Information Commissioners criticise bureaucrats for alleged disregard for RTI Act
Speaking at Hyderabad in a workshop to mark the ninth anniversary of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, information commissioners discussed the working of the RTI Act over the years and challenges before it. Bureaucracy in general, and some officials by name, were the target of criticism for the alleged disrespect and disregard for the constitutional duties performed by the information commission.
Pointing to the vacant seats, the information commissioner P Vijay Babu, said that if the officers of the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana had any respect for the RTI Act, this hall would have been full. The expressed regret that the majority of the departments did not even send their public information officers (PIO) to the workshop. He alleged that in the era of transparency, some officers have not shed their colonial culture of maintaining secrecy. He said out that LV Subramanyam, a senior bureaucrat who happened to serve as executive officer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), responded to an RTI query by stating that TTD does not come under the purview of the RTI Act. He quoted another IAS officer, Navin Mittal, by name who refused to probe a certain matter raised by the information commission on the grounds that he was busy with the elections despite the election commission making it categorically clear that RTI queries need to be responded to even during electioneering.
Information Commissioner at the State Inforamtion Commission (SIC) Varre Venkateswarlu referred to an instance where an IAS officer had become angry for having been served a notice by a ‘former journalist’ who now happens to be an information commissioner. He said that irrespective of the past, the SIC is a constitutional body now and this fact should not be ignored. He did not name the IAS officer.
Former IPS officer and now information commissioner, M Ratan, spoke about the positive impact made by the RTI Act. The role of RTI activists and the protection provided to them by the system came under discussion. State Information Commissioner Lam Thantiya Kumari lamented the fact that there is little protection for the RTI activists who are exposed to dangers for uncovering the scams. She regretted that for an occasion case of misuse of the RTI Act, the police sometimes unfairly singles out the activists and recalled an instance where a police officer of Srikakulam made life miserable for an activist for having filinng an application under the RTI Act. S Imtiyaz Ahmed, State Information Commissioner referred to cases where collectors did not provide information to the applicants and did not show reverence to the orders of the information commission wherein penalties were imposed on officials.
Discussions including criticism are a part of any healthy debate in a democracy but denigration of an officer by name while he is not around to defend himself is not a healthy sign.