Information still elusive for common man
Pioneer News Service | New Delhi
... even after Right to Information Act came into force two years ago

Even two years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act was introduced in India, the right remains a far cry for the common man. RTI has gradually become synonymous with waiting for an average of seven months before being heard at Central Information Commission (CIC), not being heard personally at CIC and even taking the battle to the judiciary to access information.

A case in point is that of students who have been fighting for transparency in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). It all started with the UPSC examination results in 2006. Doubting the results, some civil service aspirants applied for information on the cut-off marks under the RTI Act 2005 in August that year. Claiming this to be its "intellectual property", the UPSC refused to divulge this information. Despite an order of CIC in November last year, the UPSC has refused to give information on exact marks received by each candidate in the civil service examinations. Instead, it approached the Delhi High Court over the issue. The matter is still awaiting final order.

The aspirants have been fighting for the information for one year and two months. And it is still elusive. This is despite the fact that the State Public Service Commissions have started divulging information related to marks. RTI has been used by students in States, like Chhattisgarh, to unearth scams in civil service examinations.

A similar case is that of Muzibur Rehman who took upon himself to reveal misappropriation of funds on the part of South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL). He suspected that SECL had collected money from its employees for PM's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) but had not really deposited it.

His battle started last year in June. After hitting a roadblock when SECL did not provide full information, Rehman applied for information in the PMO in September last year. The case is pending for final hearing in CIC. As reported earlier by The Pioneer, PMO's inquiry has found that the Coal India Limited had withheld funds from PMNRF and violated rules. It has taken over a year for Rehman to get the information. Even now, his case has not been disposed of.

Experts blame CIC, which is the final appellate body under the RTI Act, for the poor implementation of the Act. An examination of appeals pending with CIC reveals that on an average an applicant has to wait at least seven months to be heard. And experts predict that at this rate, this waiting time is all set to increase to two years.

According to a survey conducted by Parivartan, an NGO, last year of 568 appeals before CIC, 309 cases were disposed of without even being heard. Neither the applicant nor the public information officer (PIO) was called in these cases. This means that over 54 per cent of the applicant were not even heard.

In certain cases, appellants still have to approach the High Courts to get a special order for a personal hearing. In case of Yoga Rangatia Vs Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the appellant had to approach the High Court for a personal hearing. Despite a pointed order by the court, CIC has still not made personal hearings mandatory.

According to RTI Rules 2005, it is up to the appellant to decide whether he wants to heard in person or in writing or not heard at all. The appeal rules lay down that it is the duty of CIC to give them an opportunity to be heard.

In a case Jaikant Gupta Vs National Project Construction company, the Delhi High Court termed the functioning of CIC as 'curious'. The High Court remanded the case back to CIC and asked the commission to start fresh hearings.

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