Close to their chest
As reported By SOUMEN BHATTACHARJEE in Telegraph

Samir Dey, a resident of Barrackpore, sought some information from the directorate of commercial taxes. A few days later, a North 24-Parganas police team grilled him for daring to ask questions. [Read this Related Post here...]

Sajid Kamal, a resident of Naihati, wanted to find out from Kalyani University the refund process for students filling up forms for the second-year examination without clearing the first-year examination. Instead of answering his queries, university officials threatened him.

Both Dey and Kamal, empowered by the Right to Information Act (RTIA), 2005, demanded information from two government institutions. But instead of information they got intimidation. The state information commission is receiving complaints from people like Dey and Kamal, who have faced harassment for daring to ask questions.

“In the case of Dey, we sought a report from the police. We have been told that the police visited his house following requests from some senior commercial tax officers. We are also looking into the matter of Kamal,” said Nandan Roy, the secretary of the information commission during a state-level consultation meet on the RTIA in Salt Lake on Saturday.

The meet was held at Administrative Training Institute in Salt Lake, and over 150 people — government officers, NGO representatives and information-seekers — attended the day-long programme.

“We have information that at times the officers concerned try to coax and cajole information seekers to strike a compromise deal,” said another officer of the state information commission.

The meet discussed the poor performance of Bengal in terms of parting with information. According to a nation-wide survey conducted by PRIA and funded by DFID, the Bengal government and its agencies are properly responding to only 7 per cent of queries, against a disclosure rate of over 60 per cent in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

“The culture here needs to change. Most officers think if information is sought from him or her, their official position is being challenged,” said activist Moloy Bhattacharya.

When people in villages in north Dinajpur district, covered by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, asked the panchayat secretary why they were not getting work, they were blacklisted.