A conversation with Vilas Patil is like a revision in the Right to Information Act, 2005, and rightly so. After all, the 64-year-old is the new state chief information commissioner. Exhorting activists to stop misleading the public about the Act, he asks them to seek information in a responsible manner.
You assume office at a time when the relation between this office and activists has hit an all-time low. How will you manage?
That isn’t true. Only a few activists were protesting against the appointment by the state. But I will let my performance speak for me.
You have been associated with the Act since 2006 when you were Nagpur information commissioner. Any suggestions?
The Act needs a lot of strengthening and hence, in my view, it urgently needs amendments. I have written to the department of Personnel and Training and suggested around 14 amendments.
Elaborate on the specific areas that you think are hampering the implementation of the Act.
Presently, there is little power that the commission has over any other officer, apart from the public information officers (PIO). As a result, if there is any violation of the Act from any officer above the PIO, I am helpless. For instance, I fine a particular PIO for not providing information but the head of the department has to collect the fine. If he doesn’t do so, the commission cannot do anything about it.
Having closely observed the way activists have used the Act to fight corruption, do you notice any aberrations in its misuse?
The problem here is that activists have been painting a wrong picture of the Act. They go around telling people that you can fight corruption and fix problems with this act. This is wrong. You can only get information about wrongdoings, through this Act. What you do with this information is what matters the most.
Activists should behave more responsibly while seeking information.
They also ask us ‘Why’ questions, and seek information. We are not here to provide you the reasons or justifications behind certain government policy or decision.
Many activists feel that having the wrong information commissioners is leading to the spate of attacks on activists. How will you reassure them?
The commission is helpless. We can’t stop these killings.
But they believe that your PIOs leak out details about info-seekers. Can’t you stop that?
It’s very difficult to pinpoint and detect if any PIO has indulged in such behaviour. Hence, we can’t possibly punish PIOs on such things.