IN a move that may significantly expedite responses to Right to Information (RTI) queries, the state government has directed public information officers (PIOs) to communicate the additional fees — which the applicant has to pay to get the information — within 10 days of receiving the RTI petition. If implemented properly, this will curb the practice followed by a majority of PIOs, who tend to send the communication only by the end of the one-month deadline to supply the information.
The General Administration Department (GAD) issued the government resolution on Friday, after the State Information Commissioner for Konkan Region, T F Thekkekara, passed a directive, asking the state government to take the steps necessary to provide information to the applicant within the time-frame, as mandated by the RTI Act, as well as to avoid additional financial burden on the public exchequer, as applicants often ask for the information for free if it’s not provided within 30 days.
On August 9, 2017, while hearing a second appeal filed by an RTI applicant, Thekkekara had observed that PIOs tend to wait for 30 days after receiving the application, before dispatching the letter about the additional fees, and requesting the applicant to deposit photocopying charges to obtain the information.
“They use simple post instead of speed post. As a result, the applicant doesn’t get the information within 30 days of applying and as per Section 7 (6) of RTI Act, he’s entitled to get the information free of cost. This unnecessarily puts the financial burden, of making and supplying the copies, on the public exchequer,” observed Thekkekara. He also directed the additional secretary of GAD to ask all the PIOs to send the communication, conveying the additional fee that the applicant needs to pay, within 10 days of receiving the application.
While hearing a separate second appeal on August 11 2017, SIC Thekkekara had asked the GAD to direct all the state government departments to make budgetary allocations for the expenditure on speed post, which is used to send communication and information to RTI applicants.
“The Commission has noticed that since there’s no separate fund allocation to spend on postal charges for RTI correspondence, it’s hampering the process of supplying information. Hence, all the department and regional offices of the government should be directed to earmark separate funds for this purpose within three months of this order,” reads the order by Thekkekara.
Citing these two orders by the SIC, Konkan, the GR stated, “Every Public Information Officer should convey to the applicant the additional fee, along with the number of pages and postal charge, by using the speed post within 10 days of receiving the application. Also, all the government bodies should carry out a review of the postal correspondence to find out the average spend and earmark funds to meet the needs.”
RTI activists termed it a welcome move, but expressed scepticism on whether it would be implemented by government offices. Vihar Durve, who often uses the Act, said, “It’s a good move as it aims to curb the practice adopted by almost all the CPIOs, to delay the information. However, I’m really doubtful if it would be implemented effectively. Even before this, the government had issued such directives about conveying the email ID and phone numbers of the PIO and Appellate Authority to the applicant, or taking cognisance if any PIO is found involved in corruption. But nothing has happened. Until and unless fines are imposed on the PIO, they don’t comply.”