Gandhinagar, November 1: Devised to bring transparency in administration and governance, the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005 is in fact becoming an effective grievance redressal tool in the hands of public suffering official apathy. A proactive office of the State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) is helping send across the message to government functionaries to fall in line or be ready to face penalties.

In two months of taking charge, the new SCIC, R N Das, has slapped more than 40 show-cause notices as to why authorities should not be penalised for delay or denial of providing information. Das has also slapped considerable fines in two cases, one related to the Office of Stamps and Valuation in Rajkot, and the other on Visnagar Municipality.

“The idea is to make decision-making authorities in various departments take note of the consequences of taking RTI Act lightly. In the present scenario, junior officiers designated as Public Information Officers or their assistants become scapegoats in case of any action against the departments,” Das says.

In an example of how sternly the message is being sought to be conveyed, the State CIC not only asked the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) to furnish information sought by an applicant on encroachment, his order also asked the public authority to publish and adequately publicise the statutory powers vested in it and its officers for the removal of illegal constructions on public land as well as private land meant for common use.

The verdict ends with a threat of action under Section 20 of the RTI Act that calls for penalty in case the authority fails to act.

One, the APIO of VMC failed to respond in the mandated 30 days on the application of one Bharat Acharya, who had sought information related to encroachments on common and public land in some residential societies of Vadodara in November 2005. Acharya’s appeal against denial of information too was responded to by the APIO rather than the appellate authority.

Das says that this is happening in many cases: “The scope, significance and implementation of RTI Act is yet to be understood completely. In fact, authorities at the district level and below it need to be sternly told to RTI is meant to strengthen the common man, and delaying or denial tactics are futile.”

In yet another instance of proactive verdict under RTI Act, on October 5, Das asked the Panchmahals District Panchayat to make changes in its system of keeping records to make access to information quicker.

This was apart from a penalty notice under Section 20 of the Act that was slapped owing to the delay by the panchayat in supplying the information sought by applicant Pradeep Shah.

Under RTI Act, SCIC gets the whip cracking