More than 50% RTI queries evoke no reply, say activists

COIMBATORE: Gone are the times when public trusted that functioning of the state and central governments was transparent and they could obtain government documents and other related data through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, , which facilitates the fundamental rights of public to information.
“Transparency is a must to promote people’s trust in public institutions,” said a report card on the performance of information commissions in India that was released by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre of Equity Studies (CES) in March.

As per the report, information commission had not provided any information under the RTI Act regarding the number of appeals and complaints it had handled between January 2016 and October 2017.

“The commission did not respond to the RTI applications and the information was not available on its website,” the report said. This is when about 23 state information commissions and the central information commission had responded to similar queries with sufficient details.

Section 7(1) of the RTI Act mandates that information related to normal issues should be provided within 30 days and those pertaining to the life and liberty of people should be provided within 48 hours. City-based RTI activists said they hadn’t received reply for more than 50% RTI queries.

In some cases, officials come up with ‘unrelated’ explanation for not sharing the sought information as reply, says Daniel Jesudas, an RTI activist. “But in most times, there won’t be any reply.”

In the past five years, Jesudas said he had filed 10 RTI queries seeking information from the department of mines and geology. “All the 10 times, I received only the acknowledgement that the department had received the queries. There wasn’t any reply. This is the case with every single government department and agency.”

Receiving a reply after months of delay has also become rare instances, another activist, SP Thiyagarajan, said. “As per the act, officials have to pay Rs 50 per day for delaying a reply. But it is not followed. Details that could expose corruption or wrong decision of the government are not provided through RTI.”

As per Section 2J of the Act, public are allowed to view any documents just by paying Rs 5 per half an hour. “But in most cases, it is not implemented,” Thiyagarajan said.

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