Why go to the library for research

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  • Published 21.07.12

New Delhi, July 20: Struggling over your civics homework or history thesis? No problem, just file a Right to Information Act application with the National Archives of India, and its officials will find the answer for you.

The problem has gone beyond a joke, say administrators at the National Archives of India (NAI). They are breaking their back to locate the answers from their mountains of documents as people, including researchers, bombard them with RTI queries as a short cut, sparing themselves long hours in the NAI’s reading room going through musty records.

The NAI is receiving about 120 RTI applications a month. With the act setting no limit on the number of questions that can be asked, sometimes a single application contains queries on multiple subjects.

“The library is open to one and all. There is no reason why people should seek information through the RTI when they can come themselves and look for it here. They are just looking for an easy way out,” NAI director-general Mushirul Hasan complained.

Forced to double as researchers, the archive’s administrators are planning to request the government to amend the RTI Act to exempt libraries from its ambit.

It’s easy to sympathise with them: one query asked for “a list of all the names inscribed on the India Gate in Delhi and who they are”. The monument carries 90,000 names: soldiers who died fighting for British India in World War I (1914-18) and the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919).

Another demanded a “record of all people hanged since 1947 onwards and those who got amnesty”.

The one question that seems to have started the trend came from a 10-year-old schoolgirl in Lucknow.

Aishwarya Parashar had sent an RTI application to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in February asking how Mahatma Gandhi secured the tag of “Father of the Nation”. The PMO forwarded it to the home ministry, which sent it to the NAI.

Flummoxed NAI officials discovered there never had been an official declaration and replied that no documents on the information sought were available.

Parashar’s question spurred others to file similar queries, this time directly to the NAI.

“We have received several questions asking the same thing, only framed a little differently. Some ask for the gazette notification in which Gandhi was declared ‘Father of the Nation’; others ask for file notings if there are any,” a senior official said.

Another favourite RTI topic is the Emergency. “How many people were sterilised during the Emergency?” asked one applicant. “Please give details of people arrested and detained,” requested another.

Some seek historical dates, such as the date of birth of 1857 revolt hero Mangal Pandey .

A “whole lot” of applicants demand information on the wealth and properties of the erstwhile royals, who had to submit an inventory of their assets at the time of accession, a senior NAI official said.

“People demand photocopies of the inventories, mainly to settle court cases,” he explained.

Then there are the queries filed by researchers. “Most of them are very honest and accept that they have filed the RTI application to help them collect the data,” the official said.