How One Woman's RTI Petition Proved Victorious for a UP Village

Divya, a resident of Hadha was successful in using RTI to get the local post office to stop misspelling the name of her village, as it had led to them being asked to change the spelling on official documents.

New Delhi: While small changes in names of places do not appear a big deal to most, the residents of a village in Uttar Pradesh faced a lot of trouble as a different name used by their post office required them to make changes in their voter identity cards, Aadhaar cards and other official documents that served as identity proofs. Finally, it was the resilience of a woman and the intervention of the Central Information Commission which gave back ‘Hadha’ in Unnao district its real identity.

This interesting tussle over the name reached the Commission after the appellant, Divya, who had filed an application with the Department of Posts on July 20, 2017, regarding the correct spelling of the village – whether it is written as Hadha or Harha (as the local post office spelt it) and the reasons for difference in spelling – did not get a satisfactory response from the authorities.

Appellant lauded for making constructive use of RTI

Divya, who was lauded by the Commission for making “constructive use of RTI for larger public interest” and for scripting “one of the success stories of the RTI”, had submitted before the Commission that the villagers were facing a serious problem because of the difference in spelling used for the name of the village by the post office and the revenue authorities.

During the hearing before Central Information Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu, the central public information officers from the Department of Posts, P.N. Yadav and Awasthi contented that the spelling of the post office at Hadha was as per the directory of the post offices which was prepared a long time ago. They admitted that while the villagers generally spell it as “Hadha”, the post office has been referring to it as “Harha”.

Villagers faced many problems due to two different spellings

In his order, Acharyulu wrote that when the appellant had sought the reasons for the difference through his application, the then CPIO R.P. Singh had responded that no information was available with the Department of Posts. Noting that the current CPIOs also “vehemently supported this meaningless response”, Acharyulu added that “the authority of post office totally failed to understand and recognise the problem of villagers.”

The appellant had earlier contended that while the voter cards, Aadhaar cards and revenue records all referred to the village as “Hadha”, the post office was adamant that all the residents should adopt “Harha” as the name. It had also asked the villagers to get the spelling changed in thousands of Aadhaar and other identity cards.

No reply to “who decided the spelling” of ‘Hadha’

Acharyulu said the officers failed to respond to the question of the Commission as to “who decided the spelling” and “whether there was any effort to reconcile the difference in spelling by approaching the local authority?”

Maintaining that the Department of Posts was supposed to provide the reasons for making a name or spelling different from the other records, the CIC questioned their mere submission that such records were not present. “How can they say these records were not present? They have a duty to provide all papers reflecting their decision on spelling and the process before it. What is the basis of this spelling and who invented this different spelling of the name of their dwelling place?” he asked.

‘Name changed without any logic’

The CIC also reprimanded the Department of Posts for insisting without any logic that the name was actually “Harha” and for demanding that the villagers get it changed in all their other documents accordingly.

During the hearing, it was also suggested that Divya should make a representation to the Unnao district authorities and the postal authority to resolve the difference in spelling. The CIC said there was merit and huge public interest in the contention of the appellant that every student, educated person and voter was suffering and facing many difficulties because of the spelling adopted by the post office.

‘Post office duty-bound to write correct spelling’

In his order, Acharyulu held that the Hadha post office was “duty-bound” to write the correct spelling of every town or village, because a name is the only way of identification and it should therefore be in sync the with revenue and other records.

He also termed as “reprehensible” the attitude of those officers who represented the Department of Posts and asked the election officers, Aadhaar officers and others to change the name of the village to “Harha” in their records and also asked thousands of people to get their identity cards ‘corrected’.

He said their behaviour was also not “responsible” since their actions required thousands of people to spend their money, time and energy on obtaining fresh identity cards when there was actually no need for it.

The Commission therefore directed the Department of Posts to address the grievance of thousands of people from Hadha “as they are consumers of their services”. It also directed the department to submit an action taken report within 30 days.

Divya’s effort pays off

Subsequently, R.K. Mishra of National Informatics Centre, Unnao submitted to the Commission that as per the directions of the CIC, the Postmaster General, Kanpur on July 6 ordered the change in spelling of Harha to the correct “Hadha” in accordance with all the revenue and other official records. He also submitted that a new nameboard has been fixed with the correct spelling in the post office.