for this. But to challenge this inhuman medieval attitude of commissioners, sign the petition here.

Related Links:

  • Initiated a discussion in `Free Legal Advice` forum regarding the legalities of recording the hearing. Let’s see what the experts got to say on this.
thames

Wishing to be a Chennaite to be proud of Cooum for its glory, as the Londonians are proud of their Thames! And the day will come soon (y)

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