Friday, April 03, 2015

Gujarat RTI watchdog: State departments fail to provide basic information to common citizens

By Our Representative
The Gujarat Information Commission (GIC), the state's right to information (RTI) watchdog, has taken strong exception to failure of various Gujarat government departments to “proactively” disclose RTI information to the general public, saying, guidelines for it are not being “implemented properly”, adding, there has been a “lack of authentic and timely information on the activities carried out for implementation the RTI Act by different departments.”
The GIC, in its annual report for 2013-14, especially objects to what it calls “non-receipt of positive response from the administration” when it comes to complaints from the "common citizen". It says, “Majority of applications received pertained to the services/working of village panchayats/ district panchayats/ municipalities, police stations, district collectorates, electricity supply companies, district education offices/ universities etc.”
Pointing towards indifference all around while providing information in these areas, the GIC says, “To avail of the services common citizens had to deal with the bureaucracy in these offices on a day-to-day basis” and it here where the problem was most pronounced. In fact, the GIC notices that often even the “record of the case is not available with the concerned offices.”
Even they, the GIC says, the rejection of the RTI pleas in Gujarat was quite small, just about 3.32 per cent in 2013-14, though certain departments registered a higher rejections such as Gujarat State Assembly (14.08 per cent), finance (7.95 per cent), health and family welfare (7.35 per cent), general administration (6.88 per cent), agriculture and cooperatives (5.96 per cent), and home (5.75 per cent).
The GIC says, the highest number of rejections, 711, pertained to information about “intelligence and security organization”, followed by 306 rejections about “information supplied by a third party relating to trade and commerce secrets protected by law.”
Then there were 304 rejections which involved “infringement of copyright substance in a person other than the state”, and 214 rejections about “personal information, disclosures of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual”.
In all there were 5,748 rejections in 2013-14, the GIC says, adding, the departments topping the number of rejections being revenue (1,889, or 4.72 per cent), followed by home (1,720, or 5.96 per cent).

RTI activist doubts GIC figures

A senior Gujarat-based RTI activist has said that the GIC's low number of rejections contradict the information collected under her. Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) convener Pankti Jog says, “Going by the complaints that we receive on our RTI hotline, the rejections as high as 50 per cent. Apparently, the GIC has not counted the rejections which it has itself mentioned in the departments which directly concern the common citizens, with whom we directly interact with.”
According to Jog, “Nearly 60 per cent wouldn't even make a complaint, as the GIC admits, in case different Gujarat government officials disclose the information voluntarily, as required by the law. Further, to say that third party information cannot be given is wrong. These third parties have obtained commercial permissions from government, hence there is no reason why it cannot be given.”
Jog says, “Under the pretext of not giving information from third party, those who are sought to be defended as builders who construct illegal buildings, contractors who obtain government work bypassing laws, and even defaulters who fail to pay power bills.”
As for “proactive disclosures”, Jog believes, “In November 2013, templates were sent for making proactive disclosures by putting up information on blackboards at public distribution system (PDS) shops, panchayats, primary and secondary schools, and so on. But even today no steps have been taken in this direction. The GIC should have taken note of it.”

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