Satish Das wants to know whether his two-room mud hut, which survived the tsunami, will be demolished soon and — if it is — where he would be relocated.

His home built on navy land on the island of Campbell Bay 15 years ago, Das has lived in fear ever since Andaman and Nicobar administration officials told him last January to start packing up.

“They told me the navy was expanding its base, damaged in the tsunami, and my house would have to go,” said the 48-year-old primary school teacher, who then filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act for more details.

Almost a year later, Das — in Delhi to urge the Central Information Commission (CIC) to set up a hearing — still has no answers.

More than 20 RTI applications from Union territories have been lying undecided before the commission for over six months.

CIC officials admit that in the same time, thousands of applications from the rest of the country have been settled.

“Whether it’s Andaman and Nicobar or Daman and Diu, the problem is uniform in Union territories,” a senior CIC official said. Chandigarh, commission officials say, is the lone exception.

Information commissioners at the Centre quietly admit the problem but put the blame squarely on the local administration. Authorities from the local bodies “just aren’t willing to take out time” for hearings — even through video conferencing — held by the information watchdog, the commission officials allege.

“Our patience is routinely stretched by the authorities in these Union territories,” an information commissioner complained. “When commonly feasible dates are sought for the hearing, local authorities only reply in time to avoid being penalised, and later come up with reasons why they can’t appear on the decided date.”

Government officials are supposed to reply to CIC queries, including deciding dates for hearings, within 15 days of being asked.

Officials in the Pondicherry women and child development department, involved in a case over an employee accusing sexual harassment by a senior official, have a completely different version.

The commission, they say, often “neglects” cases from the Union territories. “The impression we get here is that the CIC neglects cases from Union territories like Pondicherry. Cases from Delhi are more high-profile,” a former joint secretary of the Union urban development ministry, now on deputation to the Pondicherry women and child development department, said.

As for Das, commission sources say defence ministry officials were informed of the case by the Andaman administration only in December 2005 — 11 months after the original application was filed.

“It isn’t the defence ministry’s fault. The Andaman administration is responsible for the delay,” the information commissioner said, adding that a penalty may be imposed on them for not transferring the application to the ministry within 30 days — as they are supposed to under the act.
Das says he is not interested in “blaming anyone”. All he wants is the information that is rightfully his under the RTI, but which CIC officials sheepishly admit, will take some more time coming.

The Telegraph - Calcutta : Nation