New Delhi: The government of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, had claimed to provide a qualitatively superior government that would be committed to transparency and to the needs of the common man. While the jury is still out on honesty and integrity of the leaders of AAP and the Delhi government, the aam aadmi (common man or the ordinary citizen) is conveniently forgotten by the Kejriwal government, which is openly working overtime to protect the high and mighty of the corporate world. Here is a personal experience that would shock anybody who thinks the Kejriwal government is committed to transparency and the common man. I had filed an RTI on 19 April, seeking information about adoption of a girl child in Delhi in 2005 by a certain individual/couple. The diary number of the RTI is 38 of 19-04-2017 at 1:02 pm, filed in room number 19 of the Department of Social Welfare, Govt of National Capital Territory of Delhi, situated at 1 Canning Lane, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi. Through the RTI, I had also sought information on the eligibility of the parent/parents for the adoption of the child.
When I did not receive any reply till 24 May, I went to the office looking for answers. The RTI rules are clear that a reply must come within 30 days of reaching the RTI in the department concerned.
I was told by Shivani Kapur Baveja, Assistant Director, in-charge of RTI since it was more than a month, there was no way I would not have received a reply by now. She had allocated the RTI for answers to the Information Officer, Child Protection Unit (CPU) within the stipulated 5 days of receiving the RTI application. She even told me that a copy of the RTI application’s allocation must have been marked to me and was surprised I had not received any communication on it so far.
Humra Khalid, Assistant Director, CPU, was not in the office, nor was the director. In their absence, though the office was brimming with staff, there was no other person designated to answer on her behalf or track down the RTI. Khalid returned from a hearing a good two hours later and found time for some office work, even chatting up with friends in the office discussing personal matters but wanted me to come some other time, saying she was too busy.
After a long conversation on how it was my right to know the fate of the RTI, she began responding. Her first response: “I don’t know what you are trying to achieve by filing this RTI. This is someone’s personal matter and you should leave them alone”.
When I insisted on letting me know the fate of my RTI and what action has been taken on it to get the information, she argued that even courts destroy records of over 7 years and this was a more than 10 years old issue.
When I told her there were only 11 adoption agencies in Delhi and it was not hard to get the information, she said these NGOs maintain they were not covered under the RTI and, therefore, not bound to provide information. I wanted to know why this information has not been shared with me, she said the Department was not bound to do that.
Once again the conversation came down to persuading me to drop the quest for information — something which is my right as a citizen and which is the duty of the government to provide. When I insisted on the responses being given to me verbally be put in writing, it was enough to infuriate the officer who was clearly under tremendous pressure to persuade me to let go of the RTI.
On my insistence to report to me the action she had taken on the RTI query and its dates, and also why did I not get a copy of her letter seeking information from the adoption agencies, Khalid gave a terse reply that I was free to file an appeal. When I asked her if I needed to file a separate RTI to get information on whether the department had even made any efforts to get information and if yes what and when and why they have not kept me posted, she said she was too busy. She quickly spread out a lunch of chapatis, raita and vegetables and started eating them on her work table, ignoring the sweat that was dripping from all over her face onto the table, melting the nervousness she was trying to suppress.
When I tried to ask her if the government was silent on the query because the persons involved were high and mighty of the corporate world and Lutyen’s Delhi, and have been boasting of their connections with Chief Minister Kejriwal on social media, the lady appeared so nervous she could have fainted. I gave her some peace and left the office, considering my options of filing an appeal and a separate RTI to trace the action if any on the RTI by the Department.
A day later, on 25 May, I visited the office again and met Shivani Kapoor Baveja who told me even her office had not got any copy of the letter that should have returned to her if it had not reached me. She wanted to know if I had the reference of the RTI; I showed her the copy of the RTI. She promised she would give me a copy of the allocation letter she had forwarded to the Child Protection Unit, marking a copy to me, following which I could file an appeal.
I thought of checking on Khalid again. Soon I realised I had done the right thing. After waiting in her room for her to return from a meeting, the conversation produced some results. She was a bit more cooperative; she told me after her interaction with me the previous day, she had issued a second letter to all the 11 adoption agencies seeking information. I had enough reasons to believe perhaps this was the first and the only letter issued — after my conversation the previous day that is.
I wanted to know if a copy had been marked to me and, if yes, whether I could have a copy of the letter. I also wanted clarity on the statement made the previous day whether the NGOs have taken the position that immunised them from the RTI. I told Khalid to think hard before she took a position, as that would be a very critical statement to make. After all, Delhi government has given these NGOs such a critical responsibility of handling all the adoptions in Delhi. The impact of my warning sent Khalid rushing out of the room, into the corridors of the building. She returned soon and I insisted on knowing whether it was the position of the department that NGOs handling adoption were not bound to answer RTI queries or the NGOs have taken that position. If it were the NGOs, whether all have taken the same position or some have responded to the queries.
Obviously, this was a question that would cause discomfort to someone who has not been able to answer the question if the department had even sent the RTI query to the NGOs before yesterday.
The 11 NGOs who have finally been sent a letter without the specifics of the query, are Foster Care Centre, Nirmal Chhaya Complex; Palna, Delhi Council for Child Welfare; Udayan, Upvan and Sopan, all 3 “care of” SOS children’s villages of India; Holy Cross Social Service Centre; Welfare Home for Children; 2 units of Matri Chhaya of Seva Bharti; Asharan Orphanage of Hope Foundation; and Mamata Child Care Centre of Children of the World.
The letter has been signed by Deputy Director (CPU/CPS)/SPIO.
The file number mentioned on the letter is 61/RTI/06/DD(CPU)DWCD/2017/4527-9
A copy each of the letter issued on 24 May has been marked to me, and also to AD(RTI Cell), the Department of Women and Child Development. The very fact that no such copy of any previous query — if sent by the department earlier — has reached either me or AD (RTI cell) makes it more than clear that the Child Protection Unit has acted only after my visit to them yesterday (24 May). My RTI is dated 19 of April.
Even today, I had to go through the same conversation as to why I was raking up old issues and that it was better for an adopted child to live life under the belief that the people she was living with were the child’s natural parents. I tried educating the lady, but realised I should not doubt their clarity of the subject; rather I should try and understand the pressure that they might be facing making such outrageous arguments to dissuade me from getting information.