At 81, ‘Thagaval Thatha’ soldiers on in the battle for information
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February 11, 2024 10:15 pm | Updated February 12, 2024 10:27 am IST

RTI activist P. Kalyanasundaram in Chennai on Sunday.

RTI activist P. Kalyanasundaram in Chennai on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Akhila Easwaran

At 81, social activist P. Kalyanasundaram has been fighting for social causes with the help of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. He has obtained information from the authorities by filing 5,000 applications under the Act. “Thagaval Thatha”, as he is called by people, stands testimony to what an ordinary person can achieve with the help of the Act.

Mr. Kalyanasundaram, a long-time resident of Purasawalkam, studied up to Standard VIII. At a young age, he joined Binny Mills, Perambur, as mazdoor. He retired from service when the mill was closed. He used to read newspapers, a habit that made him take up social issues and work for others.

He says, “I was attracted to social service while I was studying. Because of that, I lost my education at a young age. However, I gained more knowledge by visiting libraries in the city and more friends with my service. The Information Commission is a poor man’s court. I have bought all books on the RTI Act and stacked them up in my house. I read them all. Some people have approached me for consultation on issues relating to the RTI Act.”

‘Panchami’ land records

After the Act came into effect in 2005, he started filing applications to get records on ‘panchami’ land from the Revenue Department and obtained details of such land in the city. That enthused him to fight against encroachments on government land or land meant for the Scheduled Castes.

Mr. Kalyanasundaram says, “It was a more satisfying moment when a few Muslims got land for burial after I fought for them with the help of the Act. I got land for people displaced by development projects in Tiruvallur district. Funds were allocated for renovation of the buildings of Tahsildar and revenue officials, which were in a dilapidated condition or lacked amenities.”

HC Registrar fined

He is the first person to get the State Information Commission to impose a fine on the Registrar of the Madras High Court for denying information he had sought under the Act. He says that under Section 4 A of the RTI Act, every public authority should maintain its records duly catalogued and indexed in such a manner as to facilitate the right to information and ensure that all records are computerised. When the Raj Bhavan was seen as something beyond public scrutiny, Mr. Kalyanasundaram filed a petition under the Act and visited the office. There he found that the records were not duly maintained and later the lapse was set right.

Mr. Kalyanasundaram added, “Earlier, the authorities used to deny information about the service records of the government. After citing an order of the Central Information Commission, I obtained this information.”

He says everyone should follow the provisions of the RTI Act for genuine causes and fighting corruption. For him, the Act is a handy tool for the man on the street.

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