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RTI still incompetent in Arunachal

Rup J Pater
It’s nearly a year since the Parliament enacted the Right To Information (RTI) Act. But in this far northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, it is yet to become a full-fledged reality. Till now, the state government has failed to constitute a State Information Commission as per the guidelines of the Act.

Despite bureaucratic subterfuge and resistance from various quarters, vigilance and advocacy by citizens groups helped ensure that a strong Right To Information bill was passed by the Indian Parliament in June 2005. The state government notified the state Act during September as it was mandatory to be implemented all over India by October 12, 2005.  

The gazette notification was, however, not without ‘confusions’ and the Arunachal Citizen’s Rights (ACR), an active civil society organization, was prompt to point those out. Most of these were clauses not in conformity with those of the RTI Act. ACR in an appeal to the Commissioner, Administrative Reforms, pointed out that the ‘competent authority’ cannot summarily reject (as was notified in section 4 of the Rules) the application seeking information, which does not fall within his or her jurisdiction but transfer the application to that authority under whose jurisdiction the information falls without any extra fees. It was not before May this year that the state government amended the anomalies through another gazette notification.  
However, According to ACR’s Bamang Anthony the amendments do not fully comply with the statutory RTI Act. He says in sub-sections (1) and (2) of section 6 of the Rules (Penalties), it is stated that the penalty would be Rs 50 per day for delay and Rs 1000 for knowingly supplying false information. However, in section 20 (1) of the RTI Act the penalty prescribed is Rs 250 per day and a maximum of Rs. 25,000. Anthony further adds that in sub-section (2) of section 8, a fee of Rs 50 has been prescribed for filing of appeals. “However, the RTI Act only allows for the charging of fee for the initial application, and there is no provision for charging fee for appeals,” he argues. Anthony and many others also feel that the fees fixed at Rs 500 for information relating to tender documents/bids/quotation/business contracts and Rs 50 for other applications is on the higher side of the scale.

The concern for ACR and other civil society organizations, including political parties, is that the Act is yet to be functional in toto. In the subsequent months after the Act came into being the state government has, through different gazette notifications, published the names of Public Information Officers (PIOs) in all public departments and offices totaling 212. As all these PIOs are already holding responsible positions in their respective departments, observers feel that they wouldn’t be fair in providing information when it is concerned with the department he/she heads.  

“The most frustrating part is that these PIOs are ignorant of their new responsibilities,” says Kamen Ringu, President of the regional party, the Arunachal Congress. He and his party colleagues are moving around in public offices seeking information through the RTI. Ringu rues that every PIO he has approached has sought 30 days time to provide information, which is the maximum. “No one agreed to provide information within fifteen days as provided in the Act,” he says.

Anthony, on the other hand, is frustrated that a SIC with a Chief State Information Officer and a Chief Information Commissioner is yet to be constituted. Without a SIC those seeking information come to a dead end if they are not satisfied with the information provided by the PIO and want to appeal further. ACR in a recent appeal has drawn the government’s attention towards this but in vain. Besides submitting a complaint with the Central Information Commission, it is contemplating to take the government to the court on the matter soon. Ringu, on behalf of his party, is all set to meet the Chief Secretary on this. He has a strong case with him. Without divulging many details he confirms that one of the departments has failed to provide him with the information he sought within the stipulated 30 days and without a state commission he has nowhere to appeal to.

The seriousness with which the government is going about in implementing RTI fully is doubtful. The nodal office of RTI at the state secretariat is a sorry affair. Nodal Information Officer Kirba Lomi, the only one with the singular responsibility of overseeing RTI proceedings, sits alone in his office that has neither a fax nor a STD connection.  

Rup J Pater is a journalist and based in Itanagar