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Can't go to court with RTI information, rule Ahmedabad authorities: Kankaria accident

By Pankti Jog*
In a shocking reply to an application filed by me, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) authorities have said that the information provided under the Right to Information (RT) Act should be used in court or in a judicial process. The Act is known to be a major tool that enables citizens to seek certified copies of documents, records from any public authority of state and Central government within 30 days, as per provisions of the Act.
Citizens across the country have been using this Act not only to access information but also as a means to monitor the extent of government’s transparent and accountable to citizens, which is expected in any vibrant democracy.
Gujarat, one of the states with rapid industrial development, has always claimed that it sets an example of best governance practices, and has bagged several awards at the national level for it. However, it is found to be lagging far behind in giving access to information to citizens.
Public Information Officers (PIOs) not only give strange, often innovative, reasons to deny information, but go so far as to restrict citizens to use information that they receive for getting justice.
In the reply dated August 14, AMC denied information to the RTI application filed by me for seeking copy of the contract given to the ride operator/company at the Kakaria Adventure Park, next to the historic Kankaria lake of Ahmedabad, and details of checking done by AMC regarding the ride's safety. The information was sought in the context of an accident, which caused several deaths and injuries.
AMC denied the information saying that a first information report (FIR) had been filed against the company, and hence the information could not be provided. Further, and this was simply scandalous, the AMC’s public authority instructed me that the information should not be used anywhere as evidence or in the “judicial system” (court).
During the accident, which took place on July 14. two people died and 27 others injured when the ride carrying around 30 people in the Kankaria Adventure Park collapsed after a pipe of the main shaft broke. At least 15 people were critically injured. AMC gives contract to private contractors to operate rides in the park.
The accident took place a month after the Ahmedabad Fire Brigade carried out a midnight rescue operation after as many as 40 people were stuck on a ferris wheel at a fare in the city. Fire officials had to use a 55-metre-tall snorkel to rescue those who were stuck, including 14 children and eight women. 
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation should proactively disclose information relating to safety checking of rides and conditions in the contract
“This is unconstitutional, and even violates the principle of natural justice”, Harinesh Pandya, master trainer of RTI and founder of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, an organization that promotes the use of RTI to enhance people’s participation in the democratic process, told me.
“Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation should proactively disclose information relating to safety checking of rides and conditions in the contract, as it is a very vital information as far as public safety in concerned”, Pandya insisted.
The information sought, he pointed out, falls under the proactive disclosure category as per the provisions of the RTI Act. He adds, RTI has been used by victims of casualties, or injustices done to them in such cases, and certified copies of documents obtained thereby have been produced in court as evidence.
Hence, according to Pandya, it is shocking that AMC instructs not to use the reply in court. In fact, some of the major scams and irregularities that were exposed and governments could take action against the culprits has been due to RTI. The information produced from RTI has often been quoted extensively in courts.
Significantly, the RTI reply shows poor quality of training inputs AMC officials get regarding RTI, and also reveals a very negative approach towards transparency or disclosure to citizens. The reply suggests a very bad sign of governance, which is a matter of major concern.
I have decided to not only filed the first appeal against the reply but I am also planning to make a separate representation to the Municipal Commissioner, Ahmedabad, the Gujarat government’s Sardar Patel Institute of Public Administration (SPIPA), which is responsible for training centre for government officials, and to the State Information Commission.
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*Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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