Where ignorance is a right

As reported by Arvind Singh Bisht, Times of India, 29 Jun 2008, TNN

LUCKNOW: The Right to Information (RTI) Act needs to be put on oxygen in Uttar Pradesh. A wake up call has almost become a necessity for even senior officials candidly admit their ignorance about the Act. Ironically, this is the situation which prevails three years after the law was enacted on June 15, 2005 by the Parliament.

What is most disturbing is that neither the chief secretary (CS) nor the director general of police (DGP) evinced any interest in creating awareness about the Act, according to the observations made in various judgments of the State Information Commission (SIC).

The most glaring example of this is the letter written by principal secretary, irrigation, Manjit Singh to secretary SIC. In his letter (2416/08-27-Singh-2-3(25)/07 dated June 18, 2008, Singh explained to the commission that the delay in granting information to one Tulisi Ballabh Gupta, general secretary, diploma engineers and architect sangh of the irrigation department, UP, was due to lack of knowledge about the necessary procedure under the RTI Act.

Under the Act, information sought by an applicant needs to be furnished by the department concerned maximum within 30 days. In the absence of it, the issue could be taken up in the first appeal to be heard by the next competent official, appointed for the purpose by the department.

However, an applicant under the Act has an option to directly approach the SIC after the expiry of 30 days deadline. But in the above case, the matter came before the commission only after the applicant approached the next competent official, who in that case was the special secretary working directly under Singh. But the said officer kept sitting over the file.

Later, he feigned ignorance about the procedure and took it as an excuse for the delay. This was also explained in his letter by Singh to the SIC.
However, taking a strong exception to this, information commissioner Gyanendra Sharma slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on the department for the delay and also conveyed his displeasure to Singh, asking him to hold refreshal courses in the RTI Act for officials working under him.

Sharma further ordered that a copy of his order should also be served to chief secretary office. "I am sure this would be an eye-opener for the chief secretary and help him evolving some method to sensitise officials in the state," Sharma observed in his order.

But what makes matters worse is that the commission has found that the CS office does not have its own website like other departments nor has it appointed its own information officer. While raising these questions, the commission has sought to know from the CS about the manner in which it deals with issues raised under the RTI Act in the absence of an information officer.

The police department, perhaps, presents the worst picture. "It's pathetic that district police chiefs have flagrantly violated the norms for giving information to the applicants under the RTI Act and also refused to comply with the order issued to this effect by the DGP," Sharma observed in his order.

Where ignorance is a right-Lucknow-Cities-The Times of India