Chennai: Police arrest RTI applicant for refusing to stand at hearing
CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (TNSIC), in an unprecedented assault on the spirit of the Right to Information Act, under whose provisions the commission is set up, called in the city police to arrest an applicant for refusing to remain standing up and asking to be allowed to sit down in front of a two-member bench hearing an appeal by the applicant at the commission’s headquarters in Teynampet here on Wednesday.
There is no rule that an RTI applicant should remain standing during an appeal, but when NGO Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (Legal Panchayat Movement) president Siva Elango asked for a chair during the hearing of a second appeal after TNSIC rejected his RTI application and first appeal, chief information commissioner K S Sripathi and commissioner S F Akbar refused to accede to the request.
When the SPI president took a chair, the commissioners informed the Teynampet police and lodged a formal complaint. Police picked up Elango from the TNSIC headquarters and booked him under IPC Sections 353 (preventing a government servant from discharging his duty), 294 (b) (obscenity) and 506 (1) (criminal intimidation).
Police presented Elango in a magistrate’s court, which remanded him in judicial custody for 15 days. Elango is currently in Puzhal Central Prison here.
RTI activists seeking to expose corruption have been at the receiving end of threats and attacks by politicians and bureaucrats, and some of them have even been murdered for their efforts, but this is the first time that a state information commission has gone out of its way to stymie an appeal for information and intimidate an applicant, activists in the city said.
Elango, who has filed several RTI applications and represented various applicants, said TNSIC members and staff have routinely sought to derail his petitions for information and harass him. “On Wednesday commission staff even deflated the tyres of my motorcycle,” he said.
Wednesday’s hearing of Elango’s second appeal was on an RTI application he filed on February 22, seeking details of advertisements issued by the state government from 1991 to 2014. “I approached TNSIC after the government failed to reply to my application,” he said. “Instead of penalising the PIO concerned for not providing the information on time, the commissioners have been misbehaving with me during the proceedings.”
Chief information commissioner Sripathi was unavailable for comment, but commissioner Akbar said TNSIC had given Elango “sufficient opportunities” to obtain the information he requested. “He did not follow some procedures,” he said. Asked what specific procedures he was referring to, Akbar said, “I cannot divulge everything that happened during the hearing.”
SPI general secretary Senthil Arumugam said information commissioners in the state continue to be lax even after applicants protested against them. “They should treat applicants with some dignity. Unfortunately, they safeguard errant PIOs instead,” Arumugam said.
Enraged by Elango’s arrest, RTI activists said they will organise a sit-in protest at the TNSIC headquarters on Friday. Lok Satta Party (TN) spokesperson N Narayanan issued a statement condemning the TNSIC after Elango’s arrest.
Activists have been urging the commission to webcast proceedings on its site and allow applicants to record proceedings. In July 2014, SPI released a video that captured commission member P Thamilselvan abusing an applicant during the hearing of an appeal.
TOI recently reported that the number of RTI appeals disposed of by TNSIC plunged by more than 50% in 2014 from the previous year. Statistics from the commission’s website (Tamil Nadu Information Commission) show the number of appeals the commission attended to dropped from 19,889 in 2013 to 8,121 till November 2014. The commission receives an average of 60,000 RTI applications a year.
Chennai: Police arrest RTI applicant for refusing to stand at hearing – The Times of India
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