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Right is there; but, no information

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Governance

Following (in italics) are the relevant excerpts from the New Indian Express report:

The government may have enacted a law empowering citizens to demand information from public authorities, but five years later many government departments are yet to take the “first step” towards proactive disclosure. Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI act mandates that all authorities under the purview of the law must index, catalogue and computerise official records to be easily accessed by the people. So far, however, few departments have paid heed to the provision, says K A Thippeswamy, Karnataka State Information Commissioner. The progress, he said, has been “almost negligible”. “They (departments) do not even have a record room to keep  documents,” he said. “They were supposed to do it within six months of the Act coming into force. But it’s been five years and they are yet to do it.’’

Another stipulation, often ignored, is that every public authority has to publish sixteen categories of information ranging from particulars of the organisation, powers and duties of its officers, employees, categories of documents that are held by it. Thippedwamy said it is not sufficient to publish the information once, the public authority is obliged to update it every year. “Since we live in the age of Internet, the information should be updated is updated on the website.”


The relevant Sec 4 (2) reads: "It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information".

RTI activist and coordinator of RTI study centre, Veeresh, said due to the non-implementation of section 4(1) of the Act, the information is denied. When challenged in the Commission, the case gets delayed due to large number of cases pending, he added. ‘’There are 10,000 cases pending before the commission, and it takes five months before the case comes up for hearing,” he said.

Three of my appeals too are presently pending with the the CIC, one dated 16th April, and the other two dated 28th June. So, it will be only Sept/ Oct before the first one comes up for hearing - not a satisfactory state of affairs. Of the three, at least one is a straight forward case of refusal of information, which will mean the official concerned will have to pay the penalty at Rs 250/- per day. But, with maximum limited to Rs 25,000/-, which will become applicable in this case, perhaps the official is not too worried. But, doesn't the fact that it will go into his personal records, act as a deterrent?

Muralidhar Rao
 

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murali772's picture

a point to note

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Since, the penalty for 'no/ delayed response' to a query can be levied only by the Information Commissioner, it appears the Principal Information Officers (PIOs) are deliberately remaining silent, at least until the queryist decides to take the matter to the appeal level, like has been my experience here.

In a way, this may be OK in that it will tend to weed out many frivolous queries. But, in the process, many genuine queries can also get kept waiting unnecessarily. And, any way, if one wants to pursue that matter also, there is the provision in the Act.

Whatever, this is a point worth noting.
 

 

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Pile up of cases with 4 KIC posts vacant

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If you apply for information under the RTI Act to the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC), the chances are you will be heard only after several months. With over 10,000 cases on hand and just three state information commissioners to hear them, the KIC is working overtime to clear cases. The commissioners complain that if their numbers are not increased, the situation will not improve. Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) members have petitioned the governor, chief minister and opposition leader to appoint more commissioners, but there has been no change in the situation so far.

The commissioners have a grouse against RTI activists. Information Commissioner S J Virupakshaiah said, “The problem is that there are too many RTI activists who appeal on petty issues. Due to this, the commission ends up delaying hearings for needy people.”

For the full text of the report in the Bangalore Mirror, click here

It may be true that petty issues are being taken to the KIC level, even when they can be sorted out at the PIO or appeals level in the respective departments themselves. But, for that, it's the department heads who are to blame. Three of my cases are in the queue before the KIC. They needn't have gone to that level if the respective department heads had been proactive in sorting them out. They are only interested in passing the buck.
   

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

how to make RTI ineffective!

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The Right to Information Act is indeed a very powerful tool, and using it, activists across the country have been prying into various misdeeds by government officials, and bringing them to account, one by one. Naturally, the corrupt/ lazy officials are not quite happy, and have been trying to figure out various ways to stymie its effectiveness. Towards this, an attempt was first made to emasculate the Act by mooting some amendments to certain critical sections. With the civil society sensing this, and opposing it with all its might, that attempt was given up, at least temporarily.  

The present strategy, at least in Karnataka, seems to be

1) Not to respond at all, which discourages many, particularly first timers.

2) If the queryist persists with an appeal, the strtegy changes to obfuscation, or passing on the buck (onto some other department, whether directly connected or not). In the process, many more get eliminated.

3) The persistent few are then left with no option other than to go to the state Information Commission. But, because of this strategy of the officialdom, the Information Commission has been getting progressively burdened, with backlogs building up to well over 6 months (Presently, there are three queries of mine pending with the IC, the oldest of them dated 16th April, '10). In addition is the problem of vacancies in the IC, with only two Commissioners functioning currently, where there should be ten. One would like to believe that the non-fulfilment of the vacancies is not part of the grand strategy, involving the entire state officialdom. But, one doesn't know, particularly when the position has remained this way for far too long.

How does the civil society want to counter this? Or, is it just giving up, saying there's no beating the 'babu' at his game?

Muralidhar Rao
silkboard's picture

Information and management

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Another problem is lack of information managment systems inside the government. Its still mostly paper driven. Soft copies (of meeting notes etc) exist, but are either scans of typed (and at times printed!!) paper, or are stored on random PCs and machines without any tagging or categorization.

Add this to the general lack of motivation to share, and you can explain why RTI process is slow, and most public agencies so non-compliant.

If a government department is willing, we can help advise at least on information management systems part. But seems like there is no easy way for us to get in and help.

murali772's picture

Kria katte's battle

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Mr Ravindranath Guru of Kria katte wrote to me as below:

Dear Muralidhar Rao

Glad to know that you have taken interest in the implementation of RTI In Karnataka. We would like to bring it to your kind notice that we in KRIA Katte have taken up the cause on a continuous basis and we have sent letters to Governor (and met him in Aug 09) CM, Chief Secretary, Leader Of Opposition and the Law Minister Shri Suresh Kimar. The Main Problem is  the present Govt is not interested in the success of RTI. To highlight these, we have planned a Press Conference on 11th October 2010 which will be addressed by Dr BK Chandrashekar and Dr. Samuel Paul. You are welcome to attend.

 

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

tough words from Mr A N Tiwari, the new CIC

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Sports minister M S Gill was “absolutely becoming unaccountable” when he asked the Members of Parliament to take the RTI route to get information, new chief information commissioner A N Tiwari said asserting that mere dependence on the RTI act will not promote transparency.
    
“Because there is RTI, some people prefer to take the route to give some information. M S Gill is the recent example. He asked MPs to take the RTI route. How can you say that? It is being unaccountable. You should say that my system is such that you don’t need RTI to get information,” he said.
    
Tiwari said he will start a dialogue with all the “government instrumentalities” to identify documents and records which cannot be made public, so that all remaining records could be made available without any use of the transparency law.“RTI works best when it is used the least.”
    
He said in such a regime, the use of RTI Act will be limited to documents and records which have not been brought in the open category thus making the use of transparency law even more effective.
    
Speaking on the success of transparency regime in the country, Tiwari said mere dependence on the RTI Act will not promote openness in the system which is trained to have an “intuitive reflex to secrecy”. “Everyone in government is scared about what will happen if we become transparent,” he said.

For the full text in the TOI, click here

Well said, Sir! But, with a short term of just some two months before retirement, one wonders how much of a change the new CIC can bring about
. Whatever, I'll attempt to contact him.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

changed outlook?

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BWSSB is going to train its selected officers to enable them attend to public's queries under RTI Act in a better way. It will be the first department in the state to conduct a certified workshop for its officials in the state.

For the full report in the New Indian Express, click here

Can we hope that this is an indication of a change in the overall outlook? Should have happened earlier - whatever, better late than never. And, hope all the other departments follow suit soon, too.

 

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

have we to assert right to service from KIC?

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My RTI appeal with the KIC (refer this) has been registered on 11/07/11 - no progress in the 5 months since then.

As raised by RTI activist, Sri Veeresh, at the discussions on the Right to Services Bill, there is supposed to be penalty today on the PIO if he doesn't respond to a query within the stipulated 30 day period. However, there are no penalties on the Appellate authority, or on the KIC.

I wonder if things are going to change any with the introduction of the new bill.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

RTI being suffocated

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Accountability and transparency have not yet become embedded in the DNA of those with power, and this is a change that will take much longer. Indeed, there are now worrying signs that we may have reached a point of stagnation, which could lead to RTI’s regression.

- - - Many techniques have been developed by the officers to stall RTI inquiries. At times absurdly high charges in tens of thousands are sought as costs for gathering the information.

- - - After getting power, people’s mindset undergoes a transformation. It is a matter of deep distress that even the present CM of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal, who become nationally famous for his work in the RTI campaign, has not brought about any significant change in his government towards transparency.


For the full text of the article, captioned "Right to Information is Slowly but Surely Being Suffocated" by Shailesh Gandhi, a former Central Information Commissioner, in The Wire, click here.

In Karntaka, the most effective tool to obfuscate issues, that's been put to use by the babu's, is to respond in Kannada, even if you specifically ask for it in English, which is an acknowledged official language of the state (check here for more). I have been meaning to challenge that through a PIL, as suggested to me by none less than Justice Santosh Hegde (check the post dated 09/11/12 in the above blog) - all in good time.

PS: The language issue has been debated in detail here. Those who want to further it, may post their views there. Please avoid doing so here.

Muralidhar Rao

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