'RTI: Powerful tool to stir bureaucracy'

5.16 lakh applications filed in the State, says Information Commission chairman Dr Krishna

'RTI: Powerful tool to stir bureaucracy'

“Government offices are very poor in file management. Pursuant to enactment of the RTI Act, all the offices were required to prepare a list of files at their respective offices as on October 12, 2005. However, the majority of the departments have not complied with the order. Lack of such a list has been delaying furnishing the information sought,” Dr Krishna said at an interaction on RTI Act here on Sunday.

Regretting total absence of file management mechanism in government offices, Dr Krishna felt there could be some improvement in the pathetic situation if information is sought under RTI on the files in all the offices. The officials would then resort to proper management at least to furnish the information sought, he noted.

People’s legislation
Dwelling on the advantages of the RTI Act, Krishna said earlier public virtually had to beg officials to obtain information from government offices and only some could succeed using “influence.”

However, people can now seek information as a matter of right under the Act, right from Gram Panchayat office up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. “It is a people’s legislation and should be invoked judiciously. The country gained independence in the true sense on October 12, 2005, the date of enactment of the Act,” he said.
An application seeking information from government establishments can be filed under Section 4(1) of the Act. The applicant will have to pay Re 1 per page. The initial fee of Rs 10 need not be paid. The government offices should prominently display the services/facilities they provide, the procedure to be followed for obtaining them and the name of the public information officer at their premises. The rule however, is being observed more in violation.

While officials frown at the provisions of the Act, it is their bounden duty to furnish the information sought. They have been appointed exclusively for the purpose. However, people should continue to exercise their right to information, Krishna said.
The administrative machinery has degenerated primarily on account of politicians, inept officials and poor financial management. The benefits of the government schemes are being garnered by a minuscule 2.3 per cent of the total population and the balance 97.7 per cent people are deprived of the fruits of state’s welfare measures. People appointed to serve people have been exploiting the common man. The RTI Act can help such public servants to shed colonial legacy and serve people.

Krishna disclosed that as many as 5.16 lakh applications have been filed in Karnataka so far under the Act and there has been consequential increase in the appeals before the Commission as well. It requires at least three months to dispose off the applications.
The Public Information Officer should furnish information sought within 30 days of the application. A complaint can be filed in the event of non-compliance. The PIO should explain reasons for inability to provide the information along with details of the higher authority.

The applicant can also approach the Commission directly alleging that the application has been rejected intentionally. The appeal should be accompanied with three copies of the earlier application.
As much as 75 per cent of city dwellers and 25 per cent of rural people are utilising the Act. Ninety per cent of the applicants are males, 20 per cent are Scheduled Castes, 30 per cent belong to Backward Classes and 40 per cent of applicants belong to Below Poverty Line category, he detailed.

Misuse of the Act
Referring to complaints that the Act was being misused, Krishna said the Commission cannot take any steps on such allegations. “You cannot question the purpose of seeking information. Only people can check such misuse by taking advantage of the legislation for public good.”

Krishna narrated several instances where invoking the Act compelled officials to discharge their duties.

He referred to an instance of an engineer of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike delaying to provide water connection, and a tahsildar in Kanakapura demanding money to make property khata, readily bowing down when information was sought under the Act.
The interaction was organised jointly by Bhoomi Balaga Trust, District Working Journalists Association and District Kannada Sahitya Parishat. Farmers, students, advocates and labour representatives took part in the interaction.
DH News Service

Rights and privileges
* Public offices should display the name of Public Information Officer prominently.
* Information sought should be furnished within 30 days; the deadline is 24 hours in case of emergencies.
* The PIO should write himself the application of illiterates.
* Concessional fee for applicants with annual income below Rs 12,000.
* Payment of fine for not furnishing information to be entered in the Service Register of the officer.

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