Remember the case of the illegal boards put up in government offices across Maharashtra
, threatening citizens with various and selective Sections from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in case of misbehaviour towards government servants? Well, the aam aadmis
have actually managed to have some of them knocked off, by using the Right to Information (RTI) Act and by visiting offices and demanding so! However, there are brown sahibs
, who continue to show their die-hard disdain!
RTI activists and users under the umbrella of the RTI Katta in Pune, which stirred this campaign for the past two months, have met with partial success.
Some of them have gotten the authorities to remove the boards, while others have been greeted with strange replies under the RTI Act. Here’s how.
Baramati-based RTI activist, Tushar Zende Patil has had the boards removed from the Baramati tehsildar office, 10–15 gram panchayats of Pune district, and in 10-15 primary health centres of Baramati district in Shirur, Supe and Indapur.
Thane-based RTI activist, Dattatray Dalvi filed an RTI application at a gram panchayat
office in Raigad district. The gram sevak
requested him not to submit his RTI application, promising to get it removed instantly, which he did.
Mr Dalvi had the same experience at the tehsildar’s office. The board put up at the entrance door was immediately pulled out when he visited it to submit his RTI application.
As against these small successes, Pune-based RTI activist, Shekhar Landge had a frustrating experience. He filed RTI applications under Section 6 of the RTI Act to the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC).
Says Mr Landge, “All the city survey offices in PCMC, as well as the registrar’s office in Pune, have put up these boards.’’
He sought information on the proposal, decision, minutes of the meetings and correspondence by the relevant authority; the date on which this board was put up and any official note on the same; expenditure that went into making this board and proof through cash certificate or receipt, etc, and how many cases of misbehaviour of citizens who visited this office have been registered.
One of the city survey offices audaciously replied to his RTI saying, “We have no one’s permission.”
So, then how did the board go up? Mr Landge asked the officer there. He vaguely replied that the law must have been passed by the Mantralaya.
It may be recalled that selective sections of the IPC code have been put up to intimidate and threaten citizens as soon as they enter any of the government offices.
The sections include Section 353 (Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty); Section 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace); Section 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation, if threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, etc); Section 332 and 333 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty); Section 383, 384 and 386 ( Extortion, punishment for extortion, extortion by putting a person in fear of death on grievous hurt); Section 427 (Mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees); Section 378 an 379 (Theft and punishment for theft); Section 141 and 143 (141: Unlawful assembly and punishment for it); Section 146, 148 and 150 (Rioting, rioting, armed with deadly weapon and hiring, or conniving at hiring persons to join unlawful assembly).
Mahesh Zagade, former principal secretary of Maharashtra and a member of the RTI online Katta says, “It is indeed good news that the state government wants to be transparent by putting up boards of various sections of law. Why be selective then? All the sections of the IPC code from 1-511 should be put up as also the Citizen Charter and other laws which make it mandatory for government babus to be answerable and accountable to the people. This selectiveness reeks of mischief and conspiracy to hide their murky manner of functioning.”
RTI activist Mr Dalvi says, “They should also put up boards on the citizen’s right to service, right to inspection and so on.’’ He continues his mission to get the boards off, in more and more offices by creating awareness and involving more citizens.
In fact, Tushar Zende Patil has started his mission on this issue since 2017. He says, “While most of the officers keep telling me that it is a Mantralaya
decision of putting up the boards, strangely there is not a single board in any of the offices within the Mantralaya
He then wrote to the chief secretary (CS)’s office, registering a complaint against the illegal boards to frighten the citizens who come for their rightful work.
“The CS’s office forwarded it to the general administration department (GAD), who in turn, forwarded it to the home department. The home department forwarded it to the then director-general of police (DGP). The DGP sent a circular to all police stations of Maharashtra to ensure that the boards are pulled out from the offices where they are put up,” Mr Zende Patil says.
But, of course, nothing happened, except for a few cases where the police pulled them down. This was in 2018 and three years hence, the issue is as good as dead, only to be revived by the RTI Katta campaigners.
In the recently held online meeting of the RTI Katta, former police officer Mr Tilekar volunteered to lodge an FIR in the matter. So far, there has been no progress.
Nevertheless, the small but courageous efforts of activists from various areas of Maharashtra to battle this menace are praiseworthy. Who knows, a day may dawn sooner rather than later when citizens would walk in and out of government offices without the fear of Big Brother.
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(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)