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Info panel chief refused to hear me as I was sitting: RTI activist

Published Jan 11, 2015, 12:37 pm IST
Updated Mar 30, 2019, 1:16 am IST
Siva Elango spoke to DC at the SPI office in T. Nagar
Siva Elango
 Siva Elango
Chennai“I staged a sit-in protest in the hearing hall of the Tamil Nadu Information Commission (TNIC) after Chief State Information Commissioner K.S. Sripathi refused to hear my case as I remained seated during the proceedings,” RTI activist and Satta Panchayat Iyakkam  president Siva Elango said.
After being released on conditional bail on Saturday morning from Puzhal prison, he spoke to DC at the SPI office in T. Nagar. Excerpts from the interview:
Why did you stage a sit-in protest at the TN Information Commission?
 I went to the Commission to appear before the bench, comprising Sripathi and Information Commissioner S. F. Akbar for an appeal petition, seeking information on government advertisements given to the media.
As usual, I was sitting in the chair when the hearing started. One of the Commission’s staff members asked me to stand; when I objected, Sripathi said that he would inquire into the matter only if I stood during the hearing. I asked for a copy of the rules, but he refused to give me one.  
When I asked him to start the inquiry, he ignored me and started questioning the Public Information Officer (PIO). Immediately after the PIO claimed that they had provided all the information, the Commissioner reserved the order and declared that the hearing was over. When Sripathi asked me to leave the hearing hall, I told him that I would not leave unless I was heard.
Even as I was sitting in the hall, the next petitioner and PIO were summoned. Sripathi asked the PIO as soon as he entered whether he found my presence disturbing. He nodded. I told them clearly that I would not leave without being heard. 
The next two cases were heard in another hall. After some time, the police came and asked me to leave, but I told them I would not leave without the inquiry being done.  I was taken to the police station around 12.30 pm, the Commission’s secretary filed a complaint only by 2 pm. I was produced before the magistrate and remanded to Puzhal prison for 15 days.
You are not appearing before the Commission for first time. Why are you suddenly objecting to the practice of sta-nding during the hearing?
When S. Ramakrishnan was Chief Information Commissioner, I used to sit during the proceedings and he never objected to it. It all changed only after the appointment of Sripathi.
I had appeared before present Commissioners Mr Akbar and P. Thamilselvan and sat all through the proceedings. Even when the staff objected to it, the Commissioners had never refused to conduct the inquiry. But Sripathi asked me to stand up, saying there was a rule and did not hold the inquiry. That forced me to go on a sit-in protest.
The Commission official claims that it enjoys the power of the civil court under section 18 (3) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, and having a petitioner stand during the proceedings is only a convention. Will you not stand before court?
They are wrongly interpreting the section. The Act allows the Commission to follow the civil court procedure  in summoning persons and PIOs, receiving evidence on affidavit  and demanding any public record or copies of it from court or offices.
But they are misusing the provision to harass petitioners by forcing them to stand before the Commission. The Central Information Commission and other State Information Commissions are not asking the petitioners to stand. We are also going to fight for the right to a seat in courts too. 
Location: Tamil Nadu