The 11th annual report of the State Information Commissinerate (SIC) draws attention to possible “misuse” of the RTI Act by certain users. While the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appeallate Authorities (AAs) have been speaking about the issue, this perhaps would be the first annual report when the Commissionerate has admitted to such a “misuse”.
While talking about RTI in the state, the report draws attention to various cases, which, it states, amounts to misuse of the law. “The various benches of the SIC have come across cases of a single person filing multiple appeals. Similarly, there have been cases of misuse of the financial leeway given to below the poverty line applicants. Misuse of the RTI Act has been noticed in some instances and it is the duty of social organisations and activists to take cognition of the same and devise measures to stop it,” the report reads.
According to officials of the PIOs and AAs, the modus operandi of such applicants is simple — file multiple applications about the same issue, go into appeal and then go for a second appeal. Officials say people then approach them for ‘settlement’. In certain cases, officials in public welfare departments receive several such applications.
The annual report calls upon RTI users and NGOs to take measures to curb such misuse.
However, former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi says such misuse constitutes 1-2 per cent of the total applications. “Like other laws, RTI, too, is prone to misuse but, as it is RTI, I think the focus falls more on it,” he adds.
Gandhi says that the easiest way to deal with such a situation is to put RTI applications and their answers online.
“In case the applications are made online, every one will know who the serial offenders are and in a way it will act as a deterrent to such applications,” he adds. At present, says Gandhi, the practice has been implemented in the municipal corporations of Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayander and Greater Mumbai. “We have found that Pune Municipal Corporation had a similar system but they junked it later, “ he adds. The problem, he says, is that the government agencies do not want to take the extra step.
Prahlad Kachre, former incharge of the RTI training centre at Yashada, had a similar suggestion. “There is resentment from the officers about RTI but the only way to escape such misuse is to increase the suo motu declaration,” says Kachre.