Waiting for a Page

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Why wait for a month to get one page doc under RTI ? Government officials misinterpreting RTI law by making applicants wait for 30 days !

By Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

RIGHT to Information Act 2005 (RTI) is in operation for more than 15 years now. After so many years of enactment of this act, the citizens are made to believe that  after filing an application under RTI, the information seeker has to wait for 30 days to get the response. This is not the case at all. To know about the time period for disposal of request by the designated Public Information Officer (PIO), we need to go through section 7 of RTI Act 2005 which reads as:

“Subject to the proviso to sub-section (2) of section 5 or the proviso to sub-section (3) of section 6, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be on receipt of a request under section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty 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. Provided that where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the request “

Explanation 

During the last 15 years, I along with my colleagues have filed hundreds of RTI applications before state and central Government organizations.  We hardly came across a single case wherein the designated state or central Govt officer provided the information within a week or 10 days. Even if the information consists of a single page document only and the same is very much available with the PIO , the officer still dispatches it to the RTI applicant on 28th or 29th day. This is because an officer believes that  he is supposed to provide information after a month.Those who drafted this act incorporated the 30 days provision of responding to RTI requests for such cases wherein information is to be created or collected from other sections of the office. Unfortunately, even our educated people well versed with law don’t carefully go through the provisions of the RTI Act. We have been made to believe that one can get the information under the RTI Act 2005 only after a 30 days time period which is not true at all.

An information which has to be prepared, collected, typed, photocopied has to be provided after two or three weeks time. We cannot force an officer (PIO) to provide this information within a week or ten days, but the designated PIO is grossly violating RTI Act 2005 if they dispatch some official circulars or orders after 25 or 26days when the same is readily available in his office ? Why shall he wait for four weeks to send Information to the RTI applicant  ? Why has then the word, “as expeditiously as possible”  been incorporated in the RTI law  ?

Why make delays?

Why shall RTI applicants be made to wait for 30 days to get the beneficiary list under rural or urban housing scheme for poor under the PM Awas Yojna (PMAY-Gramin / Urban) or the list of MG-NREGA works executed in a village or money utilized on a road project or a school building or beneficiary list under PM-KISAN scheme ? In-fact, these details have to be made  proactively available in the concerned Government offices under section 4 (1) (b) of RTI Act 2005 and not dispatching it within few days or even after a week’s time is an open violation of RTI Act 2005 and Information Commission must penalize the erring PIOs for making unnecessary delays. The aim of subsuming this very term in the RTI Act is to ensure fast disposal of RTI applications and not implementing this legal term is itself a violation of this act.

For even a single paged document, the Government officers have a habit of dispatching  it to the information seeker (RTI applicant) only after completion of 25 to 30 days.  This is still appreciated by the poor information seekers , but in the majority of the cases the PIO takes more than 30 days to send the information and after abrogation of article 370 the information is not provided. I have already written a lot about it. The Deputy Commissioner’s office in Budgam hardly disposes RTI requests. The Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) who is the designated PIO in the office has sat over at least 6 RTI applications during the last 4 months. This was reported by several media outlets and I too wrote a lot on this. Mushtaq Ahmad Lone from Batwodder Bonen village in Budgam who has filed at least 4 RTI applications in the DC office Budgam in the last 5 months has not been provided any information. Mushtaq has now moved to Central Information Commission (CIC) with the 2nd appeal as his first appeals were also not disposed off by the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) , the designated First Appellate Authority (FAA) in DC office Budgam.

RTI Act 2005 section 7  says that if the information is not provided within a time frame of 30 days, no fees (Xerox charges etc) shall be collected from the information seeker. Under rules, an applicant has to pay Rs 10 as RTI application fees and Rs 2/- per page as photocopying  fees. If for example an RTI applicant wants 5000 pages of information from a Block Development Office and the concerned officer (BDO), who is the designated PIO as well fails to provide the information within 30 days , the BDO has to deliver this huge information free of cost to information seeker after the RTI applicant  files 1st appeal  or even  2nd appeal before the State (SIC) or Central Information Commission (CIC). The question arises: who shall pay Rs 10,000 (Xerox fees for 5000 pages) ?  We haven’t seen even a single officer paying this money out of his own pocket ? The officers instead get the photocopies done at the cost of public money which is directly causing a loss to the state exchequer.

Former State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) G R Sufi had issued a historic order in this regard some years back. The PIO of Directorate of Health Jammu had failed to provide information to an RTI applicant for months together. The information consisted of 118 pages and while issuing the order the CIC not only issued a penalty show cause notice against the PIO but even asked him to pay Rs 236 towards the Government.

The order reads as:

“Information was voluminous and consisted of 118 leaves thereby causing a monetary loss of Rs.236/- to the Government. This loss could have been avoided had the PIO acted in time and as per provisions of the RTI Act. Therefore, Director Health Services, Jammu is directed to look into this and see how he can recover the above said amount from the then PIO Dr. Gurjeet Singh and deposit the same in government account”

Conclusion 

By not providing information which is neither to be created nor collected as expeditiously as possible, the Public Information Officers (PIOs) are violating RTI Act 2005. This is not being taken seriously by Information Commissions as well. I know many cases wherein a simple information is needed by information seekers from Govt offices and they are made to wait for months.  The Government needs to address these issues by holding training sessions and workshops for the PIOs. The solution lies within the law itself by digitizing the official record and making this available on the website. This is explained under section 4 (1) (b) of RTI Act 2005 as well. The literal meaning of as expeditiously as possible is swift or quick; making people wait for 30 days for a one or two paged information is not reflective of this norm.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement . Feedback: [email protected]  

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