THE POWER to penalise erring officials by far is the most potent weapon with the information commissioner to ensure the proper implementation of the RTI Act. However, this very power is under threat in Maharashtra, with only 14 per cent of the total fines being realised from the salaries of the officers whom the State Information Commissioners (SIC) had levied penalties on.
In case a Public Information Officer (PIO) or an Appellate Authority (AA) fails to provide information within stipulated time or fails to give required information, the SIC has the power to fine such officer. The maximum quantum of the fine is set at Rs 25,000 with the RTI Act stipulating that the fine would be recovered from the salaries of the officers fined. Compliance of the the same has to be provided to the SIC’s offices. The ‘Damocles sword of fine’ is the most important provision in the Act, which makes sure officers follow the stipulated time period in the Act to provide information.
The 9th Annual report of the State Information Commission shows that last year the total quantum of fine levied on errant officials was Rs 42, 37,00. The compliance report about the realisation of the fines showed only Rs 6,14,500 was recovered. Terming this a matter of serious concern, the SIC’s report said, “The responsibility of recovering the fines from the salaries of the PIOs and AAs is with the Pay and Accounts officers of the respective offices. It is their duty to see to the compliance of the fines is carried out in totality.”
Annual reports of the previous years have also talked about similar non compliance. For the year 2013, the total quantum of fine slapped was Rs 56,11,000 while the total fine slapped during 2012 was Rs 38,08,500, major portions of both were unrecovered. The Annual report of the SICs have been making reference to the non recovery of the fines and termed it as a serious impediment to the implementation of the RTI Act.
City-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said, the SICs themselves can ensure the compliance of their order without depending on the Pay and Accounts officers. “Under the RTI Act, the SICs can recognise the head of the office as a public authority. It is the duty of the Public Authority to ensure that all orders passed by the SIC is followed,” he said. Kumbhar said the reluctance of the SICs to do so was one of the main reasons the fines levied were not recovered from the salaries of the fined officers.