INDIA: RTI activists to now act as watchdog over info panel
[ Times of India news as reported in Asia Media ]
Times of India
Saturday, February 17, 2007
By Himanshi Dhawan
New Delhi --- From Monday, applicants dissatisfied by the Central Information Commission's style of functioning will find help at hand.
A group of NGOs, including Parivartan and Delhi Right to Information Manch spearheaded by Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal, will camp outside the CIC office to record people's experiences and help them get redressal.
"In the most grave cases of injustice, we will approach the high court to get information for the ordinary people," Kejriwal said.
The information watchdog is under flak for various problems ranging from large pendency of cases to dissatisfied applicants who accuse information commissioners of dismissing their applications summarily.
When contacted, chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said he was unaware of the campaign. "I don't want to comment on the campaign. I have no idea as to the purpose behind this but let's see. It is up to them... we will continue with our work,"he said.
Some of the issues that NGOs plan to take up are the lack of transparency in proceedings besides the pending cases. According to CIC records, the number of cases as of January 2007 are 2,371.
The commission received 608 cases in January but was able to dispose of only 297. Civil society activists also feel that cases are disposed of without calling the applicant or giving people a chance to be heard.
"The commission has not issued more than 7-8 penalties despite hearing over 2,000 cases. This is a pittance and shows its huge sympathy for the bureaucracy," Kejriwal said.
NGO representatives have also complained that the scope of Section 8 of the Act or the information that is exempted from being made public has been widened while the Act itself is being restricted to a small number of issues.
Activists said that many applications had been dismissed on the basis that the information asked for was of a "fiduciary nature" or hurt the personal or institutional interests of the organisation.
NEW DELHI: For the past one week, several RTI activists have been camping outside the office of the Central Information Commission (CIC) in the capital which is slated to continue for a month. At the centre of this camp is Arvind Kejriwal, winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award. It was Kejriwal, who had spearheaded the RTI movement a couple of years ago in India.
Kejriwal and his associates are recording the experiences of the people who have filed for RTI with CIC, but have failed to get the requisite information from various government ministries and departments. Although CIC must provide the information sought within 30 days of filing the RTI, many petitioners are complaining that they have failed to get a reply even after one year or more.
The CIC has made a mockery of things, Kejriwal told DNA on Monday. By refusing to impose any penalty on the defaulters, the Commission has been reduced itself to “a paper tiger”, he argued.
On behalf of some of the grave cases which have failed to get a response from the CIC, Kejriwal wants to move the Delhi High Court.
Consider some of the cases. HK Pal sought some information from National Savings Institute, but got none even months after his RTI petition, and CIC did not impose any penalty. Ganesh Avtar failed to get any response from the ministry of sports and youth affairs despite orders from the CIC.
Although the CIC directed the Income Tax Department to provide the requisite information to Bhagat Singh in May 2006, he is yet to receive any.
Of the 2,000 RTI cases filed so far, penalty was imposed in the case of only seven. Also, the CIC is perceived as extremely slow in processing the cases. According to Kejriwal, while the Delhi High Court hears 50 cases a day, the CIC hears only about one case a day.
The CIC has a duty to impose penalty up to Rs 25,000 under the RTI Act if an officer fails to provide information in 30 days.
“However, information commissioners at the CIC have been refusing to do so, which has emboldened the officials. The officials not only ignore the RTI applications, they treat the orders of the CIC with the same contempt,” said Kejriwal.