In the past six years,as many as 226 public information officers (PIOs) have been fined ranging from Rs 250 to Rs 25,000 by the Pune bench of the State Information Commission (SIC) for delay in providing information to RTI applicants. Collectively,a fine of around Rs 37 lakh was imposed on officers.
Though the RTI Act came into being eight years ago,the SIC bench in Pune was set up in 2007. It covers Pune,Satara,Sangli,Kolhapur and Solapur. The information to an RTI applicant is to be provided in 30 days. For each days delay,a fine of Rs 250 is imposed on PIOs. Up to 100 days delay,the fine is Rs 25,000. The State Information Commissioners have the power to impose a fine of maximum Rs 25,000.
In the initial years,it seems the SIC bench was,as RTI activists say,soft towards sloppy PIOs. The figures speak for themselves. In the first year (2007),only 19 PIOs were fined for failing to provide information within the stipulated 30 days. In 2008,36 PIOs were fined and in 2009,the figure came down to 30.
However,in the next two years,the SIC bench headed by Vijay Kuvlekar came down hard on PIOs taking RTI Act for granted. It pulled up 62 PIOs in 2010 and in 2011,51 officers faced its fury.
However,2012 has been one of the worst from the point of view of RTI activists in Pune zone. The SIC bench headed by M H Shah punished 28 PIOs. But Shah said he took charge only in July 2012. After Kuvlekar retired,there was no State Information Commissioner for four-five months. Thats why the number is down, he said.
RTI activists claim that PIOs are getting away without being punished despite delaying the information and trying to confuse the information-seekers.
The SIC bench has not punished PIOs the way they should have. Because of this,PIOs are getting emboldened to provide wrong and confusing information. Instead of the stipulated 30 days,now they are taking anything from six months to one year to provide information,defeating the very purpose for which the law was enacted, said RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.
Another activist Vihar Dhurve said,First the PIOs delay the information,then the first appeal take months to come up for hearing and the second appeal before the SIC bench takes years. Though the Act empowers the common man,the system in place is frustrating him, he said.
In the SIC Pune bench,there are 5,604 second appeals pending. This means,first an RTI applicant seeks information,which is rejected. Then he makes a second appeal and subsequently goes for the third appeal. The system should be such that the applicant should get information after submitting the first application itself, said Dhurve.
Kumbhar alleged the current SIC bench instead of taking action,sends back the RTI applicant to the first appellant authority. Which means the RTI applicant again has to join the queue. The first appellant authority then becomes cautious in discharging the application, said Kumbhar.
However,Shah said he is
only following the norms laid down by the higher courts while fining the PIOs. I have to follow the procedure. There is no delay in passing orders from our end,neither are we going soft on PIOs, he added.