Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday stressed the need for transparent, timely and trouble-free information access in his speech at the national convention in New Delhi to mark 10 years of RTI Act, activists say the apathy of central and state governments in ensuring effectively implementation of the Act continues to be a problem.
However, despite the “negativity” shown by the officialdom, the enthusiasm among RTI activists and applicants has “remained unaffected” in a decade of the existence of the Act.
In states like Maharashtra or in cities like Pune, the RTI Act continues to be what activists describe as the “potent tool” in their hands to get information and justice.
Things, however, are not as rosy as RTI activists and applicants would like them to be. Officials seem to be sparing no effort to deny information to the RTI applicants. Either the information is delayed or partially given, or is given in such a manner that an average applicant is left befuddled while trying to make sense of what has been provided and what was sought.
This, say top RTI activists, is a countrywide phenomenon. Also, the RTI Act is diluted by the rising pendency of second appeals made before the State Information Commissioners, besides denial of information and delays.
In Maharashtra, till Friday, over 24,000 second appeals have been pending. In Pune, 6,500 appeals have been pending before the single-judge SIC bench.
Raviraj Phalle, Deputy Secretary at the SIC bench, said,”Delay in information is not a major problem as the officials fearing penalty provide information within the stipulated time. But we have noticed that applicants do not get the kind of information they are looking for. Incomplete or improper information is provided, which results in appeals,” he said.
Acknowledging that there was high pendency of cases, Phalle said,”The SIC bench in Pune is doing its best to dispose of the cases as quickly as possible. In a day, at least 30 cases are disposed of.”
Phalle, however, said though the Act came into being 10 years ago, the Pune bench of the SIC was set up only in 2007. “We also had problems regarding appointments of commissioners, resulting in delay in dispensing justice,” officials at the SIC bench said.
Vijay Kumbhar, who heads the Surajya Sangharsh Samiti, said it was a fact that RTI applicants were not getting proper information from bureaucrats. “Either irrelevant information is provided or facts are kept hidden. It seems all attempts are made to discourage and tire out applicants so that they do not pursue the issue,” said Kumbhar.
Sachin Godambe, another RTI activist, said threats were also common too applicants. “An RTI activist risks his life when he seeks to unravel the truth in official functioning. After he makes an application, he gets direct and indirect threats,” he said.
Despite the negative atmosphere, Kumbhar said, the enthusiasm among RTI activists, regular applicants and ordinary citizens had not dimmed one bit. “Even threats have now deterred activists,” he said.