Bengaluru, July 7: An online magazine scribe moves RTI (Right to Information Act) application to seek data from a controversy ridden Advertisement department in the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike). Instead abiding by the law, BBMP forces that journalist into bizarre ordeal and ridicules through typical bureaucratic dodging.
Akshatha M, journalist at Online Magazine, Citizen Matters filed an RTI application on April 25 with the RTI cell of the BBMP to which she has not received right answers even after 73 days . The letter was addressed to Public Information Officer, Advertisement department. However Akshatha has not reveled her journalist identity in the application as to undergo 'rich experience' of lay man RTI applicant.
Akshatha in her application sought specific details of number of legal and illegal advertisement hoardings the IT city bearing. Application also asked for locations of such hoardings. Akshatha told OneIndia that Former Commissioner of BBMP Kumar Naik put out a data that said there are 6,119 hoardings in the city and 2,476 are legal and rest illegal. According to BBMP the data is gathered after conducting a survey by 264 streetlight teams.
"Mere numbers did not impressed me. I wanted to dwell more and decided to file an RTI to get exact details of number of legal and illegal hoardings and its locations. This list will facilitate the public to assist the BBMP in social audit," Akshatha said. However 30 days into filing RTI application, Akshatha did not receive single paper from BBMP pertaining to her queries.
Read what Akshatha tells about this here
Experiencing the ordeal
Then began the 'bizarre ordeal' for Akshatha. "Deadline of 30 days was crossed and I did not receive any reply or letter from the BBMP." Into 45 days of filing application, Akshatha resolved to visit the RTI cell of the corporation. Staff in the cell informed Akshatha that her application has been transferred to Advertisement section on April 27.
In hot pursuit of leg work (which is not at all necessary on part of RTI applicant as per the RTI norm) Akshatha knocked the doors of Advertisement section. Akshatha said "many in the department know me as I frequent the place for stories. However in this case, the staff appeared perplexed on enquiring status of my RTI application. They might have pretended that way also."
One staff asked "have you not received any response?," while another said "we have forwarded it to Zonal Joint Commissioners." It has to be noted that there are as many as eight zonal commissioners. When Akshatha checked the register, she was astonished to see blank space left in the status space. "A clerical staff advised me to wait for two days saying he would ring me up, which I felt bizarre," Akshatha rued.
While Akshatha was mulling to file an appeal to the appellate authority, she received her first response from Assistant Commissioner (Advertisement) who is also the Public Information Officer, Hari Shilpa. She in her letter dated June 15 said, "as the information you have sought for comes under the jurisdiction of eight zonal commissioners, I am forwarding your application to the JCs. They are liable to send you the required information through registered post."
Public Information Officer forwarding the application to concerned authority after 50 days of filing application stands in gross violation of RTI act. According to the RTI provisions application letter must be transferred to the concerned department or authority within five days from the date of receiving the application.
Passing the buck
After this, Akshatha received replies from two Joint Commissioners (JC). JC from Bengaluru West Zone in his reply said they have forwarded the application to 12 Assistant Revenue Officers (ARO), while JC from Dasarahalli said he has forwarded it to 4 AROs. Rest has not replied so far.
On the other hand, an ARO from Gandhi Nagar responded fast to the forward of his higher authority. He has written to Akshatha giving details. But the details divulged in two lines reply said "of the 36 online applications that they have received for hoardings renewal this year, 13 of them have been accepted, 22 have been rejected and 1 application is pending."
However Akshatha had sought for location of legal and illegal hoarding and the numbers. This officer ducked the question blatantly by sending information that was not sought. An act of eye wash too.
Akshatha says when she had brief talk with Special Commissioner (Advertisement), the officer said the information should be available with all the JCs. The officer further added that the list is with the BBMP head office and all JCs have submitted the same to the office. They are the concerned authority to furnish details. In this case, JCs are deliberately shifting the responsibility to AROs but as to why is a question BBMP needs to answer.
99% no delay: Hari Shilpa
When this news portal contacted Public Information Officer, Hari Shilpa to know about the RTI discourse, she said she recently assumed the office as in charge and she does not have much details on how many RTIs have been filed in the department so far. "I can only give the details once I go to office and check for the same."
When asked will there be delay in the processing the RTI application from her section, she said 99% there wont be any delay. But in some cases due to technical problems there could be a delay.