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Gujarat govt cites lack of staff, photocopy machines, stationary to refuse information under RTI

By Our Representative
Why do different Gujarat government departments refuse to part information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005? If the information available with Counterview is any indication, the latest ploy of the state officialdom is “lack of staff” and other “administrative difficulties”, including lack of stationary and photocopy machines! This has become clear in replies to recent applications filed under RTI, where the officialdom has doggedly refused to give any legal explanation for refusing information, and instead pointed towards what great difficulties they have been facing while parting any information.
In one of the replies to RTI applications, filed by one Bhavisha Himanshu Oza of Ahmedabad in February 2013 in order to get copies of the answer sheets of the higher secondary examination, a senior government official said, it is “administratively not viable to provide the information sought by the applicant.” The reply, which ran into three long pages, added, there are around “one crore answer sheets” for 9.26 lakh examinees of the 10th standard, 4.35 lakh examinees of general stream of the 12th standard, and 1.14 lakh examinees of the science stream, again, of the 12th standard.
Wondering why did Oza not apply for reassessment of the answers sheets, as provided by the Gujarat Higher Secondary Examination Board (GHSEB), the official said, the “difficulties” in providing information included kicking off the procedure to get the unique identity number of the applicant, followed by searching the answer sheet from the jute sacks in which they were kept, and finally removal of the khaki sticker in order to find out the seat number of the examinee. Suggesting that with the current staff position all this is not possible, the official says, “For all this, it would be necessary to set up a special cell, where trusted officials would have to be posted…”
Finally, the official points towards the real reason: “Currently, the GHSEB is working with just 10 per cent of the required staff for examination-related works. Clearly, there is a severe shortage of staff. Officials and other staffers have to work overtime, even on Saturday and Sunday, apart from holidays, for late hours. It is with great difficulty that schedule for examination is maintained with this skeleton staff.” It added, “Even the procedure to follow reassessment sought within two weeks of the result, provided by the GHSEB, is an extremely difficult exercise”, giving a detailed data of the number of students who requested for reassessment for 10th and 12th standards.
Significantly, the official under the state education department provided this reply despite a Supreme Court ruling, which had said in August 2011 that the students aggrieved with their examination scores — class X and XII, entrance examination for professional courses as well as job recruitment tests — should be allowed to see how answer sheets were evaluated by their examiners by filing RTI applications. Till the order, only re-tabulation of marks was possible.
The order was issued by a bench of Justices R V Raveendran and A K Patnaik, dismissing a bunch of appeals filed by the Central Board of Secondary Education, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), University of Calcutta, West Bengal Central School Services Commission and Assam Public Services Commission.
This is not the only application in which the Gujarat government has refused to give information under RTI citing staff shortage and administrative difficulties. Another case relates to an application filed by senior activist, belonging to the Navsarjan Trust, Kirit Rathod, who had sought information regarding how many special public prosecutors were appointed, which are obligatory to fight cases under Dalit and tribal atrocities in the court of law. Filed before the law department, the state government provided following reasons for not providing information:
· There is lack of photocopy operator and stationary with the state law department
· Two deputy secretaries’ posts are vacant
· Files for appointing special public prosecutors are pending
Rathod said, in a statement, that despite the fact that the state information commission had directed the state law department to provide information regarding appointment of special public prosecutors, the department’s officials have refused to oblige, saying they do not have any “necessary directions” regarding this from the general administration department (GAD), which is supposed to look at all the personnel issues.

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