Panchayat, officer caught in RTI row

Alipurduar, Dec. 4: The Information Commission has severely reprimanded members of a village panchayat for violating norms under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

The incident took place in the Chaporerpar-II village panchayat area under Alipurduar Block-II.

Manik Sinha, a resident of Salsalabari in the panchayat area, had written to the secretary of the panchayat asking for the minutes of the meetings held in the panchayat between March 1, 2003, and March 15, 2006, the master plan of the panchayat for the same period and a report on the projects undertaken, an estimate of the income and expenditure of the rural body (including the bill vouchers) and details of the funds released for the financial year 2005-06.

The secretary reportedly did not even receive the application. Sinha then wrote to the block development officer (BDO) of the area but still there was no progress. He then took up the matter with R.K. Maity, the joint secretary of the Bengal panchayat and rural development department. On February 1 this year, Maity wrote to the BDO, instructing him to provide the details to Sinha. The BDO, however, failed to comply.

Then, on May 26, Sinha wrote to the secretary of the Information Commission. The commission secretary on July 12 wrote to the secretary of the panchayat stating that the body had taken serious exception to the blatant violation of the RTI provisions. He had added that the rural body faced the risk of being penalised by the commission if the information was not provided within seven days.

When the panchayat secretary failed to meet the deadline, the commission convened a hearing on October 11 at Bhavani Bhavan in Calcutta and summoned the pradhan and secretary of the panchayat, the BDO, the district panchayat officer and Sinha to it.

“It was decided that Sinha will inspect the official papers of the panchayat and take what he needs in the presence of an officer from the BDO’s office,” Nandan Roy, the secretary of the commission told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta. “Once he gets the information, we will showcause the authorities for the delay.”