Right to Information Act

It's my experience that - in India - people and organizations are experts in hiding information, giving in-complete / confusing /partially correct / false information. Remember joke where an Indian Chartered accountant in competition with certified accountants from USA and Europe says "how much do want 2+2 to be?". Why such a situation? Because by doing it is very easy to make money and gain power. Vast majority of India believes in it and practices it whole heartedly.

Right to Information act is a little first step in the right direction to root out this corruption. And we have to go a long way before it start giving meaningful results and making difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.

To illustrate my points I'll cite few examples to show how information is made available at present:

* Information is old e.g. official website of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has published license fee rates to be paid under 'Shop and Establishment'. It shows rates prevailing in the year 1997. The rate have been revised at least once in 2004 but website still shows 1997 rate table. It is not updated. Why?

* Visit government of India passport site and try to find out how and where to get duplicate passport - when your original passport is damaged say due to flood in Mumbai on 26-July. Site asks you to download a form. It's same as for a new passport! Great. Visit Passport office enquiry counter and they will hand over a very different form that clearly states that it's for getting duplicate passport. Which one is correct? Both are!! How do I know? because I've seen passport office accepting both forms!!

Now how to apply? Web site says visit Passport office and give application. Online registration is for new passport only. Visit an agent he tells that he will do everything including online registration. So, to double check you visit the web site and try to apply online - and you are presented with an option for duplicate passport!! How come? God only knows. Well I did the registration and given time between 12:30 pm and 1:00 pm. But upon personal visit I understand that once online registration is done - one can visit the passport office for next 3 days.

* Which all places one can submit application for a new Passport in Mumbai? Official site says it's at Worli and two Post offices viz., GPO, Fort and Andheri. What they do not mention is that Passport application is accepted at few other places also. One place I know is next to St. Xavior's College, Opp. Metro Cinema. If you call Passport office on phone they inform that it's accepted at Chembur also. Why this crucial information is not made known at the web site? Not only that - it is not mentioned on the notice boards of Passport office worli also.

* My property document (Agreement for Sale) was given to Stamp Duty and Registration office at Old Customs house, Mumbai for registration (after payment of stamp duty) in 1994. And till 2005 I did not hear from them. Several personal visits did not yield any result. Then in 2005 under Right to Information Act of Maharashtra, I made an application seeking details of pending applications between 1991 to 1995 and what is being done to register such documents.

I got reply saying about 2 lakh documents are pending for this period and work is given on Built-Own-Transfer (BOT) basis to one Pune based party, scanning of all these pending document is in progress and it is expected to get over by December 2005. They said they could not tell me how much registration fee was collected from these pending applications; also they could not tell me value of such pending documents because information was not available.

Question is - when specific reply is sought - how can they say that information is not available? Certainly information is there but one has to compile it. But reply given is - it's not available.

Another thing, my document was in Mumbai only and I've with my own eyes seen thousands perhaps lakhs of original documents lying in Stamp duty/Registration office meaning thereby that they have not been sent to Pune - so that they could get registered by Dec 2005. In fact, I got my document back duly registered in 1st week of Dec 2005. It was lying at Mumbai only and by no means it would have got scanned and registered at Pune - as claimed by the answer given to me.

My question is - if we get in-correct information like in my case - how do we catch them? What could be done under the act to catch such in-correct information providers and possibly book them? I'm not sure.

Hope you got my point from above experience. Information is simply not available in an easily understandable, cohesive and simple manner. One has to toil for it. Why? Otherwise how will agents and brokers make their living? Simple - isn't it?

Another problem - In India, one invariably looses why dealing with government. How? Read below:
* When you make payment to government for 3 years say Professional tax - if it is revised upwards inbetween - then you save money. Right? Wrong if you have made payment to Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. I paid Shop and establishment department for 3 years together - based on 9 people working in my company for the period 2003 to 2005. When I went to pay for another 3 years in Dec 2005 - I was asked to pay additional Rs.2,400/- because rates were revised and slabs had also changed in 2004. I argued that since we had paid for 3 years - revised rates were not applicable. I was told - MCGM accepts payment for 3 years together for customers convenience only. One can pay every year also. Fine. Accepted.

Why was I asked to pay extra? Because slabs had got revised and because I had 9 employees as per new slab of 6-10 employees Rs.1,200/- per year extra is to be paid. But I realized that in 2004 I had only 5 employees i.e., 4 people left in 2003. But to that MCGM argued that I informed them about it in Dec 2005 (although change occurred in 2004).

But when I have paid for 3 years in advance is it not MCGM's duty to demand extra as soon as it becomes due/applicable? They did not. And when I went to pay for next 3 years they charged for it and blamed saying we did not inform them in time about change of employees. This is too bad! One feels cheated.

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