Q&A: 'Corrective mechanism to deal with RTI info needed'

Regional information commissioner (Pune) Vijay Vishwanath Kuvalekar feels bureaucrats are not sensitive to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Kuvalekar spoke to Abhay Vaidya:

You have been a writer-journalist all your life. Now as information commissioner for Pune region, what is your perspective on the RTI Act, 2005?

This is a new Act and it has not reached the rural areas to the extent that it should. In the government, the mindset is to find ways not to give information. Essentially, it is now about changing mindsets. In nearly 50 per cent of cases, the first appellate authority in public institutions has not heard appeals. As a result, people wait for 30-45 days to file a second appeal and appeals are pending with regional information commissioners. In Pune region alone, nearly 2,000 appeals are pending with me.

How has the bureaucracy taken to RTI?

I have been in this post for barely 3-4 months and what I see is the misuse of power by government officials on a large scale. There are cases where one person's land has been transferred to someone else without the consent or knowledge of the owner. Such people are struggling for 12-14 years to get an explanation. The government machinery replies that the transfer was at the owner's request and the papers are missing! What's the use of getting this information after 10 years? The law needs to be given a human face because it is all about empowering the common man. The bureaucracy is not sensitive to human suffering.

The RTI Act was created to empower the common man and force public institutions to be transparent and accountable. Has that happened?

These objectives are being met to some extent, but it is too early to comment as only two years have passed since it came into force. In terms of modifications, i feel that the Act must insist that people give reasons for seeking information. In some cases you find that people have ulterior motives in demanding information. There must be compulsion or penalty provision on the first appellate authority if he does not act on an appeal. The government must compulsorily involve senior officials in RTI work and not allow heads of public institutions to shirk responsibility.
There is no corrective mechanism to deal with information received through RTI. A number of public causes would be served better if we can ensure corrective action in a specific time frame.

Will the information officers, appellate authorities and commissioners become another paper-pushing bureaucracy?

This will not happen if the heads of public institutions become more sensitive and if the information commissioners are firm. Activists using RTI are quite vigilant today. The more public awareness is created, the more will the people ensure that the Act is not tampered with or diluted.

Q&A: 'Corrective mechanism to deal with RTI info needed'-Editorial-Opinion-The Times of India