The right to Information Act (RTI) is aimed at helping create a transparent and responsive administration, but going by the figures more and more state officials seem to be stonewalling this citizen’s right.
In 2008, the State Information Commission fined about 256 state government employees who had either delayed or denied information to applicants and collected Rs 34 lakh — a 100-per cent rise over the previous year’s figures. In 2007, the commission had fined 123 employees and collected Rs 17.52 lakh.
Though the number of RTI applications in the state has jumped from 3.16 lakh in 2007 to 4.16 lakh in 2008, the cent per cent rise in fines does not correspond to the 31.1 per cent increase in the number of applications received in 2008.
“The number of officials fined has risen in 2008 as we have decided to become stricter,” said Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra Suresh Joshi. “Earlier, many officials were let off easily as they were not aware of Act.”
As per the RTI Act, information commissioners are empowered to impose a fine on officials who delay or deny providing information to applicants and have to pay the fine from their pay packets. And a bulk of Rs 34 lakh was from officials of Aurangabad and Nashik divisions — Rs 19.92 lakh from 102 officials from both divisions.
As per the State Information Commission’s annual report 2008, Maharashtra received 4.16 lakh RTI applications, of which 4.10 lakh applications were heard. Nearly 55,987 cases are still pending since the Act was enforced in 2005.
Joshi has demanded the appointment of two additional information commissioners to expedite the hearings. The state has seven information commissioners, including the chief information commissioner.