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.
to say that assessing officers are junior officers may not be very correct. the assessing officers in inome tax range from an ITO to deputy commissioner who is equivalent to the rank of collector and sp of a district. they are all gazetted officers and those AOs who are assistant or deputy commissioners are employees of the President of India.
the new move should be more reasonable because while you have assessing officers in most district head quarters, commissioners are in select cities of a state. in any case, the information has to be provided by the AOs in most cases. as long as information is provided with least burden to the citizen, this arrangement should work fine and should not be treated as a retrograde step.
As for as theRTI Act is concerned why should we bother ? Let the I-T Department decide as to who should be their PIO. The more junior a CPIO the better for the information seekers as the juniors are more worried about their career, likely penalty and its consequneces. They are bound to commit more mistakes which can help an information seeker to fight his case. I feel that we should not waste our energy on such e issuea favourable to theinformation seekers.