Seeking information under the Right To Information (RTI) Act in Karnataka has just got tougher, as the State government has found a Supreme Court order a convenient tool to delay providing information under the law.
Gone are the days when the Public Information Officers (PIOs) were bound to provide information within 30 days as laid down in the RTI Act, 2005. Under the new scheme of things, it will take an applicant a minimum of 75 days or more to elicit information from any department.
The Supreme Court ordered on December 12, 2011 that the applicant who is denied information even after 30 days should first approach the First Appellate Authority (FAA) in the department concerned and file a complaint before knocking the doors of the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC).
Armed with the order, the Karnataka government came out with a new arrangement, which provides an extra 45 days of grace period to the PIO. Any person who is denied information by the PIO within 30 days will be required to file a complaint with the FAA and wait for 45 days more. If his case is not heard even then, the applicant may approach the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC).
The amendment to the rules has not been gazetted, but is just “a re-interpretation of the existing RTI Act in the light of the Supreme Court order,” according to a source in the law department.
None in the government approached could explain why a PIO is given 30 days’ time while the FAA is graced with 45 days’ time.
Deafening silence greeted queries on why an applicant should wait for 75 days.
Worse, under the new scheme of things, only the public information officer, and not the FAA, will be held accountable in the event of denial of information to the applicant even after 75 days of wait.
Information Commissioner J S Virupakshaiah told Deccan Herald, “The new arrangement has been made based on the Supreme Court’s December 12, 2011 judgment, which asks the applicant to approach the First Appellate Authority before going to the Information Commission.
Only the PIO and not the First Appellate Authority will be held accountable for denying information and accordingly the penalty up to Rs 25,000 will be levied only on the PIO.”
The RTI Act, 2005, clearly says that a PIO “on receipt of a request under section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within 30 days of the receipt of the request, either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in sections 8 and 9.”
Yet the Information Commission did not find any contradiction in the ‘re-interpretation’ of the RTI Act, 2005.
The government may have shown agility in preparing a new rule, but it has not bothered about designating the FAA in each section of every government department, resulting in people running from pillar to post to get the desired information.To further discourage an applicant, there is a backlog of some 12,000 cases in the KIC.
The impact is quite evident at the KIC where dozens of complainants come from far-flung areas in the State every day, only to return home empty-handed. On Friday, one such visitor was Linge Gowda of Huliyurdurga in Kunigal taluk of Tumkur district.
He had sought information about some land records from the district and taluk panchayats, but did not get information within the stipulated 30 days. He subsequently approached the KIC only to learn that he will have to return and look for an FAA in his district.
An irritated Gowda then wrote down the announcement on the notice board. He said he would publish pamphlets on the change and distribute them in his taluk.