October 22, 2021 11:12:57 am
Following Telangana Chief Secretary’s directions to public information officers (PIOs) to take permission from their respective principal secretaries and department heads before furnishing information under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, Hyderabad-based think tank Forum For Good Governance (FGG) urged Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan’s intervention in recalling the order.
The official order, dated October 13, is being criticised by RTI activists as well as former bureaucrats. Tagging the Chief Minister’s Office, Minister KT Rama Rao and Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, former IAS officer A Murali tweeted that “the government wants to operate in the dark and hide everything from the citizens.”
“…certain administrative units or offices are furnishing information to the applicants in a routine manner without proper verification of the records with reference to the information sought for by the application,” read the order which directed the special chief secretaries, principal secretaries and heads (HODs) to instruct PIOs to obtain orders from them before furnishing information to any applicant under the RTI Act.
@SomeshKumarIAS @TelanganaCMO @KTRTRS This is an atrocious act of Telangana Govt , curbing the rights given to the citizen by RTI . This means Govt wants to operate in dark and hide everything from citizens ? pic.twitter.com/f15Z3frBEs
— Murali (@muraliaku) October 19, 2021
According to M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of FGG, the order if implemented will further delay the process of getting information, besides burdening the bureaucracy. For example, if a citizen wants to know of the work done and the amount spent in his village under the employment guarantee scheme, he will file an RTI application with the village Panchayat Secretary who cannot write to the Special CS or the HOD directly. He will have to make a request to the Mandal Officer, who in turn will need to forward it to the District Panchayat Officer. An application will have to cross four levels, increasing the workload at each stage, Reddy explained in his petition to the governor.
The PIOs shall either provide information or reject it within thirty days of receipt of the request, said Reddy, adding that this was the discretion of the PIO and allowed for its independent functioning. “The Supreme Court of India has upheld the discretionary powers and independent functioning of PIO. The said order of the Chief Secretary is against Sec 7 (1) of RTI Act. The Chief Secretary of a state cannot meddle with the Act passed by Parliament of India,” he added.
According to FGG, if any PIO is routinely providing information, they should be trained instead of taking away their independence and discretionary powers. The organisation requested the governor to direct the chief secretary to withdraw the contentious order.
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