State information commissioners (SICs) seem reluctant to use one of the most potent tools that has been made available to them to make Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AAs) comply with RTI guidelines.
SICs have been granted the powers to impose fines on erring officials. The fines imposed is deducted from the salary of the officials.
Data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveals that in 2014 fines were imposed in less than 10 per cent of the second appeals filed before SICs.
Data from several SIC offices in the state, shows that the number of officials fined had gone down as compared to the figures in 2013.
The maximum fine imposed by the SICs on PIOs and AAs is Rs 25,000. They are fined if they are found to have failed to adhere to provisions of the RTI Act.
In 2014, the Nashik SIC bench fined 131 officers and which is the highest so far in the state. The Nagpur SIC bench imposed fines on just seven officials, the lowest figure in the state. For a long time, the Nagpur bench did not have a full-time SIC and it was attributed to low rate of disposal of cases and poor imposition of fines. Pune bench fined only 14 officers.
Amravati imposed fines on 49 officials, Aurangabad on 98, Brihanmumbai 54 and Nashik 33. An analysis of fines imposed show that Rs 55,000 Pune SIC bench imposed on erring officials was the lowest in the state. Aurangabad topped with Rs 10.38 lakh. The fines imposed on officials in Amravati, Brihanmumbai, Nashik, Nagpur (lowest) and Konkan were Rs 3.25 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, Rs 8.12 lakh, Rs 75,000 and Rs 7.77 lakh respectively.
Comparison of the annual report 2013 submitted by the Information Commissioner’s office shows that in certain cases, the number of officials on whom fines were levied had gone down.
In 2013, the Nashik SIC imposed fines on 203 officials, the Pune SIC fined 62 officials, Aurangabad SIC fined 75 officers and Brihanmumbai SIC fined 14 officers.
Former central information commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi said the SIC had to satisfy itself that there was inordinate delay in giving information sought through the RTI route. “Proving it becomes tough at times. However, fines are a very important provision in the Act and if SICs do not impose fines, officials would not fear not adhering to norms of the RTI Act. On an average, SICs should impose fines in 70-100 cases to maintain an equilibrium,” he said.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar raised doubts on the hesitation of SICs to impose fines.
Kumbhar says, “It is clear that they are deliberately not imposing fine on officials. And why would they fine somebody who had earlier worked with them or under them?”
Kumbhar said the appointment of SICs itself raises questions. He said, “SICs who worked as district collectors or divisional commissioners before their retirement are being appointed as state information commissioners in the same area where they have served earlier. Why would they fine officials who worked as their juniors?”
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