The issue of poor maintenance of food grain was hidden under the carpet until Delhi resident Dev Ashish Bhattacharya filed applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with the Ministry of Agriculture. It was the ministry’s response to his RTI query which created a furor in the Parliament and gave the opposition an issue to embarrass the government.
According to the information obtained by Bhattacharya, about 14, 000 tonnes of damaged food grain was lying in the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns around the country at the start of this year.
Even after the assurances given by the agriculture ministry in last August, the government has not fixed the responsibility for the damage done to food grain.
According to the information, more than five lakh tonnes of food grain has been damaged in FCI godowns in the last five years. Bhattacharya has highlighted many important issues using the RTI Act as a tool.
An MBA working at a private firm, he used to complaint to the concerned authorities about issues which disturbed him. When the RTI Act came into being, Bhattacharya got a tool to make the government accountable. “It gave an identity to my cause,” says he.
Bhattacharya has filed more than 100 RTI applications in the last two years. His applications relate to various offices including the judiciary, legislative, police and the central government.
One of the interesting responses he got was on the RTI application seeking to know the qualification of High Court and the Supreme Court. The department of justice, where he filed the application, transferred the case to the registrars of Supreme Court and High Court, which further transferred it to the office of the president. However, the appellate authority responded saying that since the central public information officer (CPIO) did not inform that the records were available with the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the case could not be transferred. He is yet to know that which government holds the information demanded. “This, according to me, indicates that the entire system is in a mess, says 49 year old sales executive.
However, he faced many challenges in getting the information. “The biggest hurdle is the Public Information Officers. They tried to discourage me at every step. They know the procedure, but they will behave as if they are unaware of how the Act works,” says Bhattacharya. He believes that a case going to the CIC means that the complainant waiting for at least a year to get it disposed.
Another worry of the RTI man is the lack of awareness about the Act among public. “It is meant to give a voice to the public, but the government has disseminated almost no information about it in newspapers and other media. How do you expect the aam aadmi to use the Act?” says he.
His only inspiration is in the forms of replies he gets from various government departments. “When I get a reply, I feel like OK, now you have to answer my next,” he says.