The implementation of the RTI Act has seen several ups and downs since it came into force about a decade ago. For a very long time reluctant babus delayed providing information within the stipulated 30 days. Today, many of them even refuse to comply with the orders of the state information commission.
In most cases where information is not provided, no satisfactory explanation is given. The recourse for an applicant is to file a first appeal with an officer – usually a senior official in the same department – but this hasn't really worked.
It is only the state information commission that has the power to penalize by imposing fines on the public information officer for not providing the relevant information. Only the threat of penalty has yielded information in some cases.
But there are several cases where senior officers have ignored the directions of the commission. For example the case where Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner, had sought information about undertrials and separately from the revenue department about tribals' rights on their land.
When he did not get the information on undertrials despite an order by the state information commissioner, Gandhi filed a fresh appeal seeking to know what the authorities had done to comply with the order.
On the matter of the tribals, the commission had ordered the details to be put up on the website for the public good, but the authority has done nothing about it. Gandhi is awaiting a hearing on his fresh appeals in both the matters.
"The appeal is pending with the commission but they have not provided me any information as yet. The threat to the act is manifold," Gandhi told dna. "While non-compliance is the new threat, the others are pending appeals and absence of good commissioners who find a way out to ensure that information is provided."
In the case of Kaustubh Gharat, another applicant, the authorities did not comply with the commission's order in one case and moved court in another.
Addressing an RTI convention recently, state chief information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, in fact, even blamed senior officers in a case for creating "blockades".
In this matter, the Mumbai police commissioner was asked to inquire into the conduct of an additional commissioner of police. "He (additional police commissioner) had written and given that the information should not be provided by the PIO. The police commissioner pulled him up for that," Gaikwad told dna.
"Since the act has no contempt powers there is not much that a commissioner can do. He can only impose a fine up to Rs25,000 and recommend disciplinary action against the person. If still there is no compliance, there is not much that an officer can do," says Gaikwad.
Bhaskar Prabhu, RTI activist, believes that if a PIO does not give documents the information commissioner can call for the documents. "the information from that can be given to the applicant. The commissioners need to find ways to ensure compliance," he said.
Whose Right To Information is it anyway?
The Right to Information Assessment and Advocacy Group (RAAG) conducted a study titled "Who uses the RTI Act and for what?" The highlights of this study which were presented at the Western India RTI Convention 2014 suggested very low satisfaction levels among RTI users.
Not at all : 55%
Somewhat : 30%
Fully met : 15 %
Not at all : 45%
Somewhat : 35%
Fully met : 20%