COVID-19 Puts a Brake on RTI Act; All 28 State Information Commissions in Limbo
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a brake on the Right To Information Act (RTI) not only because the postal department is paralysed but also because public authorities are focusing their energies on managing the coronavirus pandemic and, more importantly, because all but one of the 29 state information commissions (SICs) have closed their offices, scheduled to open only after the lock-down.
 
With the approach that transparency and accountability are indispensable during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) recently conducted a rapid telephonic survey by calling up the 28 state information commissions (SICs) and the one Central information commission (CIC). 
 
The findings reveal that all but one of the 29 information commissions established under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) have shut down, in the first and second phases of the national lock-down.  It also revealed that, while the Delhi-based CIC resumed hearings in appeal and complaint cases from 20 April 2020, its counterparts in the states are not yet functional.  
 
Shikha Chhibbar, programme officer with CHRI's access to information programme, made phone calls over five days, to all SICs across the country to find out whether they are functioning or not.  The report states:  “The CIC started working in right earnest during the first phase of the lock-down to resume case hearings on 20 April, 2020 onwards. Apart from internal consultations, it also held two rounds of external consultations with civil society advocates and former chief information commissioners about its plans for resuming work. The cause list displayed for the week beginning 20th April shows that the CIC scheduled hearings through audio conferencing in at least 337 cases. At close of business on 25th April (Friday), decisions in 279 cases had been uploaded on its website.” 
 
Last week Moneylife had carried an article on this issue. (Read: CIC Calls for Contact Updates of Appellants To Conduct Online Hearings under RTI )
 
As for the SICs, none of them is functioning and so the pendencies, which are large in most SICs, have been frozen until the lock-down ends.
 
With most SICs having ineffective RTI online application facilities, the picture of transparency under the RTI Act is even grimmer. Elaborates Venkatesh Nayak, RTI researcher and programme head, access to information programme, “the lock-down has effectively prevented citizens from filing RTI applications by post. Post offices are refusing to accept mail that requires transportation outside the same village, town or city. Few governments have put in place online RTI submission facilities like those at the Centre, and in Maharashtra and Delhi.
 
"Media reports and ad hoc helpline numbers are unable to effectively substitute the regime of transparency and accountability established by the RTI Act in which citizens play an active role as seekers of information. The COVID lock-down has turned most of the citizenry into passive consumers of information that the administration releases on a 'need to know' basis."
 
The report states that there are various issues on which transparency is mandatory during this grave pandemic crisis. Some of them on which RTI should be filed are:
 
The issue of lakhs of migrant workers being either in government or privately run camps due to quarantine restrictions or because borders between states are closed for passenger traffic. There is very little data in the public domain about their numbers and well being across the 718 districts in the country.
 
State-wise data about the movement of food grains and other essentials is available in press releases put out by the concerned departments, but there is no transparency about distribution data at the district and fair price shop level. 
 
Corona testing equipment purchased by the government is turning out to be faulty. There is hardly any detail in the public domain about the decision making process or who has been held accountable for approving purchase of poor standard testing kits. A district-wise consolidated list of COVID-19 treatment facilities is also not available for the whole country. 
 
Scores of healthcare workers are contracting COVID-19 infection amidst complaints of inadequate distribution or poor quality of personal protective equipment (PPE). Front line health care professionals are losing their lives one by one trying to save other patients. There is no information about who is being held accountable for not providing adequate protection to the country's primary line of defence against the virus. 
 
Police highhandedness in enforcing restrictions on people's movement is surfacing every day. There is no information about action taken against security personnel who beat up people, particularly the poor who are out in search of food and drinking water. Nor is there follow-up information about what the police do after arresting miscreants for attacking frontline healthcare workers. 
 
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has come as a good excuse for the government to seal the open door policy under the RTI Act. As Pune-based RTI activist, Vivek Velankar states, ``This is the time to open tenders and I would like to use RTI to know who is getting the contracts for various works in the city. In this time of the pandemic, last week the standing committee of the Pune Municipal Corporation approved beautification of traffic islands of Pune. Is this is a priority? But even if I ask under RTI, it would be seen as insensitive. We have been forced to wait until the lock-down is lifted as many questions need to be asked on governance during Covid times.’’
 
The Office Status of Various SICS (as per the CHRI Report)
 
Only the SICs of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand were open during the first phase of the lock-down, with barely one or two staffers each. A security guard answered the phone in Haryana saying that none of the staff was present during the lock-down. The Uttarakhand SIC was manned by a couple of junior level staffers who were unsure about when the SIC would resume work.
 
During the second phase of the lock-down (which is in force at the time of writing this report) nobody picked up the phone at the Uttarakhand SIC. An individual present at the office of the Haryana SIC, who did not identify himself, stated that hearings might be resumed after the lock-down ends. 
 
During the second phase of the lock-down my colleague was able to get through to the SICs in Andhra PradeshGoa, Telangana and Tamil Nadu as well. The Goa SIC had started working with a couple of junior level staffers who were unsure when hearings would resume. They said, none of the ICs nor the senior staff were attending office. Only one staffer was attending office in each of the SICs of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. All of them said they were unsure of the exact date on which the hearings would resume in their respective SICs.  Goa and Telangana SICs were being manned by a lady staffer each.
 
During the second phase of the lock-down, we learnt from a senior woman journalist of her experience with the Assam SIC. The SIC was open but the lone staffer refused to accept the second appeal which she wanted to submit. He is said to have told her that there was no certainty when the SIC would resume work. However when my colleague called up the Assam SIC office during working hours of both phases of the lock-down, nobody picked up the phone. 
 
The Odisha SIC was also closed and none of its landline numbers was functional. My colleague tried their Helpline No. advertised on their website. Nobody responded to the call.
 
In the Sikkim SIC, nobody answered the calls made to their landline numbers. When my colleague called up the mobile number of the secretary displayed on the website, a gentleman stated that he was no longer working in that position. Next my colleague called up the mobile no. of the state chief information commissioner (SCIC) shown on the website. The individual who answered the call stated that he was not the SCIC of Sikkim! He also indicated that the SIC would not resume work until the lock-down is lifted in May. The SIC's website lists the mobile telephone nos. of 32 individuals working there, starting with the SCIC down to the safai karamchari (janitor).
 
Nobody responded to the calls made to the landline numbers of other SICs during both phases of the lock-down. 
 
Five SICs, namely, those of Assam, Bihar, Goa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are headless. the state chief information commissioner's post remains vacant for the past several months in these bodies.  
 
The SICs of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh do not have functional websites either. They could not be located through any internet browser. The website of the SIC of Nagaland was functional until recently. However, it has become inactive during the lock-down period. 
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)

 

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    raviforjustice

    2 months ago

    Not unexpected. Given the lazy dogs our public servants are , with exceptions, of course.

    The processes and decisions of the information commissioners are a farce. And they are surviving only because of the even more gross failure of our judiciary. Other wise, the ICs are liable to be prosecuted under Sec 219 of the IPC and even if the courts are empathetic with the first two or three decisions gone awry, thereafter if they impose the punishment prescribed in the Act all the ICs would spent the rest of their lives behind bars.

    When, in 2017 there was a move,by the DoPT, to promulgate new rules for implementing the RTI Act, it was again seen as parroting what the CIC wanted, to thrust their whims and fancies on citizens. I had responded to the DoPT (see my blog at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.com/2017/04/rti-rules-2017-feedback.html) when they perfunctorily sought suggestions from the public.

    To make it simpler I had also provided a complete set of RTI Rules (see my blog at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.com/2017/04/rti-rules-2017redrafted-by-rti-activist.html).

    For those who are looking for what all was wrong in the draft Rules provided by DoPT, these are given in my blog at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.com/2017/04/draft-rti-rules-2017-critical-analysis.html.

    Extract of the Rules, suggested by me in the context of the functions of the ICs, are given below.

    8. Processing of Complaint/2nd appeal at the Central Information Commission.

    (a) An applicant may file a complaint, for any of the reasons given in sec 18 (1) of the Act or an appeal under Sec 19(3), if he is not satisfied with the decision of the FAA, for whatever reasons, including delay in deciding the appeal, to the Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission.

    (b) The complaint may be filed within 90 days of the events, listed at sec 18(1) of the Act, happening.

    (c) The 2nd appeal may be filed within 90 days of receipt of the decision of the FAA or on non receipt of the decision even after the expiry of 30 days of submission of the 1st appeal.

    (d) The complaint/2nd appeal will be accompanied by copies of the application, reply/replies from the CPIO(s), 1st appeal(s) and the reply/replies from the FAA(s), as applicable.

    (e) On receipt of the complaint/appeal along with the documents mentioned in para 8(d) the recipient will process it as mentioned in para 5 till it is transferred to the concerned IC who is required to decide on it.

    (f) The IC will after going through the complaint/ 2nd appeal and the documents submitted with it, will decide on the answers for the following questions, as applicable, for each public authority involved:

    (i) Had all disclosable information sought and held with the respective public authorities been disclosed within the specified period?

    (ii) In case of information sought but not held with the public authority had Sec 6(3) of the Act been complied with, including communication of the matter of transfer to the applicant?

    (iii) Who are the CPIOs who have defaulted and what are the their defaults?

    (iv) Who are the FAAs who have decided the 1st appeal and was there any deficiency on their part?

    (g) After having decided that specific CPIOs have defaulted and penalty needs to be imposed on them, the IC will give them an opportunity to being heard by seeking an affidavit from the defaulting CPIO(s) , duly countersigned by the FAA, clarifying the deficiencies listed and reasons why the penalty should not be imposed. The copy of this notice providing the opportunity to being heard to the CPIO should also be provided to the appellant for his information and records.

    (h) On receipt of these affidavits, if the IC finds any merit in any of the reasons given for not penalising, he shall provide a copy of the affidavit to the appellant for his arguments to be submitted within 30 days of receipt of the copy of the affidavit(s). Only after receipt of these arguments should he take a final decision in the appeal. The decision should clearly bring out the reasons, especially if no penalty is imposed. Direction to the superior authorities to take administrative action against defaulting FAAs should also be part of the decision.

    (i) The decision should necessarily include a direction to the CPIO to provide to the commission the information/copies of documents, duly attested, denied to the applicant till then. This information/copies of documents shall be provided to the appellant/complainant.

    (j) Apart from the penalty imposed under sec 20 of the Act, the IC should also recover the cost of documents provided free of cost to the appellant and the compensation to be paid to the appellant, as per sec 19(8)(b), for the time, effort and cost in pursuing the appeals.

    (k) If the complete information had been provided before submission of the 2nd appeal the CPIO should compensate the appellant to the tune of Rs 5000/- and if it is provided only after the 2nd appeal the FAA should also pay a compensation of Rs 5000/- to the appellant.

    (l) No complaint or appeal should be returned unless the material documents that are required for deciding them have not been provided by the complainant/appellant.

    (m) The final decision in all complaints and 2nd appeals should published on the web site of the commission within 24 hours. This information along with the URL of the decision should be communicated to the complainant/appellant through SMS/ email in cases where the complainant/appellant has provided his mobile number and or e mail id. If such information has not been provided by the complainant/appellant copy of the decision will be dispatched to him within 24 hours.

    (n) Onus of proving that it has been communicated to the complainant/appellant will be that of the information commissioner.

    In Kerala, the government orders are 50 percent of the employees to work on alternate days and the rest 50 pc on the intervening days. Hence the KSIC is violating this order blatantly. Again not unexpected.

    CIC Calls for Contact Updates of Appellants To Conduct Online Hearings under RTI
    On Wednesday, the central information commission (CIC) issued a circular requesting second appeal appellants and complainants to send to it, their updated email addresses and mobile numbers in order to be able to contact them for informing them of the date of hearing to be conducted online, either by audio or video communication. 
     
    This is more than welcome, as over 36,000 second appeals are pending with the CIC headquartered at Delhi and the national lock-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic would have added to this pendency. An earlier circular dated 24 March 2020 had almost implied that the CIC would not function.  It had stated that:  “the office of the Central Information Commission shall remain closed for a period of 21 days with effect from 25.03.2020. All cases scheduled for hearing are deferred for this period. In case of any matter of urgency, deputy registrar of the registry be contacted telephonically. Hearing of such a matter would be through audio conference.’’
     
    However, in a turnaround, the circular dated 22 April 2020, states: “Updation of e-mail id and mobile number in the second appeals/ complaints for conducting hearings through audio/video conference. Due to COVID-19, applicants are requested to provide the e-mail id and mobile number in the second appeals/complaints for conducting hearings through audio/video conference.’’
     
    The details of the updated contacts should be sent by the applicant with his or her file number and applicant name to: [email protected]. For any further assistance, the applicant can call Anil K Gehlot, joint secretary, CIC on 011- 26183053.
     
    The format should be as follows:
     
    File Number:
    Diary number:
    Public Authority:
    Applicant Name:
    Email-id:
    Mobile Number:
     
    Besides, you may contact any of the deputy registrars as they fix the dates of CIC hearings. The circular has listed their names and phone numbers which area follows: 
    Central Information Commission Contact numbers of Deputy Registrars. 
     
    1. KL Das, DR to Bimal Julka (Chief Information Commissioner) – 9968091423;  
     
    2. RP Grover, DR to Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha (Information Commissioner)– 9818463820;  
     
    3. HP Sen, DR to Divya Prakash Sinha (Information Commissioner)– 7065349476; 
     
    4. AK Assija, DR to Ms Vanaja N Sarna (Information Commissioner)– 9990725966; 
     
    5. SC Sharma, DR to Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner)- 9910172208; 
     
    6. RS Murthy, DR to Suresh Chandra (Information Commissioner)– 9560177655;  
     
    7. Baljit Singh, DR to Dr Amita Pandove (Information Commissioner)– 8974004151 and
     
    8. KA Talwar, DR to (CR-1) – 8130895332
     
    Last week, on 15th April, the CIC had conducted around 18 Zoom video-conference hearings wherein the appellant, the public authority representative and the CIC were present. However, just a day later, on 16th April, after the cyber coordination centre (CyCord), under the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), issued a directive that,  “the platform is not for use by government officers/officials for official purposes’’, the CIC has begun looking for other options, the safest being audio conference hearings. Until then, the conventional video conferencing facility is being used though this means that the parties would have to physically go to the studio. Typically, the CIC letter for the hearing date mentions this. (this was for a hearing today on 23rd April 2020):
     
     Venue for the Appellant/Complainant NIC Studio: CIC, NIC Lucknow, E-Floor Yojna Bhawan, 9-Sarojni Naidu Marge, Yojana Bhawan, Lucknow - Pin - 226001, IP Phone - 47021 ,47022 (Contact officer: Diwan Singh, Technical Director. Contact No: 9839670752 / 0522-2298822/ 0522-2298823)
     
    Venue for CPIO 1 Venue: Room No. 302, Central Information Commission, Baba Gang Nath Marg, Munirka, New Delhi - 110067 3 / 4 Venue for CPIO 2 NIC Studio : N.I.C. Video Conferencing Studio, District Centre, Near D.M. Meeting Hall, Ground Floor, Collectorate, Agra-282010 (Uttar Pradesh) (Contact officer : Vishnu Prasad Gautam (Scientist-C)Contact No. : 0562-2261511) 
     
    Venue for CPIO 2 Venue for CPIO 3 NIC Studio: CIC, NIC Lucknow, E-Floor Yojna Bhawan, 9-Sarojni Naidu Marge, Yojana Bhawan, Lucknow - Pin - 226001, IP Phone - 47021 ,47022 (Contact officer : Diwan Singh, Technical Director Contact No. : 9839670752 / 0522-2298822/ 0522-2298823)
     
    However, all is not hunky dory and to the benefit of the RTI applicants. States Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) who is communicating with the CIC to make the video/audio second hearings more transparent, rues that, “It appears that when any applicant comes for attending 'online hearings' - she/he is unaware of the submission made by respondent CPIOs. Hence, she /he is unable to put up arguments in response to what the CPIO has submitted. I propose that Commission implement my above proposal that will bring all parties on same page.”
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    glnprasad52

    2 months ago

    Ha Ha Ha.. Are you aware that for one High Court the designated Public Information officer is Registrar General, and he is represented before the State Information Commission through a Peon in District Court before State Information Commission several times?. A retired DIG as IC announces the same in personal hearing and asking that representative to occupy seat informing that he is honored representative of HC. Are you not aware that it is only Asst. Public Information officer that provides/denies information in Courts and never SIC took objection to that. Less said the better in implementation of RTI by Courts. Do you know that some High Courts appoint Counsels of repute and they, in turn, authorize junior most Advocates for representing HC/Courts on day to day basis every day, and that junior advocate is available in SIC every day ?. Even in CIC State HCs representatives are more than one counsel whose allowances are abnormal. It is still not clear as to whether HC is under CIC or SIC and Subordinate Courts are under State Government rules or HC rules under RTI. A shame to state, about the pendency of such a large number of appeals, after 15 years of enactment, and there was already a decision/judgment on such appropriate use of denial mentioned under Sec. 8 (1) exemption misused by PIOs are maximum 4 in 90% of the cases. If there is a will, there is certainly a way. Once penalties are imposed and the system is developed, there is no need for such huge costs on information commission and agony to appellants over long delay.

    raviforjustice

    2 months ago

    What Cmde Batra has pointed out is only one of the basic frauds being perpetrated by the info commissioners. In fact I have elaborated on the exact procedure to be followed by the information commissioners in a redrafted RTI Rules submitted by me to the DoPT in 2017. These are available at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.com/2017/04/rti-rules-2017redrafted-by-rti-activist.html.

    It needs to be recollected that the wording of Sec 20 of the RTI Act is unambiguous that the opportunity to being heard should be given to the PIO only if the IC is required to penalize him. And the decision, whether he has defaulted, is to be made after studying the documents submitted with the 2nd appeal. In case there is no need to penalize, the appeal can be simply disposed of by merely recording the findings. In such cases conducting hearings is a absolute charade.

    Then, the opportunity of being heard should be given only to the PIO who has defaulted. Here again we can find that, with the delays involved in conducting the hearings, that the PIO who has defaulted is no more the PIO of the defaulting public authority. To circumvent this, though illegally, the CIC is permitting representatives of the PIO to appear. Here is the extract of the relevant paragraphs from a notice for a hearing:

    Quote

    3. (a) CPIO/PIO should personally attend the hearing if for a compelling reason(s) he/she is unable to be present, he/she has to give reasons for the same and shall authorise an officer not below the rank of CPIO.PIO, fully acquainted with the facts of the case and bring complete file/file(s) with him

    b) If the CPIO attending the hearing before the Commission does not happen to be the concerned CPIO, it shall still be his/her responsibility to ensure that the CPIO(s) concerned must attend with complete fiIe concerning the RTI request, the hearing along with him

    Unquote

    The notice from the CIC also mandate that written submissions, if any, has to be submitted to the CIC 7 days prior to the hearing and copies have to be served on opposite parties too. Here is the extract of the relevant para from a notice:

    Quote

    4. All the parties may submit their written submission, if any, to the Commission at least 7 days before the date of hearing. A copy of the same shall be served upon opposite party. If any party wishes to make online submission, the same may be sent to the Commission's link only viz, http:dsscic.nic.in/online-link-paper-compliance/add

    Unquote

    Now, here there is an obvious fraud: the email id of the parties are not known to each other.

    The notice does not indicate if the copy of the 2nd appeal had been provided to the PIO/FAA. If it had been provided then the PIO may know the e mail id of the appellant. In my case I do provide my e mail id. But I have never received any submission made by the PIO.

    Ultimately, the whole process is a blatant fraud. In one case I had pursued against the railways, the original CPIO had merely forwarded the application to another CPIO under Sec 6(3) and communicated that matter to me. And there had been no response from the other PIO, nor any response to the 1st appeal. In the decision the IC merely stated the the PIO had replied and disposed off the 2nd appeal!

    If the judiciary had been working at least 1 percent satisfactorily this IC should have been sentenced to 7 years in prison under Sec 219 of the IPC, even at the admission stage itself.

    glnprasad52

    2 months ago

    States Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) observation "It appears that when an applicant comes for attending 'online hearings' - she/he is unaware of the submission made by respondent CPIOs. Hence, she /he is unable to put up arguments in response to what the CPIO has submitted. I propose that the Commission implement my above proposal that will bring all parties on the same page.”- is absolutely right. Not even once as known to me CPIO has submitted his arguments out of ten cases even when he was requested by appellants. Cheap tactics by giving an outward number and speaking to CIC that the submissions were marked on such and such date by ordinary posts are very prevalent. If only new CIC has a will he can formulate a policy and can dispose of all pending applications on this day by 31-10-2020 by issuing Show cause notices on deemed denial and penalizing for delay or misleading statements without exempting any CPIO and recovering such amounts from CPIO. By next year CIC may not have such work if only penalties are imposed in all deserving cases without fear and favor.

    glnprasad52

    2 months ago

    In complicated cases, VC is not useful and the time is the main constraint. Public Authorities exploit the system. It has to be seen as to how it can help rural, semiurban applicants without such a facility. An honest move, with limited success.

    Maharashtra’s RTI Online Website Remains Stagnant for Past 6 Years; MSRDC Still Not in the List
    Since 2014, Maharashtra has tom-tommed about its RTI online website. Last week, the 190-year old Amrutanjan Bridge, was demolished. I wanted to know whether there were public consultations, call for suggestions and objections by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC). 
     
    I visited the https://rtionline.maharashtra.gov.in website to file my RTI online to the MSRDC. To my utter disappointment and shock, it is just not listed amongst the public authorities on which you can click and go further to file your RTI application.  The website states: "At present the facility of the online filing of RTI application is available only for the Mantralaya departments and departments outside Mantralaya will be taken up in subsequent phases."
     
    Six years have passed by and still the same message remains—that other public authorities would 'be taken up in subsequent phases'. So, as you scroll through the list, you will find 200 public authorities under Mantralaya, all municipal corporations, zilla parishads, municipal councils, tehsils and rural police are included. 
     
    However, Maharashtra being a progressive state, there are several state-owned or public-private-partnership organisations, one example being MSRDC which is one of the most important public authorities, considering the toll collection and the massive mileage of roadways that it builds, operates and maintains.
     
    As per the website onlinerti.com, Madhya Pradesh RTI portal has the Madhya Pradesh Road Development Corporation Limited as one of the public authorities. However, Rahul Singh, information commissioner stated that, "since the last three to four months, our website is not functioning. I have got in touch with the Central information commissioner as it has a very good online portal and he has agreed to help us develop it. Waiting for the lockdown to get over."
     
    Delhi-based RTI activist, commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), who steered the campaign for overseas Indians to file online RTI by paying the fees through e-IPO, says the central information commissions RTI online portal is very active and covers almost all the central public authorities. The website is https://rtionline.gov.in/.
     
    However, Batra has been uniquely filing his RTI applications with the Central government public authorities through his email. To date, he has bought 355 e-IPOs. For this, you have to go to https://www.epostoffice.gov.in/. You buy the e-IPO through your debit card or credit card, download it and attach it to your RTI application, which also you attach with your email. He has been consistently getting replies to his varied RTI applications. Unfortunately, no state information commission has this facility.  
     
    States Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who has filed an RTI application online on https://rtionline.maharashtra.gov.in/, "I have filed my RTI applications several times in the last two years, but I have yet to get any response. They are extremely lax in this regard."
     
    Thus, citizens are being denied their right to access information due to the lockdown, when it should be easily accessible with the click of the mouse. At the 10th annual convention of the central information commission in Delhi in 2015, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi had said in his speech, that the Union government’s 'Digital India' initiative is complementary to RTI, because putting information online brings transparency, which in turn, builds trust. He had also described the Right to Information Act as a tool through which the common man has got not just the right to know, but also the right to question those in power.  In reality, these statements have remained a pipedream.
     
    As for me, I would have to wait for the lock-down to be over to know the chronology of the demolition of the Amrutanjan Bridge.
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)  
     
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    raviforjustice

    3 months ago

    There is another thing that I would like to add.

    The RTI Act provides for submitting the applications in English, Hindi or the local official language. It follows that the replies will have to be in the language of the application, and by extension, the appeals too. I have always preferred English. But the PIOs, FAAs and even the ICs would respond in Malayalam only. I had complained about it to the Chief Secretary with copy to the Governor.

    To an application under the RTI Act seeking info on action taken on the complaint, I got a reply from the FAA, an additional Secretary to the GoK, that the RTI Act does not mention that the replies have to be in the language of the application!

    In another related case the FAA of a Collectorate had directed the PIO there to provide the reply in English!

    So much for competence and treachery.

    raviforjustice

    3 months ago

    Thanks for bringing up this important and relevant topic into public domain periodically. It is not only with Maharastra SIC that these shortcomings are persisting. I have been looking up the website of Kerala SIC and it is worse. They do not even upload their decisions, forget about promptly, but even regularly.

    Regarding filing applications and appeals on line and paying fees and cost too I have explored different strategies, which have worked at times.

    Since the RTI Act provides for filing applications online and the Govt of Kerala had not provided for paying the fee/cost online, I first tried paying the cost demanded by the PIO, Kerala High Court through eMO, of the postal department. It worked. Thereafter, I have successfully used it with the Raj Bhavan (Governor's Office), District Collector, Palakkad, and the Municipal Office, Palakkad. I have paid both the application fee and cost demanded through eMO.

    On the flip side, I had tried to pay cash against the demanded cost at the Govt Secretariat, Thiruvananthapuram and they had not accepted it. But since it was a valid mode of payment as per Kerala RTI Rules, when I put my foot down, I got the copies free! I moved over to the CM's Grievance Cell and lodged a complaint against the PIO who had given me the copies free and caused loss to the public exchequer. RTI application on action taken on the complaint did not elicit any useful info.

    But on an application under the RTI Act seeking information on whether the various departments of the Government in the Secretariat are accepting cash as prescribed in the RTI Rules, I had got affirmative response. But even now they have refused to accept the eMO paid towards application fee.

    The failure is of the information commissioners. They would all be spending the rest of their lives behind bars as they can easily be prosecuted under Sec 219 of the IPC and be sentenced to 7 years in prison for each of their treacherous decisions. But we know how bad our courts are and this is what is enabling the other public servants to be a law unto themselves.

    suketu

    3 months ago

    "Sabka saath sabka vikas"

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