CHRI's Venkatesh Nayak spearheaded an interactive discussion over Skype today with Bangladeshi RTI activists and volunteers based in Dhaka, Habiganj and Rangpur. These activists have filed more than 80 RTI applications across the country with a range of public authorities so far, Nayak was informed.
During the interaction, activists narrated their experiences and identified the key issues faced by them in filing RTI applications in Bangladesh. "Officials ask the applicant "reasons" for seeking information or seek identity proof that the applicant is a citizen of Bangladesh," said a few volunteers. One applicant claimed he was forced to pay 20 taka to simply submit an RTI application, which is illegal and could be treated as extortion since the RTI Act of Bangladesh does not require payment of an application fee. Another applicant said he was made to wait for several hours and advised to meet a range of officials just to submit the RTI application.
It was noted that these gateway problems may be familiar to all RTI activists and organisations working for the promotion of RTI. Nayak asserted that though the Bangladesh Information Commission may also be aware of such reactions from the bureaucracy, there is no excuse for such treatment of RTI applicants.
To understand the kinds of use to which RTI is put, Nayak sought from the participants a list of the districts and authorities where RTIs have been filed so far indicating the names of the RTI applicants and the categories of information solicited. Nayak also said it was important that RTI applicants persevere and not drop their cases if they do not get a reply within the time limit. Each case must be escalated to the BIC, if necessary, he added.