Purna Mondal, a resident of Rajarhat, demanded to know from the local municipality, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, why he wasn’t allowed to pay property tax. Three months have passed since he posed his query but he is yet to get a reply from the municipality.

Bidyut Ghosh, who lives in Barasat, asked the magistrate of North 24-Parganas, under the RTI Act, about the transfer of a government plot to an organisation. A month has passed after the stipulated 30 days within which Ghosh was supposed to hear from the magistrate’s office, but he is still in the dark about the transfer.

Mondal and Ghosh are not the only ones whose questions to the public authorities under the RTI Act have not been answered. Hundreds have had the same experience. Many others have been provided incorrect information.

The information commission, which is supposed to conduct hearings if the applicants do not get the information sought within the stipulated time, is taking up only three to four per cent of the cases, leading to pile up of files, said officials.

“I visited the municipality several times and asked the officials why my property tax payment was not being received. When they did not answer my questions, I demanded to know the reason under the RTI Act.

According to the law, the municipality is supposed to answer within a month but the officials have not bothered to do so,” said Mondal.
He informed the commission about the situation, but to no avail.

“The infrastructure of the commission has been strengthened in the past few months. But we still get almost daily complaints about the performance of the commission,” said a senior official of the personnel and administrative reforms (PAR) department, of which the commission is a part.

The officials on the panel refused to comment on the matter.
The organisations that are campaigning to increase awareness about the benefits of the RTI Act are alarmed at the trend.

“If petitioners do not get the information they want and the commission continues to remain inactive, the RTI Act will become ineffectual,” said S. Chatterjee, a member of RTI Forum, which is dedicated to the cause of spreading awareness about the law.

Chatterjee cited several instances of the commission not penalising authorities for breaking the law.
“The Act clearly states that steps should be taken if a petitioner does not get the information he or she wants. The commissioner, instead of imposing penalties, is relaxing the rules to allow the authorities to break the law,” he said.