Posts Tagged ‘babudom’
The Right to Information Act is one of the three very useful progressive laws that the UPA govt. enacted in 2005. Since its enactment almost every govt. department and office has been trying to beat the other in coming up with ways to defeat its purpose and spirit. There are many cases of RTI applications not being received, of applications that have been left unanswered even after a few months, of appelate authorities using discretionary powers that are debatable at best, etc. These are violations of the letter of the law and could possibly be weeded out with better oversight. There are other ways in which the spirit of the law is defeated without violating the letter of the law.
My father Ravindra nath Guru uses RTI extensively in his attempts to get the Bangalore city administration officials to enforce the building code in the city. He was showing me how the legal cell sends copies of communications informing the concerned Assisstant Engineer of developments in a building code violation case to all AEs in the city administration. While one can see the value of horizontal information sharing, it does not add up to anything of value for the organization when each and every communique flows across swamping the limited mind space of the officials. Added to this is the cost of each of these communications being sent by courier. All these expenses get added to the budget header relating to implementing the RTI act.
We already hear ‘should officials be doing their work or answering RTI applications?’. Soon we will have ‘evidence’ being presented on how RTI has made governance more expensive and the amount that could be ‘saved’ by watering down the act. As far as I can see, the only way one can counter it is by auditing the accounts to identify justified expenses and the wasteful ones. I really hope someone is doing something like this somewhere in the country. I have not heard of one, do send me pointers / contacts if you know of someone.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, a group of the Sanghatan’s saathis are planning to go on an exposure tour to the Narmada valley. As part of the logistics for the tour, I was checking on train tickets both online and in the ‘Trains at a Glance’, a passenger guide brought out by the Indian Railways. I found out that farmers travelling to a river valley project can avail a 25% discount. The concession was most probably designed to have people go ga-ga about dams and river projects, and our mission was pretty much the opposite in that we wanted to know how the local communities came together as a Sanghatan and are fighting not just the govt. but an unjust court and a barely perturbed urban population.
In order to get the discount, a certificate from the Block Development Officer (BDO), or the District Magistrate has to be produced before a commercial officer who would then issue an authorization that would allow for concessional tickets to be issued. Most people I talked to said that there was a minimum party size of twenty required for all the discount schemes that farmers could avail. But re-reading the rules in the book and online, I found that that was not the case in this particular category.
Of the eleven saathis in the group travelling to Badwani, seven were from Mishrikh and four from Pisawan. The BDO in the Mishrikh block has changed more than 5 times in the past 3 years. This does not give them sufficient time to realize that they have to work with the Sanghatan rather than oppose or obstruct them. The current BDO was posted in mid June and from what I had heard she was a fairly loud woman who spoke more than she listened. It took me three visits over two days to get this certificate from her office and my experience confirmed what I had heard about her. The BDO in Pisawan is a young man who has been around for more than 4 years now. Over time the Sanghatan has not just become familiar but has also earned his respect and cooperation. So expectedly, getting the necessary certificate from him was just a matter of a few minutes of waiting.
The nearest commercial officer of the railways was located in Lucknow, a good three hours away. The Divisional office of the North East Railways in Lucknow turned out to be a typical govt. office. The concerned person was ‘on leave’, the immediate superior couldn’t care less, the office superintendent told us to wait till the concerned person arrived whenever that would be, and the peons were all united in condemning the babus. After running from one desk to another for a good two hours, we decided to go see the big boss and ask her to get someone to attend to our concession request. Once the big boss ordered that our request be completed before anything else, there were four babus trying to figure out whether there was indeed such a concession and what was needed to be done. The search for the appropriate rule book took almost an hour and to our dismay, it clearly stated that there was a minimum party size of twenty for this category as well. The lesson learnt after a good three days of running around: Passenger guides or websites are not rule books!