Sunday, July 09, 2017

‘Missing records’ frustrate RTI applicants

Times of India: Panaji: Sunday, July 09, 2017.
A common grouse among RTI applicants who appeal to the state information commission, for information not provided to them, is that of public information officers citing 'missing records'.
In such cases, public information officers are asked to file an affidavit stating the records are missing. "We don't take their word for it, but insist on an affidavit stating that the records cannot be found," state information commissioner Prashant Tendolkar says, adding that this is a general trend.
"If the records are not there, the PIO cannot be held responsible. Preservation of the records has nothing to do with the commission. The government should take the initiative to preserve records for proper implementation of the RTI Act," he says.
In case, a public information officer files a false affidavit, it is up to the head of the concerned department to take action against the PIO, he says. This year, 114 appeals and complaints were filed before the commission, majority of which are appeals that deal with panchayats where RTI applicants want to know the action and follow up action taken by the bodies following complaints. A number of cases also deal with the department of town and country planning and the Mapusa municipal council, in particular.
According to the RTI Act, 2005, the state information commission can impose a penalty if it finds that the public information officer has refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information sought within the time specified, or was malafidely denied the request for information.
Tendolkar says the commission cannot impose penalties arbitrarily unless there is glaring evidence that there was a deliberate attempt not to provide the information. "The principles as far as imposition of penalty have been streamlined by high court judgments, where it is upon the seeker of information to produce sufficient evidence to show that there was intentional delay," he says.
The chief information commissioner together with the two state information commissioners hear between 25-30 cases on a daily basis, he says.
Space constraints within the office prevent other members of the public from sitting in during hearings, he says, denying that the commission holds closed door hearings of cases.
The department's website is not user friendly especially when it comes to sourcing judgements.
Tendolkar says the issue has been taken up with the InfoTech Corporation that will be redesigning the site. Information on the website is outdated. Minutes of meetings haven't been uploaded after 2007, the last annual report uploaded is that of 2014 and information under section 4 is also outdated.
Under section 4 (1) - which relates to proactive disclosure- of the RTI Act, every public authority has the obligation of publishing the powers and duties of its officers, the monthly remuneration received by each, the budget allocated and a directory of its officers and employers among other details. The lack of staff, he says has prevented the commission from uploading this information.
As far as implementation of proactive disclosure under section 4 (1) regarding other departments is concerned, Tendolkar says a case is pending with the commission which has referred the matter to the department of information and publicity. "It is up to each department to prepare reports and upload this on their websites. If they don't do it we have to implement it," he says.