As reported by Imphal Free Press on on 17 February 2008:
Information commissioner raps PIOs for denying information under RTI :: KanglaOnline ~ Your Gateway

Information commissioner raps PIOs for denying information under RTI

IMPHAL, Feb 17: The chief information commissioner, Manipur, RK Angousana, today expressed disquiet over the misinterpretation of the exemption clauses in the Right to Information Act 2005 by public information officers, PIOs, in the state, which had posed obstacles in the way of access to information by the public.

The chief information commissioner, giving the inaugural speech in a workshop on the Right to Information, held today at the conference hall, of the Institute of Cooperative Management, Lamphelpat noted that the RTI Act which came into force on October 12, 2005 aims at setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.

In the last two years, he said, it is felt that the public information officers in different public offices are misinterpreting the exemption clause in RTI (section 8(1)), to deny information.

He also noted that applicants were often harrassed in different ways while seeking information.

The Right to Inforation Act is one of the most important acts and prevalence of corruption in various government departments can be wiped out only when the people know how to use the Act properly.

At the same time, the Act exists only in paper in Manipur and no sincere effort has been made by the government to implement the Act in all the government departments, he lamented.

If the Act is implemented in a proper way and properly used by the public, it is possible to ensure transparency and accountability of government, he said, and pointed out that under the RTI we have the right to inspect government files and records and take notes or extracts, we can seek and receive certified copies of government records, we can inspect on the spot, public works such as construction of roads and buildings, and we can even seek and receive copies of information held in electronic format.

Therefore every individual in Manipur, including lawyers and the RTI activists should join hands in the endeavour to make RTI Act work better in the state, he said.

Wahengbam Joykumar, RTI activist, spoke of the obstances faced by RTI activist while seeking information under RTI Act in Manipur.

From the government side, he noted, these include threatening and harassment of RTI applicants, irresponsibility of the PIOs in their concerned assigned duties, denial of entry to the office of the PIOs, unreasonable blanket exemption, eg police, jail, etc and inadequate and distorted supply of information.

On the public side, he noted, people are not aware of the Act, or do not understand the RTI`s utility and benefits. They are also reluctant to use the Act, depending only on local newspapers to air their grievances. People don`t trust the government and its public authorities and servants

Fear psychosis in the midst of conflict in the state and individual personal risk were also obstacles, he said.

He said these obstacles can be sorted out if we understand RTI act properly and governemnt give cooperations. The right to seek and receive information that an MP or MLA can seek from the government has become a fundamental right and government bodies have a duty to give it to us.

Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar, advocate, spoke on how to use RTI Act effectively and ways and means to overcome obstacles.

He observed that lakhs of people across India are using the RTI Act to hold the government accountable, and we can use our right to information to shape the country`s progress.

Under the RTI Act, we can seek and receive information from any government office, be it our local village council or municipality or even the office of the President of India. PIOs have been appointed in all Central and state government offices to deal with information requests received from citizens. Every PIO has a duty to provide our access to government records and documents and if any information cannot be given, he or she has a duty to tell us why, he said.

Apart from information that public authorities are required to give us on their own, we have the right to seek and receive other information which may be in the form of records, documents, memos, emails, circulars, file notings, advice, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples etc.

The PIO does not have the right to ask us why we need the information, and we have the right to seek the information without giving any explanation to any officer

If the information we request relates to the life and liberty of any person, then the PIO has a duty to give it to us within 48 hours, he further noted.

However, the PIO may refuse to give us information if disclosure will harm the sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic or economic interests of India, if disclosure may provoke anybody to commit a crime, and if it is personal information and no public interest is served by disclosing it.

He said if PIOs refuse to receive application, or provide the information sought within the time limit, or destroy the records whose copies had been requested, the public has the the right to file an appeal with the same public authority within 30 days and to make a second appeal with the appropriate information commission if we do not receive a satisfactory decision from the appellate authority.

He also observed that the information commission has the power of a civil court to conduct inquires into our complaints. If the PIO or any other officer is found guilty of wrongdoing under the RATI Act then the Information Commission can impose a penalty of Rs. 250 per day up to a miximum of Rs. 25,000, he further pointed out.

The RTI workshop today was organised by Human Rights Law Network in association with Centre for Organisation, Research and Education.