Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unanswered RTI queries leave a burning trail

M Tariq Khan & Gulam Jeelani
Hindustan Times
Lucknow, October 15, 2012
First Published: 13:18 IST(15/10/2012)
Last Updated: 13:22 IST(15/10/2012)
If your query under the Right to Information (RTI) has still not been answered, there is very little chance it will ever be. This is because the clerical staff at the UP State Information Commission (UPSIC) have discovered their own way of ensuring the prompt disposal of such applications - they
simply burn or dump them in the river!
And no one would ever be any wiser simply because the commission does not keep a record of the notices it sends to the departments from whom the information has been sought. HT tried to glean information on the issue. Here are the facts, as revealed by sources in the commission:

Under lock and key

The room that served as a centralised dispatch system for delivering the notices/orders passed by the UPSIC was locked for over a month. Officially, the reason given is that the dispatch system has been decentralised. Insiders admit it's a damagecontrol move after the bosses in the commission came to know about the staff's misdeed. Instead of being assigned to just two peons, the dispatch work has now been distributed among the staff of the respective courts. The two suspect dispatchers have been shifted to other sections of the commission. The room is being used for other official work now.

Snail mail

The SIC receives nearly 450 applications on a given day. Nearly 330 notices are served per day from the commission's 11 courts. With eight vacancies, the SIC is not in full-steam at present. Most of the notices are dispatched through general post while those in which fines are imposed on officials are sent through registered post.

The response

The SIC officials said since past three months they were uploading all notices that were being sent out on the commission's website. A check by HT revealed only 259 notices had been uploaded so far, all issued in recent months. Not a very impressive track record. But commission officials said this was the best they could do with just three out of the 11 information commissioners at the helm.

Shift from past practice

Advocate BK Singh, who has filed 20 queries, says months have passed, but he is yet to receive any official intimation or information on any of his applications.
"Before the present chief information commissioner took over, the commission used to send all notices through registered/speed post," he said. Why have they done away with the system? he asks. He levels a more serious charge, saying the commission has adopted a pro-government stance. "The SIC is defunct for petitioners. Rather than ensuring that people get the information they have sought, the commission seems more inclined to dismissing their applications," he says.

The commission's case

"We were told by some staff members that the notices were not being delivered to the parties concerned. But that was three months ago. The notices are now being dispatched by the court staff only," said an official who did not want to be named.
PK Agarwal, the UPSIC secretary, dismissed the charge, saying all the notices were now being posted on the commission's website and he was maintaining a record of all the official correspondence.

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