Ten years of RTI: Information officers, seniors grapple with basics of law

The recently-released report, which analyses the RTI trends in the state, slams the government agencies in no uncertain manner about the level of knowledge of these officials.

Written by Partha Sarathi Biswas | Pune | Published:October 31, 2016 12:40 am

The Right to Information (RTI) Act is often hailed as the most important piece of legislation for empowering the common citizen, but its very existence in Maharashtra seems to be under threat.

According to the 10th annual report of the State Information Commission (SIC), a major challenge facing the implementation of the RTI Act is “ignorance” about the landmark legislation among public information officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AAs).

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The recently-released report, which analyses the RTI trends in the state, slams the government agencies in no uncertain manner about the level of knowledge of these officials.

“It is observed that majority of the PIOs and AAs are ignorant on how to deal with RTI applications or how to provide information. Also, the orders of the AA are often ignored,” stated the report.

Both PIOs and the AAs play a crucial role in implementing the RTI Act. The PIO is the first line of contact with the common man, and the officer has to deal with RTI applications seeking information on numerous issues.

In case the PIO fails to provide information on time or the applicant is not satisfied with the information provided, the AA — often a senior officer in the department — steps in.

The Appellate Authority can conduct hearings on the matter and give directions which have to be followed. If the applicant is still dissatisfied, he/she can move the State Information Commission for a second appeal hearing. But due to the high rate of pendency, it is a time-consuming process and it often takes two or more years for hearings to take place.

Currently, there are 38,441 cases pending before the seven benches of the SIC in Maharashtra. RTI users in the
state have often complained about denial of information on frivolous grounds.
The main cause of the problem is the increasing number of PIOs and AAs in the government offices, said RTI activist
Vivek Velankar.

“When the Act was first introduced, there were fewer PIOs and AAs, and most of them were senior officers who implemented the Act seriously. Now, the number of PIOs and AAs has increased, which has taken a toll on the quality of implementation of the Act,” he said.

The state government had 78,297 PIOs and 24,274 AAs, according to the 10th annual report.

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  1. M
    manoj kamra
    Nov 1, 2016 at 2:28 pm
    Entirely unsatisfied with this article on RTI implementation. It is not ignorance of RTI among PIO/AA but malafied training being repeatedly given in officers training schools of rejection of rti applications.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; The main emphasis for applicants must be given on entirely ignored role of first appellate authority by repeatedly requesting him to deliver pointwise speaking order as per DoPT circular on disposal of first appeals of 2008 (14pages having para 38,41 esp important). First appellate authority can never be exempted from his liability of delivering of pointwise speaking order (even if not willing to deliver to hide corruption)------ So more than half pendency at commissions in second appeals will vanish.
    Reply
  2. P
    Praveen Sakhuja
    Oct 31, 2016 at 5:14 am
    If we talk of Centre (CIC) , it is more worse than states. IC tutor the PIO's how to conceal the information if PA requires so. PIO very bluntly claims "the information is not in records", so the FAA endorses. The role of IC is similar, he further pushes the issues stating PIO is not required to invent the information or import or create. Gone the days when PIO and PA were afraid of Section 18 and 20. IC's have tutored the PA that if you support your PIO, no authority can force to implement the decision of CIC/SIC. PIO declares bonafide citizen, seeking information related to financial and administrative scams as vindictive on frivolous and lame excuses, and get support of FAA and then IC. With the page of time, Act is loosing its significance in eyes of an ordinary citizen. It is only those information seekers who can afford dragging PA into court of law get preference, others are lucky if they get the information as per provisions of the ACT.
    Reply