RTI Act plea shows SICs ill-equipped
As reported in The Pioneer on New Delhi on 21/03/2008
When Rajya Sabha MP MV Mysura Reddy set out to seek information under RTI Act from the implementing agencies - State Information Commissions - little did he realise that law enforcers could become law breakers. Out of the 26 commissions he sought information from, 17 did not even acknowledge his applications.
This is not all. Even the nine commissions that responded either complained of lack of funds and staff or did not furnish the complete information in the required format. Dr Reddy started his quest for information in January. He sought information on several aspects including how many cases were pending, complaints received, action taken against errant officials. Two months down the line, only a handful of States have responded. Even these replies have revealed what the common man has to go through to exercise his right to information.
Sample this: Himachal Pradesh asked Dr Reddy to deposit Rs 65 (including Rs 25 registered post charges) if he needed the information. This is when there were no photocopies of documents sought. According to RTI rules, the States can charge money to provide photocopies of files or documents sought. Himachal Pradesh is the only State that asked for this sum.
Maharashtra, which had notified its Act in October 2005, has given a meticulous and proper reply. Apart from Maharashtra, no other State was willing. Goa and Kerala openly admitted to facing a "shortage of staff" problem. Despite the rule that the applicant can seek information on a plain sheet of paper, Orissa returned the application asking Dr Reddy to apply in a particular format on Form A, which was attached.
While Tamil Nadu made a half-hearted attempt at providing information, it made no bones about the fact that the reply was not in the format asked for. The reply clearly said: "We have to concentrate on providing information expeditiously and dispose the cases as quickly as possible and we have stuck to this procedure right from the beginning." However, the SIC did not provide any data at all and vague replies have been given. Similarly, Punjab SIC has simply stated: "Please refer to our website" in several questions.
Dr Reddy said: "The Information Commissions seem to have become a rehabilitation centre for retiring officers. As a Rajya Sabha MP I have the privilege of writing a letter and seeking information and the officers must reply to me. But here most commissions have not even bothered to acknowledge." Dr Reddy has already written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue and is now planning to move a Private Members Amendment Bill in Parliament to make RTI Act more stringent.