MUMBAI: The Right to Information (RTI) Act—perhaps one of the best tools in the hands of the common man—has become a pain to senior officers in the government. If they fail to respond to requests for information under the Act, they are compelled to pay a fine of Rs 25,000.
To get around the problem, the income-tax (I-T) department has started re-designating junior officers to perform the role. Until now, only the chief public information officer (CPIO) could respond to any request for information. In a recent circular, however, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), has said that junior officers at the level of assessing officers be assigned additional responsibilities as CPIOs. In the earlier dispensation, CPIOs had to be at least at the level of a commissioner, if not a chief commissioner.
"It's clearly a retrograde move. Senior officials should stay in-charge of passing information under an important Act like the RTI," said Narayan Varma, a leading chartered accountant and an active member of the RTI cell run by the Bombay Chartered Accountants Society. Shailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist, agrees. "By re-designating juniors as CPIOs, the tax department is just passing the buck which in the long run will prove very expensive."
RTI experts say senior officials should continue to play a key role especially in departments like I-T that deal with sensitive information.