So low is the awareness about the Right to Information (RTI) Act in a number of Panchayats in Haryana that most of the sarpanches, especially women, do not even know that they have been appointed public information officers (PIOs) under the Act. No wonder they were receiving few applications seeking official information.
While in urban areas, awareness has grown about the Act, which is in force in the state since October 14, 2005, the rural areas are yet to catch up, said a survey by an NGO, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA).
PRIA had recently held an orientation camp in Mahendragarh and Narnaul districts to create awareness about the RTI Act and how it could be used. The survey formed part of the orientation course, according to Krishan Kumar Tyagi, Haryana Coordinator, PRIA.
The NGO's initiative was to generate awareness among the sarpanches about their roles and responsibilities as PIOs.
The survey revealed a curious fact that even in cases where there was awareness among the sarpanches, they were not interested in becoming PIOs, as they looked upon this work as a burden and an unnecessary responsibility.
The sarpanches complained that to date, no training related to their role and responsibilities and information about the basic provisions of the Act had been provided to them by the district administration. Under the RTI Act, information must be provided as soon as possible, with upper limit being 30 days. But the sarpanches were taking full 30 days to provide it.
It was also found that the PIOs were not willing to accept applications and many of them were reported to have told the applicants that there was no need to file them, as information could be given verbally.
The district administration at both Mahendragarh and Narnaul had not taken any initiative to create awareness. Although all the blocks and district officers had put up boards indicating the names of the PIOs and the APIOs and the Appellate Authority, none of the departments had maintained the 17-item document necessary under the Act.