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Right to response in English

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Governance

From over a year now, the responses from GoK officials to queries under RTI, are being made out only in Kannada, even when raised in English, and even when specifically requested to respond in English.

Now, though I can speak Kannada fairly fluently; I can't read or write the language (Questions as to why people like me haven't bothered to learn to read and write the language can be the subject of another blog; but, please do not bring it up here). However, even true-blue Kannadiga's, to whom I have been referring these official responses, have been having difficulty figuring out the specific nuances pertaining to the issues involved.

As such, I feel this is a strategy being adopted by the babu's largely to obfuscate and prevaricate on issues. And, it is certainly having its effects - like from over a year, I have not filed a single query, though I used to be quite a regular before.

In the light of all these, on the 1st of this year, I filed a query as under:

"Is a Karnataka state government official, irrespective of whichever office he/ she is attached to, bound by law to accord a response in English language, if a person raising a query with him/ her, under Right to Information Act, asks for the same?"

with both
1) The Additional Secretary, Opinion Division, Dept of Law, Ministry for Law & Parliamentary Affairs

2) Deputy Secretary (Establishment of Joint Secretary), Dept of Personnel & Administrative Reforms

Whereas, I was looking for a yes/ no response, what I have received (apparently from the person listed at sl no 2 above) turned out to be another attempt at obfuscation, stating that the Act does not make any reference to the matter.

I then represented to the Appellate authority stating additionally as below:
"My query was not limited to responses under the Right to Information Act. However, since there is no obligation to respond when a query is raised other than under the Act, I had specifically referred to queries raised under the Act. As such, the officials citing rules to under the Act to evade a direct answer was quite untenable".

But, with that also not evoking the right kind of response, I have now taken the matter to the Information Commissioner (on 16th April). I am yet to hear from his office, apart from the postal acknowledgement.

Meanwhile, the Dept of Law has been silent. I now propose to bring that also to the notice of the Information Commissioner. I am told it takes a bit of time.

If the answer had been NO, they would have said so straightaway. Very clearly therefore the answer has to be a YES. And, once I get that, I shall certainly put it to good use.

Muralidhar Rao
 

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murali772's picture

Similar poser to RoS

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I raised the following query under RTI with the Registrar of Societies, Karnataka:

Along with six of my associates, I am proposing to start a society, which I wish to register with you under the Karnataka Societies Act. On approaching various knowledgeable consultants in the matter, I have been told that you do not entertain applications for registration unless the entire connected set of documentation is made out in Kannada. Now, though five out of the seven of us are Kannadigas, even this lot is not totally comfortable in engaging in official dealings in Kannada, and, as such, we would like to have our entire set of documentation made out in English. Kindly confirm that you can facilitate the same. If you cannot, please advise the reasons, citing relevant sections of the law.

Within just about the one month's time, I received a response, totally in Kannada, citing a government note (copy of which was attached).

The government note essentially directs promotion of the usage of Kannada. But, the legal question proper remained un-addressed, and the Registrar of Societies chose to remain silent in the matter.

As such, I went on appeal to the Chief Information Commissioner (on 28th June) seeking his help in getting the appropriate response to my original query.

I am told there's a wait-list at the CIC's office, and it takes close to 3 to 4 months for a fresh case to be taken up. May be I need to tackle that separately.
 

Muralidhar Rao
Srivatsava's picture

Not isolated... need to ...

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Murali-sir,

This surely is not an isolated case. Its true with not just Kannadigas, but with pepole across the country.

Therefore, while commending your efforts about the right to response in English, may I suggest (and going a step ahead, offer any help) that you take up with the central goverment officials/politicains, who will have a say on the matter. How about writing to the Union law minister for a start, he can surely push for a 'mandate' to amend the RTI to enable seeking RTI response in English (or a second official language)

-Srivatsava V

murali772's picture

appeal dismissed

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Last week, I called up Mr Ashok, Under Secretary, KIC, again ( I had been calling up every month) to check on the status of my appeal dated 16th April. Most surprisingly, he told me that they had already cleared all April appeals. On further checking, he informed that the summons had been issued to me on the 2nd Nov (by ordinary post), for the hearing on 3rd Dec, and with my absenting myself, the order dismissing my appeal had been issued ex-parte, and copy of the same posted to me (again by ordinary post) on the 10th Dec. When I asked how come the summons (as also the order) was sent by ordinary post, he responded saying 'that was their practice' (The order reached me last week, but the summons hasn't reached even upto now).

While I propose to be challenging this aspect saying that I was denied a fair hearing, the operative part of the dismissal order appears to base itself on the decision of the Goa bench of Bombay High Court in writ petition no 419 0f 2007 (in the case of Dr Celsa Pinto vs Goa State Information Commission), supposedly stating that 'question and clarification cannot be asked under RTI Act', my request supposedly being for 'nothing but clarification'.

I am now left to challenge this in the High Court. I'll first seek an opinion from a lawyer friend, practicing in the High Court, before going about it.

Also, I don't know if my appeal of 28th June, in the matter of the RoS (check above), will also suffer the same fate. But, there they can't go by the same argument, if my understanding is right.

Meanwhile, encouraged by the ToI report cited here, I decided to approach the National Advisory Council directly to seek redressal in the matter, since it is likely to be a country-wide issue. Let's see how things evolve.  
 

Muralidhar Rao
kbsyed61's picture

Did you get the summons?

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Murali Sir,

Did you get the summons at all? Howdo you plan to know the date of your hearing in another appeal? Is there system or MAMOOL to know it?

-Syed

idontspam's picture

Exparte! Deja Vu!

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 and with my absenting myself, the order dismissing my appeal had been issued ex-parte, 

Welcome to the club. In the internet & mobile phone era, what next, they will send by pegion? ...and say it flew away or got shot so the decision was made exparte!

 

Bheema.Upadhyaya's picture

@Murali

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The best would be to ask in both languages in Kannada and English. Also you may ask Kannada and Hindi combination. Does the language really matter than issue itself? Its easy to get it translated, than asking GoK itself to do this extra job(we know GoK is implementing Kannada in hard way, though people/private companies are not implementing. See any ads in City, where Kannada letters are in 5% size of main ad font size) Thats my personal opinion , no offense meant though.

 

" My mantra to public bodies=> Enable->Educate->Enforce. Where does  DDC  fit?"
murali772's picture

trying to establish my right

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@ Bheema  -  Please understand correctly what I am asking. Nowhere have I asked for discontinuation of the promotion of Kannada. All I am asking for is a response in English, which presumably is an official language of the state, and over which I have better mastery than Kannada. That I believe is my right. Now, if the government of a country like Switzerland provides you the choice of corresponding in four different languages, as also its official documentation made out in all four of them, why can't the GoK have it in English atleast? On the other hand, if the GoK is going to be labelling English as a foreign language, and is eventually planning to phase it out of official usage, let them declare so. Let's see if it has the support of the people.

I have a working knowledge of Kannada, like I expect the majority of people in Benagaluru, including the many sons of soil. In this globalised world, I for one would like to gain greater mastery of the English language in order to acquire more knowledge on all matters that interest me from across the world, than be limited by the mastery of just Kannada. As such, I have no intention of polishing up my knowledge of Kannada much beyond the present level, which is good enough even to follow the odd Kannada movie, that I see.

All the same, I shall fully support all pursuits towards promotion of Kannada, and the local culture through that. And, not just Kannada, but even Tulu, Konkani, Coorgi, these being the other mother tongues of sizable sections of Bangaloreans/ Kannadiga's.

What is happening currently is the blatant mis-use of Kannada by government officials to deny information through obfuscation. We ourselves are the victims of this, with the office of the RoS sending us around in circles, while attempting to register as a society, since even a 'Kuvempu' will not be able to manage the language technicalities they are invoking.

The language issue has been discussed in greater detail here, as also elsewhere. In this thread, let's confine ourselves to the right I am seeking to establish.
 

Muralidhar Rao
Bheema.Upadhyaya's picture

Perfect

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 That gives a greater picture of your demand, much clearly now. Very logical too.

We should follow good example like Singapore, Switzerland. Not bad example like Frankfurt, Germany, where I had literally stuck up due to language issue. I was supposed to register locally for a work permit. All the forms where ONLY in german, where I faced similar situation like you. But someone helped me to get a verbal translator, I was saved. 

" My mantra to public bodies=> Enable->Educate->Enforce. Where does  DDC  fit?"
idontspam's picture

 We should follow good

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 We should follow good example like Singapore, Switzerland. Not bad example like Frankfurt, Germany

Very very well put. I had the same bad experience in Sweden. Even today I get official letters mailed to me in Swedish which I have to jump thru hoops to get translated (made even harder without Swedish keyboard). Parts of conservative Europe which have the advantage of being monolingual, are living in a different era are definitely not inclusive. They set a very bad example for the future, and in a multilingual country like India this will kill us in the long run.

Bheema.Upadhyaya's picture

As usual..

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 I was reading this. As usual, probably babus are playing with this act.

" My mantra to public bodies=> Enable->Educate->Enforce. Where does  DDC  fit?"
murali772's picture

PIL - it shall be

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Having reached a sort of a dead-end in the matter, I sought and obtained a meeting with Justice Santosh Hegde yesterday to seek his opinion on my stance, and, if in agreement, advise on the further course of action.

He not only agreed with my stance, but also added that I should be pursuing the matter in the High Court, in overall national interest, since, by not according you a response in English (an acknowledged official language of the state), the state is in violation of Art 14 (equality) and 19 (right to move freely throughout the territory of India; to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India) of the Indian Constitution. When I cited the "Mary Kom" example (check here), he commented that that as a perfect case in point. He also emphasised on the need to curb linguistic, cultural, and religious chauvinism and intolerance.

Well, with such an endorsement from the country's icon of propriety, I guess, the direction forward has become fairly clear. I am certainly moving on it.

PS: I had obtained Justice Hegde's permission before making this post, though not of the exact text. Since the matter involves quasi-judicial bodies, I wish to add that Justice Hegde is not to be held liable for any inaccuracies.
 

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Time to re-invent RTI

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Modi said RTI gives people the “right to question the system”, and that is the foundation of a democracy.

For the full text of the report in the New Indian Express, click here.

Perhaps, it's time to question "the decision of the Goa bench of Bombay High Court in writ petition no 419 0f 2007 (in the case of Dr Celsa Pinto vs Goa State Information Commission), supposedly stating that 'question and clarification cannot be asked under RTI Act'", which apparently is being used widely across the country to deny information that the government lot are uncomfortble giving  - check my post of 21st Dec,2010, scrolling above.
 

Muralidhar Rao
blrpraj's picture

@TIME TO RE-INVENT RTI

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@Mr Murali

>>Modi said RTI gives people the “right to question the system”, >>and that is the foundation of a democracy.

My thought and personal opinion is that Modi (and his nationalist cronies BJP) will make a big push for Hindi. So, we have 3 major camps - 1) Hindi nationalists making a big push for Hindi. 2) Regional language protagonists/chauvinists making a push for regional language (Kannada in the case of Karnataka). 3) The english medium college educated professionals from all walks of life who are mobile both within the country and mobile back & forth between India and other countries who care less about the first two camps (1 and 2) . They would rather have all dealings done in English, quickly & efficiently so that they can move on with their lives, end of story.

The irony and hypocritical truth is that it has been 68 years since the British left and govt forces are still fighting to throw out the English language whereas the actual fact is that English is necessary and a very ingrained fabric of Indian society by and large. 

It only makes logical sense that the govt. personnel be mandatorily equipped to read, write and speak English (and probably Hindi) in addition to other languages since A) they don't know where they will be posted and whom they will be serving AND B) they don't know which set of people from what linguistic and ethnic backgrounds live in the area of service.

The govt and people should wake up from their slumber, accept English language as a part of of the very fabric of Indian society and make an effort to bring the masses up to speed with the English language by introducing the English language as a compulsory subject in corporation and rural schools accross the country. For those who still have love for "their language" or "indian language" i would have suggested Hindi instead of English..but i don't want to open a can of worms since none of the Southern states nor the north eastern states (Odisha, WB, Assam etc.) would accept that.

For folks who give an example of..look..in Germany, Russia, Japan, France etc. they use "their" language in dealings with their govt and other agencies...has anyone (including our politicians) paused to think and analyze that the primary language and primary medium of education accross the board in these countries right upto the college level is German, Russian, Japanese & French in the respective countries?  India is living with the mess created by our leaders & citizens in 1947 by dividing states along linguistic lines and not having a common primary medium of education (Hindi for example); so the only sensible thing for both GoK and GOI is to move forward with English since - 1) we have far more bigger issues to worry about AND 2) that English is the ONLY primary language and primary medium of education that is common accross  the country (for example you will not find a Hindi medium school in Kerala/Tamil Nadu/Karnataka nor will you find a Bengali or Kannada medium school in UP/Bihar/Rajasthan whereas you will not find any state which does not have an English medium school, so why be in denial that English is a foreign language?).

BOTTOM line is English, is very much an Indian language now and the primary (and in fact ONLY) link language accross the length and breadth of the country because of which it is the right of every ctitzen that the Govt MANDATORILY be equipped to communicate in that language (including response to RTI queries).  If someone questions my claim of English being very much an Indian language now then my response would be that Punjabi, Marathi,, Hindi, Gujarati etc are as alien to the rest of the states like Assam, Meghalay, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra  as English is since the present day India as we know it came into being in 1947..with most of the languages being alien/foreign depending on which state you were in when India was formed.

 

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