RTI needs effective execution in Himachal

There is an increasing awareness on the Right to Information Act (RTI) in the state, but the state government seems to have closed its eyes on the arbitrary functioning of the departments, boards and other statutory bodies of the state government. The problems in effective implementation and spreading awareness about the RTI are manifold. There is no uniform postal fee in the state to provide information, no display-boards set-up in the offices highlighting necessary information related to the RTI like the names of public information officers and above all no single window system to deposit requisite fee in the treasury or in the concerned office.

To look into the matter, The Tribune applied for information to the public relations department, the Kangra Red Cross Society and the Dharamsala Municipal Council. In the absence of uniform rates, all the three organisations demanded a different fee as postal charges. Surprisingly, Red Cross demanded Rs 200 as postal fee for the information, in addition to the fee for printed/typewritten cost of material. The public relations department and the Municipal Council of Dharamsala demanded Rs 40 and Rs 30, respectively.

Undoubtedly, the demand for high fees will keep applicants away from seeking information under RTI. Also, often the public information officers return back the applications with queries regarding the period for which the information is sought or simply stating that the desired information is not related to their office. All of the above seem to be unwarranted excuses for delaying or denying the information.

Ajay Bhardwaj, a local activist involved in creating awareness on RTI, alleged that in most cases he had seen common people running from one floor to another in the local secretariat to get information about the RTI, but failing to do so as they were not allowed to meet any senior official. It may be mentioned that Bhardwaj has set an example in the state by pursuing the illegal construction of a hotel at McLeodganj through the RTI. Later, he got the case moved to the Supreme Court for demolition of the illegal construction. The Union government has cancelled the permission granted and the construction work has been stopped on the site. In many other cases the chief commissioner of the state also imposed a fine on the officials on account of denying information to the people.

The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Himachal PLUS